Focus was the most successful and appreciated of all Dutch music exports back in the 70s. Fronted by founding member Thijs Van Leer, and best known for their hits “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia”, I remember buying ‘Moving Waves’ on cassette and seeing schoolmates looking cool with the LP ‘Hamburger Concerto’ under their arms. After a comeback in the early 2000’s which resulted in the inventively titled, well-received albums ‘Focus 8’ and ‘Focus 9’, the band regrouped around Thijs van Leer (vocals, flute and keyboards), and drummer Pierre van der Linden (who originally joined the group on their second album ‘Moving Waves’ in 1972). Guitarist Menno Gootjes, a previous band member, and bass player Udo Pannekeet complete the band’s current line-up.
With this new Focus era comes a rejuvenated passion, evidenced in 2019’s Focus 11. A worldwide pandemic may have halted the 50th Anniversary celebrations, but here they are happy to be back on stage, at home, at play and at work.
Focus have been masters of their chosen trade for decades. A progster’s dream combination of whimsical depth and seemingly simple complexity combine to produce a glorious instrumental musicianship. And the gig serves only to underline that summary
Maybe they don’t play to huge audiences. Maybe the venue sees the loudest members of the audience jostling at the bar, conversing loudly over the quiet concentration of the musicians, distracting those who came to enjoy the band. Just like old CRS days…….
This was a sublime expression of musical nostalgia and instrumental nonchalance that deserved a better presentation, more attentive audience and greater acclaim. I applaud them for starting in such a low-key, delicate manner as Focus 1, before reminding us of their first, albeit lesser, hit House of the King. But then they launch into the epic, lengthy Eruption, and it’s all on display. Prog subtlety and nonsense, finger-twisting pyrotechnics, languid blues, self-indulgent solos. The lot. Time to wallow.
For me, one of the highlights was Focus 7. What a gorgeous number, beautifully played. And then, with indecent haste almost, we race to the interval with the legendary Sylvia. The audience ears prick up, the band are in full entertainment mode, and it’s an electrifying close. Go have a beer or two and buy some merchandise, suggests the old timer Thijs Van Leer before fighting his way over a monitor to get to the back of the stage.
Clambering back onstage through the tight racks of equipment, Van Leer dedicates the first number to ex-bassist Bert Ruiter, who died in early 2022. I didn’t know he was dead, said the bloke with Focus gig T-shirt who passed me on the way to the gents, just as the emotive song commenced. A great track that sums up Focus perfectly: melodic yet raucous, uplifting or enlivening, but thoughtful yet frivolous. Another explanation leads us into the excellent La Cathedral Strasbourg. As the late Leslie Phillips would have said in another context- ding dong! (you had to be there….). Harem Scarem allows the band to let loose, solo slots galore, galloping frivolity and a clearly evident enjoyment of the music aplenty. And so to the last, but lengthy, set closer at ridiculous speed – Hocus Pocus. More solo slots, more clever interaction, more fun and frivolity, more dexterous instrumental brilliance. And that’s it.
I’m told there’s new music on the way, and I look forward to it. In the meantime I’m so pleased to have had the experience that is the one and only Focus.
Inventive. Impressive. Idiosyncratic.
Current Line Up:
Thijs van Leer – Hammond-organ -flute and vocals
Pierre van der Linden – drums
Menno Gootjes- guitar
Udo Pannekeet – bass
House of the King
La Cathedral Strasbourg