Blast From The Past

by Davey

Dutch prog rock combo Focus

Curse my youth. I keep missing out on the most awesome bands, Focus being the most recent discovery (bless you, John). Like fellow prog rockers Emerson Lake and Palmer, Focus incorporated classic guitar rock (the best kind), with anything bizarre and/or unusual they could lay their hands on. But with the handicap of a lack of baby-faced sweetheart Greg Lake, Focus had to try a little harder, and forced their way into the limelight with the help of… Yodelling? It’s outlandish to think so, but Focus’s most famous song ‘Hocus Pocus’ (how cruel for radio DJ’s – “that was ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus”) features not just yodelling, but falsetto yodelling. If there’s any finer sound, I haven’t heard it. The majority of the song, though, is a hard rockers dream, guitar and drum solos flung about all over the shop, with striking hair metal riffs throughout. For the more eclectic tastes, there’s always a bit of accordion, flute, and the all important whistling. And why not? The object of rock is to have fun, and it’s so apparent in Focus’s music.
‘Sylvia’ was the band’s other big worldwide hit, guitar and synth led, very ‘Jessica’ by The Allman Brothers Band, I think. Much more listener friendly than the insane genius of ‘Hocus Pocus’, they still sneak some wonderful operatic falsetto into the song.
This is the kind of rock that required classically trained musicians to pull it off. Enter founder Thijs van Leer in 1969, who brought in the talents of guitarist Jan Akkerman a year later. Akkerman turned out to be an especially wise addition to Focus, in that he was an entertainer, flamboyant as well as one of the best musicians in the rock world.
After just six years together, with Pierre van der Linden and Bert Ruiter supporting them through their most successful years and forming a secure line-up, Akkerman suddenly up and left Focus, on the eve of their UK sell out tour no less. Leer quickly hired Philip Catherine, a jazz fusion musician, to take his place. Still, even with Catherine’s talent and his ability to pick the songs up quickly, the group sadly dissolved two years later. A couple of attempts to reunite failed miserably (they even stooped so low as to work with PJ Proby – oh, the shame), and so Focus laid their contribution to 70’s rock to rest. It may be a small one, but it is significant. Most, umm, “mature” rock fans that I’ve mentioned the Focus legend to remember ‘Hocus Pocus’ fondly, and now that I have the ‘Best Of’, I can set about educating my own age group.