Focus is a Dutch rock band which was founded by classically trained organist/flautist Thijs van Leer in 1969, and is most famous for the instrumental pieces "Hocus Pocus" and "Sylvia". The band broke up in 1978, but reformed in 2002 and has been recording and touring since. They have found also renewed fame as the theme for the Nike 2010 World Cup commercial, Write The Future, directed by the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu.
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 Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. The album was little noticed outside the Netherlands, where a small but avid fan base developed. Akkerman left the group to form another band with bassist Cyril Havermans and Pierre van der Linden, a drummer he had previously performed with in Johnny and the Cellar Rockers, The Hunters, and Brainbox. When Cleuver and Dresden left Focus shortly after, Van Leer joined Akkerman, Van der Linden, and Havermans as the new lineup 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.
But in September 1971, shortly before the band went on tour to support the album, Havermans quit and was replaced by Bert Ruiter. He released a solo album, Cyril, in 1973, on which he was backed by all three of his former bandmates from Focus.
The Focus 3 double album was released in 1972. Van Leer and Akkerman were still producing much of their most seminal work, but critics claimed that the album was not as cohesive as Focus II/Moving Waves and the material did not support the length of a double album. However, the album contained 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.
In late 1973, Focus released the album At the Rainbow.
In 1974, Van der Linden was replaced by ex-Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen, before the Focus recorded the Hamburger Concerto album. An attempt to repeat the chart-topping performance of the "Hocus Pocus" sound in the single "Harem Scarem" was not successful, and this contributed to the band's declining fortunes at this time.
The album Mother Focus (1975), featuring new drummer David Kemper, was released to mostly negative reviews. In 1976, frustrated with group's lack of direction and the constraints of working with its commercial ambitions, Akkerman left on the eve of a sell-out UK tour. His last minute replacement was Belgian jazz-fusion guitarist Philip Catherine. The group's US label Sire Records released Ship of Memories, an album of largely unfinished Focus tracks from the aborted 1973-1974 rehearsal sessions to produce a follow-up album to Focus 3. The liner notes were written by Mike Vernon who was the group's producer at the time, and claimed that Akkerman's lack of interest in the project was the reason the sessions fell through. Ship of Memories was released largely due to the effort of Vernon and without the active involvement of the band. The title track is a Van der Linden composition.
American singer P. J. Proby, drummer Steve Smith (later of Journey) and guitarist Eef Albers joined Philip Catherine and the rest of Focus to record Focus con Proby (1978). The album received dismal reviews and a lack of interest, and after a short tour the band decided to call it quits.
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 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. Jan Dumée formed the group On The Rocks with the British singer John Lawton (ex-Uriah Heep and Lucifer's Friend).
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.
The band released a studio album, Focus X, with cover art by Roger Dean in October, 2012 to very positive music reviews.
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).
Akkerman's "House of the King" (from the Focus Plays Focus 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.
- 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
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