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Focus (band)

Focus is a Dutch progressive rock band. It was founded by classically trained organist/flautist Thijs van Leer in 1969. It is most famous for the songs "Hocus Pocus" and Sylvia.

History

The 1970s

1970: At the release of their first album In and Out of Focus, Focus comprised keyboardist and flautist Thijs van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman, bass guitarist 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 Thijs 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.

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 was in 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, the Focus "At the Rainbow" album was released, which showcases 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. However, Hamburger Concerto is still considered by many to be their masterpiece, despite the New Musical Express review which qualified the hamburger as being "overdone".

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 short 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.

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.

The 1990s

1990: The classic lineup of Akkerman, Van Leer, Ruiter, and Van der Linden performed old and new compositions on the Dutch TV programs "Veronika" and "Goud van Oud" in 1990. An unsuccessful attempt was made to formally restart the band at this time.

1993: Van Leer and Akkerman shared the stage and performed Focus compositions at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

1999: Van Leer attempts to reform Focus with original drummer Hans Cleuver, bassist Bert Ruiter, and new guitarist Menno Gootjes. They performed several live dates in Holland, but internal wrangling over material intended for a CD release effectively split up the group.

The 2000s

2001: Thijs van Leer re-formed Focus as himself, stepson Bobby Jacobs on bass, guitarist Jan Dumée, and drummer Ruben van Roon (all are former members of the band CONXI). Van Roon was soon after replaced by Bert Smaak. The result was the well-received Focus 8 album and world tour. Jan Dumée's guitar playing on Focus 8 is reminiscent of Akkerman's, and both guitarists have expressed their high regard for each other's work.

2004: Pierre van der Linden replaces Bert Smaak on drums.

June 2006: A new album (Focus 9 / New Skin) is recorded, but due to 'musical differences', guitarist Jan Dumée is dismissed from the band.

July 2006: Niels van der Steenhoven joins the group and the Focus 9 / New Skin CD is re-recorded. Jan Dumée forms his own group On The Rocks together with British singer John Lawton (ex-Uriah Heep and Lucifer's Friend).

September 2006: The band released the album Focus 9 / New Skin under the Red Bullet label. This label now owns the entire back catalogue of Focus. The return of van der Linden's distinctive jazz-influenced drumming style strongly moves the band closer to its classic 1970's sound. This has been hailed as a huge boost for the Focus comeback and suggests interesting future musical directions for the band.

Music

Akkerman's "House of the King" (from the "In and Out of Focus" album) is the title theme of 'Don't Ask Me', a science-based British TV show of the 1970s that made household names of Dr. Magnus Pyke and Professor David Bellamy. It is also the title theme of Steve Coogan's BBC2 sitcom Saxondale.

Discography

Albums

Singles

Charting singles:

  • "Hocus Pocus" #20 UK, #9 US. (B-side(s): Janis (UK) Hocus Pocus II (US))
  • "Sylvia" #4 UK, #89 US. (B-side: Love Remembered)

Non-charting singles:

  • House Of The King (B-side: Black Beauty)
  • House of the King (B-side: O Avondrood - a vocal version of "Red sky at night")
  • Tommy (B-side: Focus II)
  • Harem Scarem (B-side: Early Birth. This is a shortened alternate version of the track "Birth" on the album "Hamburger Concerto".)
  • Mother Focus (B-side: I Need A Bathroom)
  • P's March (B-side: Focus II)
  • Hocus Pocus (B-side: Hocus Pocus, U.S. Version. This version is also found on CD release of the "Ship Of Memories" album.)
  • Russian Roulette (B-side: Ole' Judy)

Books

See also

External links

  • (http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/eruptions Yahoo group)

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