|This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2007)|
|Labels||Sire, Atco, EMI, IRS|
|Members||Thijs van Leer
Pierre van der Linden
|Past members||Jan Akkerman
Ruben van Roon
Niels van der Steenhoven
Focus is a Dutch progressive rock band, founded by classically trained organist/flautist Thijs van Leer in 1969, most famous for the instrumental pieces "Hocus Pocus" and "Sylvia". The band broke up in 1978, but reformed in 2002 and has been recording and touring since. They have received renewed fame as "Hocus Pocus" was used as the theme for the Nike 2010 World Cup commercial, Write The Future, directed by the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. The song was also featured in the 2014 film RoboCop.
At the release of their first album Focus Plays Focus (aka In and Out of Focus) (1970), Focus comprised keyboardist and flutist Thijs van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman, bassist Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. The album was little noticed outside 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.
In 1971, the group released Focus II (aka Moving Waves), which brought the band international acclaim and a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the radio edit of "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 - along with Van Leer's whistling, nonsensical vocals, falsetto singing, and yodeling.
In September 1971, 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 band mates from Focus.
At the time when Focus 3, a double album was released in 1972, the group became a virtual 'overnight' international success with both this recording and its predecessor Moving Waves reaching significant chart positions. The success of these recordings was principally due to the exposure of the groups work on radio and TV broadcasts and the significant airplay and consequential success of the Van Leer-penned "Sylvia" which became a major hit in many markets and spent eleven weeks in the UK Singles Chart where it peaked at No. 4.
Both 'Sylvia' from Focus 3 and 'Hocus Pocus' from Moving Waves charting in the UK top twenty during 1972.
Note: A historical matter of significance, at this point in time, was the signing of the accord on the part of the UK to membership of the European Union, that immediately brought a focus, if temporary, upon the other member nations' contemporary music scene.
On Focus 3 Van Leer and Akkerman were still producing much of their most seminal work, but critics[who?] and the record buying public tended to favour its predecessor Moving Waves, preferring the conceptual ideas and melodic themes of Moving Waves (Focus 2). Critics within the media opinionating of Focus 3 that the album was not as cohesive as Moving Waves (Focus 2) and that the material did not support the length of a double album, with House of the King being drafted from the group's first album as a 'commercially viable' and effective 'filler'.
In late 1973, Focus released the album At the Rainbow, a high quality live recording, that showcases the group's ability to perform in exemplary style as a live ensemble with the notable interplay of Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer, particularly on such items as the extended 'Hocus Pocus'.
The release of At the Rainbow was decided upon due to the dissuasion of new material recorded at Chipping Norton under the supervision of producer Mike Vernon. These recording sessions as were approached at a time when the group were the subject of significant demands to tour , with mounting pressures to assert their position and for continuation of their commercial success. The group, according to accounts, being emotionally stressed and physically drained. The focal point of the Chipping Norton recordings is the compositional assertion of Thijs van Leer. The recordings appearing within the compilation Ship of Memories of 1976,the title track, 'Ship of Memories', from these sessions is a composition and solo performance of Pierre van der Linden.
International fame and recognition brought pressures upon the group and certain criticisms upon the individual contributions within the group's live and recorded performances, with the consequential departure in 1974 of drummer Pierre van Der Linden, who departed before a tour of the USA. (Pierre van der Linden becoming immediately united with Rick van der Linden in the group 'Trace'). His replacement was the ex-Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen, a drummer familiar to the group's producer Mike Vernon. With this line-up Focus recorded the Hamburger Concerto album, again under the supervision of Mike Vernon. Heading out with the new material the first offering from the album was an edited version of the album track "Harem Scarem", another commercial failure. 'Hamburger Concerto' wasn’t received with the same enthusiasm as it’s predecessors and this indifference of the public to the recording certainly contributed to the band's declining fortunes at this time. Hamburger Concerto as lacks the adventurism of Jan Akkerman as significantly characterised the previous two recordings and earned the guitarist significant recognition.
During the recording of the album Mother Focus (1975), the drum stool was vacated by Colin Allen, with Pierre van der Linden temporarily rejoining the group, however David Kemper, favoured by Thijs van Leer, eventually filled the position.
The release of Mother Focus (1975) was to mostly negative reviews, with the recording lacking any of the stylisation as had brought the group earlier recognition, with both Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer citing each other as failing to contribute compositions to this endeavour.
The final outing of this line-up was, by contrast to Mother Focus, one of the group's most impressive recordings of this period, as the single 'Crackers'/'O Avondrood(Red Sky at Night)' of 1976. The instrumental 'Crackers’ as re-recorded on Jan Akkerman's subsequent solo offering ' Jan Akkerman' of 1977 and ‘O Avondrood’ as originally appearing on a Dutch compilation, with contributions of contemporary Dutch lyricists, entitled ‘ Zing Yer Moeder’s Taal’. Note: this item as was not released in the UK, the record company deciding upon the release of ‘House of the King’ with ‘Crackers’ in accompaniment.
These two items 'Crackers'/'Red Sky at Night' appear, in instrumental form , on the 1976 compilation Ship of Memories. One side of this album features recordings from 1975-1976, and the other side is of the unfinished Focus tracks from the aborted 1973-1974 at Chipping Norton studios (as were objective upon a follow-up album to Focus 3).
Ship of Memories was released largely due to the effort of producer Mike Vernon and without the active involvement of the band. . The liner notes written by Mike Vernon who was the group's producer during the period 1972 - 1974, claim that Jan Akkerman's lack of interest in particpation was the reason the sessions fell through.
