Focus (band)

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Focus
Focus - TopPop 1974 6.png
Focus on TopPop in April 1974
Left to right: Jan Akkerman, Bert Ruiter, Thijs van Leer, Colin Allen (1974–75 formation)
Background information
Origin Netherlands
Genres
Years active
  • 1969–78
  • 1985
  • 1990
  • 1999
  • 2002–present
Labels
Website focustheband.com
Members Thijs van Leer
Pierre van der Linden
Menno Gootjes
Bobby Jacobs
Past members See Personnel

Focus are a Dutch progressive rock band formed in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1969 by Thijs van Leer. The band have undergone numerous formations in its history. Since 2011 it has comprised van Leer on vocals, keyboards, and flute, Pierre van der Linden on drums, Bobby Jacobs on bass, and Menno Gootjes on guitar.

Formed of members of the pit band for the Dutch production of the rock musical Hair, Focus gained popularity following the success of Focus II (1971) which contained the hit single "Hocus Pocus". Their success continued with Focus 3 (1972) and Hamburger Concerto (1974). Following their break up in 1978, Focus reunited in 1985, 1990, and 1999 before reforming in 2002. They continue to tour and release albums.

In 2010, "Hocus Pocus" was used as the theme for Nike's 2010 World Cup commercial Write The Future which renewed interest in the band.

History[edit]

1969–72: Formation, debut album, and Focus II[edit]

At the release of their first album Focus Plays Focus (re-released with a different track sequence as In and Out of Focus[1]) (1970), Focus comprised keyboardist and flutist Thijs van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman,[2][3] bassist Martijn Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. The album was little noticed outside the Netherlands, where a small but avid fan base developed. In the United Kingdom the single "House of the King" initially garnered attention as a Jethro Tull sound-alike. Akkerman left the group to form another band with Pierre van der Linden, a drummer he had previously performed with in Johnny and the Cellar Rockers, The Hunters, and Brainbox. Van Leer made the difficult decision of leaving behind his bandmates Cleuver and Dresden to join Akkerman's new group which, after enlisting bassist Cyril Havermans, retained the name 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, desiring to create and perform music which utilized his tenor voice, and was replaced by Bert Ruiter. He released his first solo album, Cyril, in 1973, on which he was backed by all three of his former band mates from Focus.

1972–75: Focus 3 and Hamburger Concerto[edit]

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 group's 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.[4] 'Tommy', an edited version of the tune from Moving Waves, charted only in France.

On Focus 3 van Leer and Akkerman were still producing much of their most seminal work. Some of the extended improvisations recorded (i.e., 'Anonymus 2') were intended to reflect their live sound, whereas the shorter songs displayed a remarkable stylistic range with multitracked overdubs of additional instruments to make the overall sound fuller and richer than what a quartet could achieve live. The single House of the King was added to close the album.

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 dissatisfaction with the new material recorded at Chipping Norton under the supervision of producer Mike Vernon. These recording sessions 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. According to Vernon, the bandmates were emotionally stressed and physically drained. Van Leer composed a few new songs, and Akkerman only one, as he spent most of the fortnight resting in bed. 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.

Thijs van Leer contracted appendicitis following the (momentarily) aborted Chipping Norton recording sessions, and he and Jan Akkerman both decided that Pierre van der Linden's jazzy, big band style of drumming would be a hindrance to greater mainstream commercial success. Initially attempting a tighter, simpler drum sound at their behest, van der Linden opted to leave the band at the end of October, 1973 and was quickly enlisted to play in the Progressive rock group Trace with keyboardist Rick van der Linden (his second cousin) and bassist Jaap van Eyck.

Focus attempted to replace van der Linden with Mitch Mitchell and Aynsley Dunbar, both of whom were unavailable, before settling upon ex-Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen who had previously worked with producer Mike Vernon. With this line-up Focus recorded the Hamburger Concerto album in January and March, 1974. A single version of the album track 'Harem Scarem' failed to chart in the UK.[5]

Prior to and after the debut of Hamburger Concerto were the release of compilations of the group's work as a consequence of changes of catalogue ownership or label series release. (Releases such as the 'Masters of Rock' series of EMI in the Netherlands and the 'Rock Flashback' series of Polydor in the UK. The Focus 'Masters of Rock' assembly was re-titled 'House of the King' at the discontinuation of the series and remained within the catalogue of EMI for many years; Dutch Masters was a compilation from the first three studio albums released in the US on the Sire label, along with the B-side of the US "Hocus Pocus" single.)

1975–78: Mother Focus and split[edit]

During the recording of the album Mother Focus (1975), Colin Allen left the group, and Pierre van der Linden temporarily returned. However David Kemper, favoured by Thijs van Leer, was the drummer in the studio sessions and the tour.

