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|Genres||Progressive rock, instrumental rock|
|Years active||1969–1978, 1985, 1990, 1999, 2002–present|
|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 "Hocus Pocus". 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 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.
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. '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' peaked at #17 in the British charts.
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.)
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’ 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 was not released in the UK, as the record company decided upon the pressing 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 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 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 consequential offering was the Focus con Proby. Focus con Proby 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.
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, Netherlands), Polydor (France, Germany, UK), Sire (USA); 1974 - 1975 EMI (Belgium, Netherlands), 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 (between Thijs and Bert) 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" (the first version of which was on Focus Plays Focus album) but the best known version was the 1973 version from the original vinyl release of Focus 3 (that was omitted from the CD version of that 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