Focus

Focus was a Dutch symphonic/hard-rock band that released seven albums and a live recording between 1970 and 1977.

Members:  Thijs van Leer (keyboards, flute, vocals, Hammond organ), Martin Dresden (bass, 1969-70), Hans Cleuver (drums, 1969-70), Jan Akkerman (guitar, 1969-76), Pierre van der Linden (drums, 1970-73, 1976, 2005-present), Cyril Havermans (bass, 1970-71), Bert Ruiter (bass, 1971-78), Colin Allen (drums, 1974-75), David Kemper (drums, 1975), Philip Catherine (guitar, 1976-78), Eef Albers (guitar, 1976-78), Steve Smith (drums, 1977-78), P.J. Proby (vocals, 1977-78)


Background

Focus emerged from the trio Thijs van Leer and the Rebaptised, formed in mid-1969 by keyboardist and reedist Leer with bassist Martin Dresden and drummer Hans Cleuver.

Van Leer came from a family of musicians that sometimes played together at home. After studying harmony and counterpoint at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, he was hired for the backing band of singer/actor Ramses Shaffy’s theater act Shaffy Chantant. In 1967, van Leer cut the single “Nooit Zal Ik Vergeten” for Phonogram, followed by the 1968 release “Zolang de Wereld Nog Draait” (“As Long As the World Still Turns”) on Philips.

In November 1969, Rebaptised expanded to a four-piece with guitarist Jan Akkerman. Earlier that year, he cut a self-titled album with blues-psych rockers Brainbox, where he played vibraphone and guitar. With Akkerman, Rebaptised became Focus, a name chosen by van Leer because it meant the same thing in multiple languages. That December, Focus was hired as the pit band for a Dutch production of Hair, recordings of which are featured on the 1970 Polydor release Hair (Original Amsterdam Cast).


Focus Plays Focus [In and Out of Focus]

Focus released their debut album, Focus Plays Focus, in September 1970 on Imperial Records.

1. “Focus” (Instrumental) Thijs van Leer (9:45)
2. “Why Dream” van Leer, Erik Cleuver (3:57)
3. “Happy Nightmare” van Leer, Martin Dresden, Mike Hayes (3:56)

4. “Anonymus” van Leer, Jan Akkerman, Dresden, Hans Cleuver (7:00)
5. “Black Beauty” van Leer, Cleuver (3:05)
6. “Sugar Island” van Leer, Dresden, Jan Staal (3:03)
7. “Focus” (Vocal Version) van Leer, Cleuver (2:44)

Recorded January 1970
Studio Sound Techniques (Chelsea, London)

Thijs van Leer – lead vocals (2, 5, 6, 7), flute, Hammond organ, piano, electric piano, mellotron, harpsichord, vibraphone
Jan Akkerman – guitars
Martin Dresden – bass guitar, trumpet, lead vocals (3), backing vocals (2, 6)
Hans Cleuver – drums, bongos, backing vocals (2, 5, 6)

Wouter Möller – cello (3)

Production
Hubert Terheggen – production
Jerry Boys – engineering

Imperial lifted “Why Dream” (b/w “Happy Nightmare”) as the first Focus single (cat. 5C 006-24220). In December 1970, the song “Focus” became the b-side to Akkerman’s non-album “House of the King,” their second Imperial single (cat. 5C 006-24250).

A. “House of the King” (2:20)

In 1971, Focus Plays Focus appeared on UK Polydor as In and Out of Focus with the sides reversed and “House of the King” appended to the tracklist. UK copies sport a purple–pink dotted scheme. In North America, Sire Records issued In and Out of Focus in May 1973 after the band’s international breakthrough.


Focus II [Moving Waves]

Focus released their second album, Focus II, in October 1971 on Imperial. In the UK, the album appeared on Polydor and Blue Horizon as Moving Waves.