The release of Mother Focus (1975) was to mostly negative reviews, as the group had consciously departed from a Progressive rock sound, endeavouring to create commercial pop music with occasional classical and jazz harmonies and, on some tracks, light disco-funk rhythms. Most of these compositions were by bassist Bert Ruiter, as Thijs van Leer had recorded a solo album O My Love of his own songs, and Jan Akkerman withheld his compositions for his forthcoming solo albums Eli (1976) and Jan Akkerman (1977).

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’ was re-recorded on Jan Akkerman's subsequent solo offering ' Jan Akkerman' of 1977 and ‘O Avondrood’ originally appeared on a Dutch compilation, with contributions of contemporary Dutch lyricists, entitled ‘ Zing je moerstaal’.

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 1973 tracks at Chipping Norton studios. Ship of Memories was released largely due to the effort of Mike Vernon, the group's producer during the period 1972 - 1974, and without the active involvement of the band.

Jan Akkerman was fired from the group by Thijs van Leer after he refused to rehearse a new jazz fusion song ironically entitled 'For Jan.' This was in early 1976 on the eve of a sell-out UK tour. His last-minute replacement was Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine. Recordings from the UK tour exist as Focus - 'Live at the BBC, dated 21 March 1976. The song "For Jan" was subsequently retitled "Maximum" and was recorded for a new album the following year.

In 1977, the newly reformed Focus worked with U.S. singer P. J. Proby. Within weeks, photographs of the singer and Thijs van Leer adorned the pages of the music press. The result of this collaboration was the album Focus con Proby, which featured drummer Steve Smith (later of Journey), guitarists Philip Catherine and Eef Albers and P. J. Proby on vocals. The album, which was not released in the UK, received dismal reviews and a lack of interest from the record buying public, and after a short tour the band terminated with a final concert in Terneuzen in 1978.

1985−99: Reunions[edit]

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 (between Thijs and Bert) over material intended for a CD release effectively split up the group.

2002–present: Reformation, 2010 World Cup advert, and touring[edit]

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 July 2006, Niels van der Steenhoven joined the group and the Focus 9 / New Skin album was released on the Red Bullet label, which currently owns the entire back catalogue of Focus.

Thijs van Leer, Lowdham, Notts, 27 November 2014.

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.

The band released their tenth studio album, Focus X, with cover art by Roger Dean in October, 2012 to very positive music reviews.

In 2014 'Hocus Pocus' appeared in the Soundtrack to the RoboCop (2014 film) remake. On 14 April, the band 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", along with two newer songs of the early 2000s.

Music[edit]

Akkerman's "House of the King" was originally a Dutch single release, before being included on the UK album In and Out of Focus,[1] which featured tracks from 'Focus Play Focus" in a different playing sequence plus "House of the King" (the track is not on the band's Dutch debut[6]). The same version, not a re-recording, was included on the 1973 double vinyl release of Focus 3 (but was omitted from the CD version of that album), and later became the title themes of the BBC children's television shows "Encounter France: and "Merry-go-Round", both 1979,[7] then Don't Ask Me, a science-based British TV show of the 1970s that made household names of Magnus Pyke and David Bellamy. It is also the title theme of Steve Coogan's BBC 2 sitcom, Saxondale.

Personnel[edit]

Band members[edit]

Lineups

1969-1970 1970-1971 1971-1974 1974-1975
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Akkerman – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • Pierre van der Linden – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Akkerman – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • Colin Allen – drums
1975 1975-1976 1976-1977 1977-1978
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Akkerman – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • Pierre van der Linden – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Akkerman – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • David Kemper – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Philip Catherine – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • David Kemper – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • P.J. Proby – vocals
  • Philip Catherine – guitar
  • Eef Albers – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • Steve Smith – drums
1978-1985 1985 1985-1990 1990

Disbanded

  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Akkerman – guitar
  • Tato Gómez – bass
  • Mario Argandoña – drums

Disbanded

  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Akkerman – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • Pierre van der Linden – drums
1990-1999 1999 1999-2002 2002

Disbanded

  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Menno Gootjes – guitar
  • Bert Ruiter – bass
  • Hans Cleuver – drums

Disbanded

  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Dumée – guitar, vocals
  • Bobby Jacobs – bass
  • Ruben van Roon – drums
2002-2004 2004-2006 2006-2011 2011–present
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Dumée – guitar, vocals
  • Bobby Jacobs – bass
  • Bert Smaak – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Jan Dumée – guitar, vocals
  • Bobby Jacobs – bass
  • Pierre van der Linden – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Niels van der Steenhoven – guitar, vocals
  • Bobby Jacobs – bass
  • Pierre van der Linden – drums
  • Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
  • Menno Gootjes – guitar
  • Bobby Jacobs – bass
  • Pierre van der Linden – drums

Timeline[edit]

Discography[edit]

Main article: Focus discography

Studio albums

References[edit]

External links[edit]