FOCUS on Monday 19th November 2018
Focus is a Dutch rock group that was monumental in pioneering the 70s progressive rock sound. They are fronted by founding member and organ/flute player Thijs van Leer and have been active since the late 60s. They have disbanded several times, but have consistently been playing together since 2002.
Focus was founded in 1969 in the Netherlands by Thijs van Leer (organ/flute), Jan Akkerman (guitar), Hans Cleuver (drums), and Martin Dresden (bass). A year later the group released their studio debut “Focus Plays Focus”. The album received a fair amount of critical praise due to its cohesive blend of classical, folk, blues, and jazz. It also prominently experimented with psychedelia particularly in the frenetic, trance inducing cut “Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)”. For a progressive rock album most of the tracks were surprisingly short with the exception of the seven minute “Anonymous” and the nine minute and 45 second title track.
Focus were little recognized outside their home country during the time of their 1st album release; however, that all changed after their 2nd studio album “Focus II (Moving Waves)” came out. Their single “Hocus Pocus” quickly became certified as a rock classic. It was praised for its catchiness as for it’s creative instrumentation, which featured flute, accordion, quirky guitar licks, and even yodeling and whistling. The group exhibited a keen and structured understanding of song composition, referencing motifs from classical composers such as Monteverdi, but were also not afraid to test a song’s limits, often delving into extreme forms of improvisation.
Focus continued to push their idiosyncratic style on their proceeding releases, showcasing their classical chops on songs such as “Carnival Fugue”, “Anonymous II”, and “Father Bach” and tapping into the bizarre on songs like “Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!”. Their 3rd studio album “Focus III” also proved to be a great international success and thanks due to their frequent appearance on radio and TV broadcasts their popularity seemed to be on a consistent incline.
Their albums accurately reflected their live performances, but also hinted at their dexterity in the studio. An expansive list of instruments were prominently featured on their albums and were often meticulously multi-tracked, overdubbed, and tweaked with various effects.
The band decided to give their listeners a taste of their live sound and released their performance at London’s Rainbow Theatre “Live at the Rainbow” in October 1973. Their 4th studio album “Hamburger Concerto” was issued the following year and was centered around it’s 20 minute title track inspired by Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on Theme by Haydn”.
Focus’ next studio album “Mother Focus” toned down their progressive technique and veered in a direction that emphasized funk and light pop. All of the songs on the album were under four minutes, and while the group retained much of their experimentation their sound seemed much more concentrated. The change in style is often attributed to the creative control bassist Bert Ruiter exerted on this album. He composed most of the tracks as both Leer and Akkerman were busy pursuing solo projects at that time.
In 1976 the group put out a compilation album entitled “Ship of Memories”, which featured previously unreleased material recorded three years prior. Later this year the “classic” Focus line up was jeopardized with the departure of Jan Akkerman. Though the group lost one of their key members they gained several other important ones, including drummer Steve Smith (formerly of Journey), vocalist P.J. Proby, and guitarist Philip Catherine. With their new line up Focus issued their 6th studio album “Focus con Proby”.
Focus’ proceeding album “Focus: Jan Akkerman & Thijs van Leer” did not come out until 1985 and was created on the basis of fulfilling a recording contract. As the title suggests Akkerman and Leer were the only original members on the album.
In 1990 the classic line up reformed to make an appearance on a Dutch TV program. This was a short lived stint and the group only put on a handful of concerts throughout the 90s. Focus made a strong return in 2002, releasing their 1st album of original material in 17 years, “Focus 8”. The band has since been touring regularly and have also been releasing new material consistently: “Focus 9/ New Skin” (2006), “Focus X” (2012), and “Golden Oldies” (2014).
Music Genres: Rock
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