A Focused View
Band Members: Thijs van Leer - Organ, Harmonium, Mellotron, Soprano and Alto Flutes & Voice; Jan Akkerman - Electric, Acoustic and Bass Guitar; Cyriel Havermans - Bass Guitar & Voice; Pierre van der Linden - Drums
Engineer: Jerry Boys
Studio: Sound Techniques - Chelsea (London)
Tracks:  Hocus Pocus (6:42),  Le Clochard (2:01),  Janis (3:09),  Moving Waves (2:42),  Focus II (4:03),  Eruption (23:04)
No history of Progressive Rock can be complete without the inclusion of Holland's premiere band Focus, let alone the Dutch Progressive Rock Page. In this edition from the recent series of Counting Out Time articles, we look to the halcyon days of Prog, the early seventies, to find one of the many gems from this period. 1971 produced many wonderful albums not least the second release from Focus, originally entitled Focus II in the Netherlands, but more more widely known across the globe as Moving Waves.
Our story of Focus starts in the late sixties and a Dutch version of Hair, a musical, very indicative of the times - Thijs van Leer, Jan Akkerman along with Martijn Dresden and Hans Cleuver were engaged as the pivotal part of a nine piece orchestra to perform the musical accompaniment for the shows. The four musicians toured with the production for six months or so, before going on to form the first version of the band, and releasing their debut album in 1970 entitled Focus Plays Focus. Initially a Netherlands only release, however reissued in the same year for wider distribution under the title of In and out of Focus. Notably on the reissued album, two tracks had been removed, firstly Sugar Island which was not deemed politically suitable in light of the band's impending tour of the USA and House of the King which was later to resurface on Focus III.
Thijs van Leer born March 1948 in Amsterdam, and from an early age was encouraged into the world of music, initially by his father an accomplished classical flautist, and later studied this same instrument at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Van Leer also studied aspects of orchestral arranging and composition along with the organ. During his school days he led and formed his own jazz group, but his first foray into the commercial world of music was with Rames Shaffy, a cabaret singer in which van Leer played piano, flute and provided the backing vocals, thus providing a strong accompaniment for Shaffy's performances. The trio, which included Hans Cleuver and Martijn Dresden, also played some of van Leer's compositions, and an early version of Anonymous is noted from this time. As is the nature of the beast it was to be bassist Martijn Dresden, (through his father's contacts from the Conservatory), who was to make two influential moves. Firstly contacting Jubert Terheggen from the publishing house, Radio Tele Music (RTM), a division of Radio Luxembourg and stirring the initial interest in van Leer's music. The second, and as the story goes, an equally influential move to invite an aspiring young guitarist, although already known to the band, currently playing with the rock band Brainbox to a "jam" session.
Thus enters Jan Akkerman into the fold, born on Christmas Eve 1946, a self taught guitarist from the tender age of six or seven, having by then forsaken his first instrument, the accordion. Later Akkerman was to study at the Amsterdam Music Lyceum where he won a scholarship. As with van Leer, Akkerman had also formed his own school band and later forming three other bands - 'Johnny and the Cellar Rockers' which was to feature future Focus drummer Pierre van der Linden, 'The Hunters' and finally 'Brainbox' before completing the lineup for Focus.
There were to be two lineup changes before the recording of Moving Waves. Out went Hans Cleuver and his replacement was to be Pierre van der Linden, having previously worked with Akkerman since a very early age, and it was he who was instrumental in recruiting the ex Brainbox drummer into the Focus lineup. Born some eight months earlier than Jan, van der Linden took up the drums at the age of three, initially self taught but later tutored by the then percussionist of the Dutch Opera Symphony Orchestra. Early influences were Miles Davies, Elvin Jones, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane among others. Last but not least was Cyriel Havermans (aka Hagermans), unfortunately there is little documentation to be found about Cyriel previous to Focus, other than his involvement with the Hair project and stints with 'Big Wheel', 'The Heralds' and 'Spatial Concepts'. Havermans' recruitment into the band being influenced more upon his vocal and writing skills rather than as the band's bass player.
Moving Waves was recorded during the months of April and May 1971 and saw the band's collaboration with producer Mike Vernon. Having previously worked with Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Ten Years After and later affiliations with a whole host of legendary blues artists. Interestingly, when all eight of the Focus albums were re-mastered onto CD in 1988, Hubert Terheggen (publisher) was to ring Vernon to ask him to oversee this task.
The album opens to the strains of Jan Akkerman and the now legendary riff that is Hocus Pocus, here in its full length version. A track so untypical of Focus' music but a track that was to serve them well in their live shows and throughout the years and has taken its place in the annals of rock history. Thijs van Leer speaking of the rehearsals of the track at a castle in the middle of Holland: "Jan was playing the first riff, leaving the break for the drummer of four bars, and then I started to yodel!" According to Jan Akkerman it was intended as "a send up of ourselves; all the Monteverdi type of blown-up fantasies". Whatever the reasoning Hocus Pocus is an endearing piece, tongue in cheek, but exemplifies the many facets the make up this unique band. Hocus Pocus was first seen on mainstream television in the UK on the 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' in November 1971.
The two pieces that follow are in a more familiar style, both written by Akkerman and the first, the beautiful Le Clochard (Bread) with the aforementioned acoustically on guitar and van Leer with the delicate mellotron sounds forming the chordal background. Janis being the second, another delicate piece with the main melody on this occasion being taken by the flute, an eclectic mixture of the many and diverse musical styles and influences that make up Focus' music.
