It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am predisposed to like most things Dutch: van Gogh, Rembrandt, trees planted in straight lines, complex drainage systems, cheese, pancakes, daffodils, liberal-mindedness and so on. I’m also unfeasibly bonkers about the Dutch masters of music: the band Focus.
Left to right: Bobby Jacobs (bass), Thijs van Leer (hammond organ, flute, band founder, yodelling and general lunacy), Niels van der Steenhoven (awesome lead guitar) and Pierre van der Linden (drums)
Whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry is exactly right when they describe Focus’s music as: “… fuse-inspired jazz, rock, and blues improvisation, classical musical structures, and accessible pop melodies into a powerful and instantly recognizable sound.”
What it doesn’t capture is the way they create such vast music (and I don’t simply mean loud, though at times it is) which soars and swoops majestically around you with an epic, classical quality. It is predominently instrumental music with the melody performed either by guitar, flute or organ – sometimes all at once – and is punctuated by vocals which rarely involve singing words. Instead, founder and all-round-crazy-man Thijs van Leer uses his voice as an instrument to create mood and texture by yodelling, burbling, roaring and whistling.
Last night in Swindon they performed all their wonderful 70s hits: ‘House of the king’, ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Hocus pocus’, of course. And to my delight they played ‘Black beauty’ my favourite track from their new album, Focus 9 / New Skin, which is a reworking of a song with vocals from 1971, now made into an instrumental with a melody powerful enough to make stones weep.
Here’s a link to their mad website. Go and see them if you can. Utterly, completely and bonkersly progtastic.