In 1976,as a consequence of his attitude towards other group members, Jan Akkerman was sacked from the group on eve of a sell-out UK tour. His last minute replacement was Belgian jazz-fusion guitarist Philip Catherine. Recordings from the UK tour exist as Focus - 'Live at the BBC, recorded in London on 21st March 1976.
By this time many of the group's following became dissuaded at Focus's changes of style. Changes as began with the soft rock of Mother Focus and at 1976 suddenly veered into Jazz Fusion, considered by many to be inaccessible and too distant from the concepts of their earlier work.
Even more confounding was the news prevailing within the contemporary music world of 1977, that the newly reformed 'Focus' were working with U.S. singer P.J. Proby and within a couple of weeks photographs of the singer and Thijs van Leer adorned the pages of the music press.(Note : P.J. Proby - as once upon a time split his 'long johns' on stage, carried on performing, and became banned from performing in the UK).
The consequential offering was the bewildering Focus con Proby, a confusing collection of 'Jazz-Fusion' and 'straight-rock' items. Philp Catherine's 'Sneezing Bull', an item previewed during the 1976 tours of the reformed group, as is the only item typical of the established Focus style.
The album, unreleased in the UK, unsurprisingly received dismal reviews and a lack of interest from the record buying public, and after a short tour the band decided to call it quits.
Focus con Proby as featuring Drummer Steve Smith (later of Journey) and guitarist Eef Albers joined Philip Catherine and the rest of Focus to record Focus con Proby (1978)with American singer P. J. Proby on vocals.
CD recording release: all items 1970 - 1978 Red Bullet (except 'Live at the BBC' Hux Records)
Original CD recording release: all items 1970 - 1978 EMI International
Original recording release: 1970 - 1973 EMI (Belgium, Holland), Polydor (France, Germany, UK), Sire (USA); 1974 - 1975 EMI (Belgium, Holland), Polydor (France, Germany, UK), ATCO (USA); 1976 - 1978 EMI (Europe), EMI & Sire (USA)
Note: Rather unusually the group’s two albums ‘Hamburger Concerto’ and ‘Mother Focus’ appeared during 1978 in the UK with ABC records identification due to International catalogue ownership changes involving the USA company.
Manuscript: Focus (1972) on RTL Music. Pianoforte music compilation of items from the first three albums.
In 1985, Van Leer and Akkerman reunited for a joint project (because of contractual obligation) which resulted in the commercially unsuccessful album Focus.
In 1990, the "classic" lineup of Akkerman, Van Leer, Ruiter, and Van der Linden performed old and new compositions on the Dutch TV shows Veronika and Goud van Oud. An unsuccessful attempt was made to formally restart the band at this time.
Van Leer and Akkerman shared the stage and performed Focus compositions at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1993. Six years later, Van Leer attempted to reform Focus with original drummer Hans Cleuver, bassist Bert Ruiter, and new guitarist Menno Gootjes. They performed several live dates in the Netherlands, but internal wrangling over material intended for a CD release effectively split up the group.
In 2002, Thijs van Leer re-formed Focus with 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 replaced by Bert Smaak. The result was the well-received Focus 8 album and world tour.
In 2004, Pierre van der Linden replaced Bert Smaak on drums. Due to "musical differences", Dumée was dismissed from the band in 2006. In the same year, the band released the album Focus 9 / New Skin, on the Red Bullet label, which currently owns the entire back catalogue of Focus. In July 2006, Niels van der Steenhoven joined the group and the Focus 9 / New Skin CD was recorded.
In May 2010, Nike included "Hocus Pocus" as the main theme tune in their extended FIFA World Cup commercial. The advert was first aired on US Network TV during the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan on 22 May and then throughout the World Cup. A re-release of "Hocus Pocus", due to the Nike commercial, led to the song entering the UK Singles Chart at No. 57.
As of 2011, Menno Gootjes has rejoined the band, replacing Niels van der Steenhoven. Also in 2011, American rapper J. Cole sampled "Hocus Pocus" in his song "Blow Up", which is featured in the game MLB 11: The Show.
In 2014 'Hocus Pocus' appeared in the Soundtrack to the RoboCop (2014 film) remake. The band also released a studio album, Golden Oldies, featuring new recordings of classic Focus material of the 1970s (along with two newer songs of the early 2000s).
On 14 April 2014, Focus released their eleventh studio album Golden Oldies, a collection of newly re-recorded versions of some of their most popular songs including "Sylvia", "House of the King", and "Hocus Pocus".
Akkerman's "House of the King" (from the Focus Plays Focus album) was 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 BBC 2 sitcom, Saxondale.
- Focus Plays Focus / In And Out Of Focus (1970)
- Focus II / Moving Waves (1971)
- Focus 3 (1972)
- Hamburger Concerto (1974)
- Mother Focus (1975)
- Focus con Proby (1978)
- Focus: Jan Akkerman & Thijs van Leer (1985)
- Focus 8 (2002)
- Focus 9 / New Skin (2006)
- Focus X (2012)
- Golden Oldies (2014)
See also Ship of Memories, a 1976 compilation of unreleased Focus tracks recorded in 1973. Note that this album is not a studio album, though it is commonly regarded as one.
- In and Out of Focus: The Music of Jan Akkerman & focus at Google Books.
- Randell, David (2002). In and Out of Focus: The Music of Jan Akkerman & Focus (1 ed.). London: SAF Publishing Ltd. p. 224. ISBN 0-946719-44-6.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 206. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- Official Focus website
- Authorized Biography
- Official Jan Akkerman website
- Official Jan Dumée website
- Official Niels van der Steenhoven website
- Searchable database of Focus related records
- Focus biography, discography reviews and ratings