FOCUS



FOCUS

Postby N2yes » Sun Sep 02, 2007 7:17 pm

Focus was a Dutch band who achieved international nororiety much in part thanks to the song, "Hocus Pocus".

1970: At the release of their first album In and Out of Focus, Focus comprised keyboardist and flautist Thijs van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman, bassist Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. The album was little noticed outside of the Netherlands, where a small but avid fan base developed. Akkerman left the group to form another band with bassist Cyril Havermans and Pierre van der Linden, a drummer he had previously performed with in Johnny and the Cellar Rockers, The Hunters, and Brainbox. When Cleuver and Dresden left Focus shortly after, Van Leer joined Akkerman, Van der Linden, and Havermans as the new lineup of Focus.

1971: The group released Moving Waves, which brought the band international acclaim and a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the radio edit of the rock rondo Hocus Pocus. This rock classic consists of Akkerman's guitar chord sequence used as a recurring theme, with quirky and energetic interludes that include alto flute riffs, accordion, guitar, and drum solos, whistling, nonsensical vocals, falsetto singing, and yodeling. This album established Van Leer and Akkerman as composers who could appeal to progressive-rock album listeners (a large audience in the early 1970s) and radio single buyers.

Shortly before the band went on tour to support the album, Havermans quit and was replaced by Bert Ruiter. He released a solo album, Cyril, in 1973, on which he was backed by all three of his former bandmates from Focus. To go solo and still have your band back you is a pretty good arrangement by anyone's standards. Still, the effort went largely unnoticed and invariably faded over a relatively brief time.

1972: The Focus III double album was released. Van Leer and Akkerman were still producing much of their most seminal work, but critics claimed that the album was not as cohesive as Moving Waves and the material did not support the length of a double album. However, the album contained the Van Leer-penned "Sylvia" which become a major hit in many markets outside the U.S. and topped the charts for several weeks in Great Britain. After two hits in a row, demands to continue producing hit singles began both inside and outside the ranks of the band and its producers.

In late 1973, Focus "At the Rainbow" album was released, which showcased the energy and virtuosity Focus routinely displayed in their live concerts.

1974: Van der Linden was replaced by ex-Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen before the Focus recorded the Hamburger Concerto album. It was felt by the producers and some in the group that Allen's more mainstream rock drumming style would make Focus more accessible to a wider audience. An attempt to repeat the chart-topping performance of the "Hocus Pocus" sound in the single Harem Scarem was not successful, and this contributed to the band's declining fortunes at this time.

1975: The album Mother Focus, featuring new drummer David Kemper, was released to mostly negative reviews. Critics and longtime fans were puzzled by the sudden turn to disco-tinged pop songs and a light jazz-fusion style in several tracks, while the lack of a potential single soured the music industry's opinion on the band's ability to capture a wider audience. The quality of the compositions were still high, but the career of Focus was hampered by changing tastes in the audience away from the progressive music that was in vogue when the band started and the lack of a clear stylistic direction.


1976: Frustrated with group's lack of direction and the constraints of working with its commercial ambitions, Jan Akkerman left on the eve of a sell-out UK tour. His last minute replacement was Belgian jazz-fusion guitarist Philip Catherine. The group's label Sire Records released Ship of Memories, an album of largely unfinished Focus tracks from the aborted 1973-1974 rehearsal sessions to produce a follow-up album to Focus 3. The liner notes were written by Mike Vernon who was the group's producer at the time, and claim that Akkerman's lack of interest in the project was the reason the sessions fell through. Ship of Memories was released largely due to the effort of Mike Vernon and without the active involvement of the band. The title track is a Van der Linden composition.

1978: American singer P. J. Proby and guitarist Eef Albers joined Philip Catherine and the rest of Focus to record Focus con Proby. The album received dismal reviews and a lack of interest from all but hardcore fans, and after a short tour the band decided to call it a day. Considering its reception, it was the right thing to do.

The 1980s

1985: Van Leer and Akkerman reunited for a joint project which resulted in the commercially unsuccessful album "Focus". Even though it is officially not a product of the band Focus, most tracks recall the "lite jazz" sound of the "Mother Focus" album. With tepid marketing support and a short record production run, many of Focus' longtime fans around the world were unaware that the album was released or were unable to find a copy. As a result, sales of the album were predictably abysmal. After such an illustrious career, better promotion and efforts to re-introduce them as a born-again entity might have altered that picture dramatically.

As it was, there were further attempts to revitalize the band, but without Akkerman, there was really no hope. Thus we come to the final page of a band whose unique and improvisational live performances were truly exceptional. Rumor has it that Jan is now a converted born-again Christian whose interest in guitar remains but outside of a select few, doubts of a musical recovery of sorts are well substantiated at this time.
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Re: FOCUS

Postby elminster06 » Sun Sep 02, 2007 8:32 pm

Lol. I've post in my underated gem not long ago Focus III as one of them.