The eponymous title track follows, the only piece to feature vocals on the album and in the words of Inayat Khan. The instrumentation here is simple, the rippling piano creating the wave-like accompaniment for the ethereal voice. And so on to the conclusion of the first side of the album and Focus II. The instrumental arrangement used here was to become the trademark signature for Focus, the swirling Hammond organ and the soaring guitar solo, later interpretations of this format gave rise to the band's biggest selling single in the guise of Sylvia.
Eruption occupied the entirety of the second side of the album, clocking in at just over twenty three minutes. The original album showed [a] 1,2 & 3 [b] 4,5 & 6 [c] 7 & 8 [d] 9,10 & 11 [e] 12,13 & 14, as the track order. The following listing taken from the 1988 CD re-issue version shows the actual breakdown of the original timings for each of the individual segments:
[a] Orfeus (1:22), [b] Answer (1:35), [c] Orfeus (1:20), [d] Answer (0:52), [e] Pupilla (1:03), [f] Tommy (1:45), [g] Pupilla (0:34), [h] Answer (0:21), [i] The Bridge (5:20), [j] Break (0:24), [k] Euridice (1:40), [l] Dayglow (2:09), [m] Endless Road (1:36), [n] Answer (0:34), [o] Orfeus (0:52), [p] Euridice (1:37).
Eruption was more of a constructed, or assembled piece, rather than a continuous composition. Written in the main by van Leer and arranged by Jan Akkerman (as was much of the album) - then cut and pasted together as noted here by producer Mike Venon. "In those days technology had not come too far. Adrenaline flow counted for quite a lot. One's ability with the razor blade too if I'm not mistaken. Eruption was recorded in many pieces and spliced together or overlaid. Revox tape machines running at 15 ips without the use of dolby - those were the days!"
The overall piece fused together the band's many and diverse styles from the rockier Akkerman, through van Leer's classical, folk influences and to van der Linden's jazz leanings. Akkermann said "it was a kind of music that didn't exist" and "the name Focus provides an insight to the musical intentions within the band". It would therefore be fair to say that Focus can been seen as influential forerunners of jazz rock, as well symphonic instrumental rock.
As previously mentioned Eruption incorporates the many facets that made up Focus' music, the symphonic notion of recapitulating the various themes that run throughout the piece and the development of these melodies - Orfeus and Answer. The beautiful Pupilla with it's haunting, ethereal voices (Havermans and van Leer) and gentle keyboard chordal structure. Pupilla nicely segues a shortened version of Tommy and interestingly the writing credits here going to Tom Barlage (Barlache), perhaps belying the name. Barlage a saxophonist, formed part of a contemporary Dutch band of the times, Solution. The piece by Barlage is entitled Divergence, it is unclear now, how these two pieces originated but one assumes that the bands caught each others live shows in those early days in Amsterdam.
The longest segment from Eruption, The Bridge sees Akkerman and van Leer 'jamming' along with the band in full flow and one of the few occasions when we hear Havermans on bass guitar, as it was in fact Jan who played the majority of the parts on the Moving Waves album. Solo's are taken in turn by both lead instrumentalists, firstly the guitar, then a linking section with a re-cap of Answer, and following this the organ takes over. A brief but frenzied interlude ensues, [0:24 Seconds] with just electric guitar - a suggestion of the Hocus Pocus riff in there somewhere.
This brief guitar break heralds two of Focus' most beautiful pieces, Euridice with its lovely flute melody slowly descending into the monastic timbres of Dayglow. Timeless pieces, both tunes capturing the quintessential nature that made Focus one of progressive rock's most endearing bands.
Rising triumphantly from the Dayglow is the Endless Road, written by Pierre van der Linden and probably not suprisingly a drum solo, alas I think those days have long left us when bands felt strong enough to include such items on a studio offering. Perhaps also an indication that in those early days, the studio album was seen as a reflection of the band wanting to capture all those elements that made up their live shows. We now move to the end of Eruption, this time the Anwer coming first before leading us into the strains of Orfeus, and the now familiar violining guitar of Jan Akkerman. We leave Moving Waves with the up-lifting Euridice, the track gradually rolling away...
So what now of these men of focus. Thijs van Leer after many attempts, some more successful than others, has recently reformed Focus albeit that he is the only recognised member. The band have now completed the recording of the new album, which is currently being mixed by sound engineer Geert Scheygrond - provisional release dates focus (sorry!) around late July or early August 2002. Thijs also continues his involvement in a number of projects including his participation in Ayreon's 1998 production of Into The Electric Castle with Arjen Lucassen. Focus are currently touring extensively and a number of Festivals are on the programme this summer. Information will soon be available from van Leer's website.
Jan Akkerman is also busy, again with a number of solo projects and is currently on tour. He has continued his passion for the Lute and classical music, featuring in a special concert on 28 June 2002 celebrating the works of Rembrandt. Dutch TV have also recently broadcast Jan gigging with "De Kast" and included in the cast was the mighty Fish on vocals. Jan has released numerous solo works and the most recent CD is entitled Jazzah, for more information about this troubled release and his other projects, visit the Akkerweb.
Pierre van der Linden is also still very active and has current involvement's with Advance Warning, forming part of this interesting jazz unit and has also teamed up with ex-members of Brainbox, under the name of Flavium, their last release in 1998 entitled Nightlife.
Unfortunately there is little information to be found on Cyriel Havermans. The last documented information was during the period just after his departure from Focus in which he recorded two albums. The first simply entitled Cyril, which interestingly featured all three members of the Moving Waves lineup of Focus, and the second album Mind Wave released in 1974. Hopefully at sometime in the future we may have news and a brief update.
Written by Bob Mulvey