1. “Hocus Pocus” Thijs van Leer, Jan Akkerman (6:42)
2. “Le Clochard (Bread)” Akkerman (2:01)
3. “Janis” Akkerman, van Leer (3:09)
4. “Moving Waves” van Leer, Inayat Khan (2:42)
5. “Focus II” van Leer (4:00)

6. “Eruption” (22:35)

i. “Orfeus” (van Leer)
ii. “Answer” (van Leer)
iii. “Orfeus” (van Leer)
iv. “Answer” (van Leer)
v. “Pupilla” (van Leer)
vi. “Tommy” (Tom Barlage)
vii. “Pupilla” (van Leer)
viii. “Answer” (van Leer)
ix .”The Bridge” (Akkerman)
x. “Euridice” (van Leer, Eelko Nobel)
xi. “Dayglow” (van Leer)
xii. “Endless Road” (Pierre van der Linden)
xiii. “Answer” (van Leer)
xiv. “Orfeus” (van Leer)
xv. “Euridice” (van Leer, Nobel)”

Recorded 13 April–14 May 1971
Studio Sound Techniques and Morgan Studios, London

Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, Mellotron, Harmonium, vocals, vocables, soprano flute, alto flute, piano
Jan Akkerman – acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar
Cyril Havermans – bass guitar, vocals (6)
Pierre van der Linden – drums, percussion

Production
Mike Vernon – producer
Jerry Boys – engineer
Dennis Kloeth – sleeve design (original pressing)
Janos Barendsen – cover photograph

Imperial “Hocus Pocus” in June 1971 as an advance single (b/w “Janis”). It reached No. 9 on the Dutch singles chart. Polydor lifted “Hocus Pocus” alongside the album in the UK, where the song reached No. 20 on the singles chart. Focus II reached No. 4 on the Dutch Top 100 albums chart and (as Moving Waves) No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart.

In February 1972, Blue Horizon lifted the “Tommy” sequence of “Eruption” as the third UK Focus single (b/w “Focus II”). In the Netherlands, “Tommy” appeared as the followup single to “Sylvia” (from the band’s third album) and peaked at No. 18 on the Dutch singles chart. 

In the US and Canada, Sire released Focus II in December 1972 as Moving Waves with the UK cover art. In February 1973, “Hocus Pocus” became the second Focus single in the North America, where it reached No. 18 in Canada and No. 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 (No. 4 Cashbox). This pushed Moving Waves to No. 6 on the Canadian Top Albums chart and No. 8 on the Billboard 200. In Australia, the album and single each peaked at No. 15 on the Kent Music Report.


Focus 3

Focus released their third album, Focus 3, in November 1972 on Imperial (Netherlands), Polydor (UK, Germany), and Sire (North America). It’s a double-album (70:25) comprised of eight new originals, including the lengthy jams “Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!” and “Anonymus II,” the latter split between Side’s 3 and 4 of the original vinyl release. “Sylvia” appeared as the sole single seven months ahead of the album’s Dutch release.

1. “Round Goes the Gossip” Thijs van Leer (5:16)
2. “Love Remembered” Jan Akkerman (2:49)
3. “Sylvia” van Leer (3:32)
4. “Carnival Fugue” van Leer (6:02)

5. “Focus III” van Leer (6:07)
6. “Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!” Akkerman, Bert Ruiter (14:03)

7. “Anonymus II (Part 1)” van Leer, Akkerman, Ruiter, Pierre van der Linden (19:28)

8. “Anonymus II (Conclusion)” van Leer, Akkerman, Ruiter, van der Linden (7:30)
9. “Elspeth of Nottingham” Akkerman (3:25)
10. “House of the King” (2:23) appears on the original vinyl release as side filler. The two ex-Focus members of the band’s 1970 lineup — bassist Martin Dresden and drummer Hans Cleuver — go uncredited on Focus 3.

Recorded July 1972
Studio Olympic “B” Studios (Barnes, London)

Thijs van Leer – vocals, Hammond organ, piano, alto flute, piccolo, harpsichord
Jan Akkerman – guitars, lute
Bert Ruiter – bass guitar
Pierre van der Linden – drums

Production
Mike Vernon – producer, uncredited backing vocals (1)
George Chkiantz – recording engineer

Sleeve, Design
Hamish Grimes (Imperial, Polydor)
Bill Levy – art direction, Frank Marcelino – design (Sire)

Imperial issued “Sylvia” as an advance single in April 1972 (b/w “Love Remembered”). In December, Polydor paired “Sylvia” with “House of the King” as the fourth Focus single in the UK, where it reached No. 4.

The subsequent CD version of Focus 3 (67:12) unifies “Anonymus II” (26:24) and omits “House of the King.”