It is really a good band. I own In an out of focus until hamburger concerto and ship of memory and con proby on lp. really its like Jethro tull (flute) with a damn good guitarist. I don't why but in my part of the world its like i'm the only one to know them.
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Re: FOCUS

Postby Tomfoolery » Sun Sep 02, 2007 10:51 pm

Funny little anecdote - I personally LOVE Focus, and when I played the whole album version of Hocus Pocus for my best friend (who's a jazz and classical enthusiast, but not into progrock much), he said the yodeling sounded like "mischievous elves running through a forest". I always thought that was a funny (and rather apt) metaphor....

Yes, I also have Moving Waves and Focus III on vinyl, but they're currently in storage at my brother's house in the basement along with most of my 1500 or so albums. Unfortunately, I live in a small (4 rooms, 2nd bedroom is the computer room) apartment on the third floor, so in addition to not having room, that many albums are also MUCH too heavy to put up here (the building is an old worker residence for the mills that used to be the main industry in this city). It'll be really cool to get 'em out of the bins they're in right now and get 'em back in racks again when I have room for 'em in the future... although every so often, when I go over to his house I'll grab 2 or 3 albums and bring 'em back here to listen to. Maybe Focus will be in the next stack I grab.....
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Re: FOCUS

Postby happytheman » Mon Sep 03, 2007 4:40 am

Tomfoolery wrote:
Yes, I also have Moving Waves and Focus III on vinyl, but they're currently in storage at my brother's house in the basement along with most of my 1500 or so albums. Unfortunately, I live in a small (4 rooms, 2nd bedroom is the computer room) apartment on the third floor, so in addition to not having room, that many albums are also MUCH too heavy to put up here (the building is an old worker residence for the mills that used to be the main industry in this city). It'll be really cool to get 'em out of the bins they're in right now and get 'em back in racks again when I have room for 'em in the future... although every so often, when I go over to his house I'll grab 2 or 3 albums and bring 'em back here to listen to. Maybe Focus will be in the next stack I grab.....

I've got all my music in my "dry" basement. I say that because I run a dehumidifier all the time. But I know what you mean about storage. I've moved 3 times in my married life and this is the last time I will ever move the albums!
Regarding Focus ... Moving Waves is far and away my favorite album by them. The side long epic Eruption ranks up there with a lot of the "long epics" that were being released around that time frame. van Leer sits right along side of Rick van der Linden (Exseption / Trace) as truly outstanding keyboardist. I followed Jan Akkerman a bit with a few of his solo efforts and my understanding is that he is still going strong.
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Re: FOCUS

Postby N2yes » Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:51 am

Admittedly, the information I provided in the introductory statement was rampant heresay years ago long after Akkerman 'disappeared'. I will look into this further as we speak.
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Re: FOCUS

Postby N2yes » Mon Sep 03, 2007 6:24 am

A thousand apologies folks for Happytheman is exactly right. That little bit of 'side' info was completely baseless in truth. I have to admit that I fell for it having heard virtually nothing about his musical efforts in so long. This sort of thing is not unique in the world of musicians, so it was easily digested by myself and apparently quite a few others. Still, it was totally erroneous and I would like to thank HTM for disspelling a false and unfounded take on this still-working guitarist. I am not generally one to fall prey to rumors but this one made me think twice and I'm glad I did.

He is still at it and has his own web site. Google his name and you can find out just exactly what he has been up to all these years. Your faithful administrator has proven he is not beyond error. Still, have faith for seldom, if ever again, I will unwittingly report something unsubstantiated.

Seriously, check his site out. You might be a bit more than surprised to find out what he's been doing all these years. BTW, all hats are off to HTM for giving me reason to research this marvelous guitar player's life since the days of Focus. Quite a story, really.
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Re: FOCUS

Postby sound_chaser » Sat May 10, 2008 12:18 pm

I saw Jan Ackerman a couple of years ago At Mr. Kyps in Poole, Dorset and he was just spectacular. He didn't play too much Focus material, because, in his words, he "didn't want to be his own tribute band". The music was mainly what we'd think of as fusion and as such, was right up my street. A very nice person and quite a showman. There was one highly amusing moment where he was playing a furious solo. He was playing a downwards progression on the neck of his guitar, but when he reached the final fret, his hand flew off the guitar and stretched out into the air, with him looking at it in amazement as he continued to play the open strings. Probably one of those you had to be there moments, but it had me laughing, at any rate.

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Re: FOCUS

Postby N2yes » Sun May 11, 2008 6:23 pm

I recall playing "Hocus Pocus" and my children, barely 5 and 8 respectively, dancing like mad on the living room floor. They still love them.
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