Focus 3 reached No. 1 on the Dutch Top 100 Albums chart and No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart. It peaked at No. 20 in Norway and No. 35 on the Billboard 200 in the US, where “Sylvia” became their second and final single on the Billboard Hot 100.


Focus at the Rainbow

In October 1973, Focus released their first live album, Focus at the Rainbow, which features seven numbers (42:26 duration) from their May 5, 1973, show at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The set covers three songs from the recent Focus 3 (“Sylvia,” “Focus III,” “Answers? Questions!”) and three from Moving Waves: “Focus II,” “Eruption” (a seven-part excerpt), and “Hocus Pocus,” which they perform in elongated form and reprise as an encore.

1. “Focus III” (3:52)
2. “Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!” (11:29)
3. “Focus II” (4:36)

1. “Eruption (Excerpt)” (8:29)

i. Orfeus (1:33)
ii. Answer (1:25)
iii. Orfeus (1:22)
iv. Answer (0:20)
v. Pupilla (1:10)
vi. Tommy (Tom Barlage) (1:54)
vii. Pupilla (0:45)

2. “Hocus Pocus” (8:30)
3. “Sylvia” (2:47)
4. “Hocus Pocus (Reprise)” (2:46)

Producer Mike Vernon

Thijs van Leer – keyboards, flute, vocals
Jan Akkerman – guitar
Bert Ruiter – bass guitar
Pierre van der Linden – drums

Focus at the Rainbow reached No. 9 on the Dutch Top 100 Albums chart and peaked at No. 22 in Norway and No. 23 on the UK Albums Chart.


Hamburger Concerto

Focus released their fourth studio album, Hamburger Concerto, in April 1974 on Polydor (UK, Europe) and Atco (US).

1. “Delitiæ Musicæ” Jan Akkerman (1:12) based on a gaillarde from a namesake work by Flemish/Dutch composer Joachim van den Hove (1567–1620).
2. “Harem Scarem” Thijs van Leer (5:51)
3. “La Cathédrale de Strasbourg” van Leer (4:59)
4. “Birth” Akkerman (7:46)

5. “Hamburger Concerto” (20:20) based on Variations on a Theme by Haydn by German romantic composer Johannes Brahms (1833–1897).

I. Starter (Traditional; arranged by van Leer)
II. Rare (Akkerman)
III. Medium I (van Leer, Akkerman)
IV. Medium II (Akkerman)
V. Well Done (van Leer)
VI. One for the Road (Akkerman)

Recorded January–March 1974
Studio Olympic Sound Studios
Producer Mike Vernon

Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, flute, piano, harpsichord, moog, ARP synthesizer, recorder, mellotron, accordion, pipe organ (the organ of St. Mary the Virgin, Barnes), vocals
Jan Akkerman – guitars, lute, timpani, handclaps
Bert Ruiter – bass guitar, autoharp, triangles, finger cymbals, bells, handclaps
Colin Allen – drums, congas, tambourine, castanets, cabasa, wood block, gong, timpani, handclaps, flexatone, cuica

Photography, Artwork By – Wade Wood Associates
Art Direction – Ian Murray

Polydor and Atco lifted “Harem Scarem” as the sole Hamburger single; backed with “Early Birth” (2:56), an edit of “Birth.” It reached No. 22 on the Dutch singles chart.

Hamburger Concerto reached No. 5 on the Dutch Top 100 Albums chart and went Top 20 in Australia (No. 14), Norway (No. 16), and the UK (No. 20). In the US, the album reached No. 66 on the Billboard 200.


Mother Focus

Focus released their fifth studio album, Mother Focus, in October 1975 on Polydor and Atco.

1. “Mother Focus” Jan Akkerman, Bert Ruiter, Thijs van Leer (3:03)
2. “I Need a Bathroom” Ruiter (3:02)
3. “Bennie Helder” Leer (3:31)
4. “Soft Vanilla” Ruiter (3:00)
5. “Hard Vanilla” Ruiter (2:35)
6. “Tropic Bird” Ruiter (2:42)

7. “Focus IV” Akkerman, van Leer (3:55)
8. “Someone’s Crying … What?” Akkerman (3:18)
9. “All Together … Oh, That!” Akkerman (3:40)
10. “No Hang Ups” Paul Stoppelman (2:54)
11. “My Sweetheart” Akkerman, van Leer (3:35)
12. “Father Bach” Trad., arr. van Leer (1:30) based on the intro of St. Matthew Passion by German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750).

Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, electric piano, grand piano, Solina String Ensemble, concert and alto flutes, voices, synthesizers, piano, saxophone (1, 8), flute, non-lexical vocables (1)
Jan Akkerman – guitar
Bert Ruiter – bass guitar, vocals (2)
David Kemper – drums
Colin Allen – drums (10)

Producer – Focus
Engineer – Eric Prestidge
Artwork – Rob Peters

In Australia and Japan, Polydor lifted “Mother Focus” as the final Focus single (b/w “I Need a Bathroom”).

Mother Focus reached No. 17 on the Norwegian VG-lista and No. 23 on the UK Albums Chart.


Ship of Memories

In 1976, a compilation of unreleased Focus material titled Ship of Memories appeared on Harvest (UK), Sire (North America), and EMI (abroad). It contains six tracks (“Glider,” “Ship of Memories,” and all of Side 1) recorded in May 1973 for an aborted followup to Focus 3, plus two outtakes from the May 1975 Mother Focus sessions (“Red Sky at Night,” “Crackers”) and the unearthed 1970 track “Spoke the Lord Creator.”

1. “P’s March” Thijs van Leer (4:43)
2. “Can’t Believe My Eyes” Jan Akkerman (5:17)
3. “Focus V” van Leer (3:02)
4. “Out of Vesuvius” Akkerman, Bert Ruiter, Pierre van der Linden, van Leer (5:50)

5. “Glider” Akkerman (4:38)
6. “Red Sky at Night” Akkerman, van Leer (5:50)
7. “Spoke the Lord Creator” (2:32) recorded January 26, 1970; their first rock adaptation of “Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn.”
8. “Crackers” Akkerman (2:42)
9. “Ship of Memories” van der Linden (1:48) instrumental on drums and harmonium.

Producer Hubert Terheggen, Mike Vernon

Ship of Memories sports a granulated photo of the German WWII heavy cruiser “Admiral Hipper” with an Arado Ar 196 plane. 

Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, Moog synthesizer, mellotron, electric piano, drum machine (5), Moog bass synth (6), flute, non-lexical vocables
Jan Akkerman – guitar, electric sitar (5)
Bert Ruiter – bass guitar (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10)
Martin Dresden – bass guitar (7)
Pierre van der Linden – drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
Hans Cleuver – drums (7)
David Kemper – drums (6, 8)


Focus con Proby

Focus released their fifth proper studio album, Focus con Proby, in late 1977 on EMI–Harvest. The title highlights the presence of sixties American–British beat vocalist P. J. Proby, who sings on five songs: “Wingless,” “Eddy,” “Brother,” “Tokyo Rose,” and “How Long.”

1. “Wingless” Roselie van Leer, Thijs van Leer (5:35)
2. “Orion” Eef Albers (4:08)
3. “Night Flight” Albers (3:40)
4. “Eddy” R. van Leer, T. van Leer (5:54)
5. “Sneezing Bull” Philip Catherine (4:27)

6. “Brother” R. van Leer, T. van Leer (5:19)
7. “Tokyo Rose” R. van Leer (5:08)
8. “Maximum” Bert Ruiter, T. van Leer (8:40)
9. “How Long” R. van Leer, T. van Leer (5:16)

Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, electric piano, Mellotron, synthesiser, flute
Bert Ruiter – bass guitar
Steve Smith – drums
Philip Catherine – acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar, lead guitar (5, 8, 9)
Eef Albers – rhythm guitar, lead guitar (except 5, 8, 9)

Production
Yde de Jong – production
Jan van Vrijaldenhoven – engineer
Mike Stavrou – engineer
Jacques Heere – cover design


Discography:

  • Focus Plays Focus [In and Out of Focus] (1970)
  • Focus II [Moving Waves] (1971)
  • Focus 3 (1972)
  • Focus at the Rainbow (1973)
  • Hamburger Concerto (1974)
  • Mother Focus (1975)
  • Ship of Memories (1976)
  • Focus con Proby (1977 • Focus con Proby)

Sources:

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