Focus – Hamburger Concerto (1974)

FrontCover1Focus are a Dutch progressive rock band formed in Amsterdam in 1969 by keyboardist, vocalist, and flautist Thijs van Leer. The band has undergone numerous formations in its history. Since December 2016, it has comprised van Leer, drummer Pierre van der Linden, guitarist Menno Gootjes, and bassist Udo Pannekeet. Past members include guitarist Jan Akkerman, drummer Hans Cleuver and bassists Martijn Dresden, Bert Ruiter and Bobby Jacobs. They have sold one million RIAA-certified albums in the United States.

After the addition of Akkerman to van Leer’s rock trio in late 1969, the band named themselves Focus and were the pit band for the Dutch production of the rock musical Hair. Their debut album Focus Plays Focus (1970) gained little attention, but their follow-up album Moving Waves (1971), and its lead single “Hocus Pocus”, earned the band international recognition. Their success continued with Focus 3 (1972) and Hamburger Concerto (1974), the former containing their second hit single, “Sylvia”. After two additional albums recorded with various musicians, Focus dissolved in 1978. They reunited in 1985, 1990, 1998 and 2002.

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In 2002, van Leer reformed Focus with a new line-up. The albums Focus 8 (2002), Focus 9 / New Skin (2006) and Focus X (2012) were well received, and Focus continue to perform worldwide. Their most recent album is Focus 11 (2018). They received a renewed interest after Nike used “Hocus Pocus” in its 2010 World Cup commercial Write The Future. Focus remain one of the most successful and influential rock bands from the Netherlands.

Hamburger Concerto is the fourth studio album by the Dutch progressive rock band Focus, released in April 1974. It peaked at #20 on the UK charts. The title track is based on Variations on a Theme by Haydn by Johannes Brahms. The composition also incorporates the first two verses of the Dutch Christmas carol O Kerstnacht, schoner dan de dagen at around 15 min. (by wikipedia)

The 1973–1975 line-up on the Dutch television show Top Pop in April 1974, with drummer Colin Allen on far right:
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Focus had well proven their ability to write rocking instrumentals by the time of this release. Their catalog, although consisting of four albums, rarely had a dull moment between them. Hamburger Concerto is equally consistent, much of it being prime Focus material. The Akkerman-written “Birth” and “Early Birth” are examples of Focus fully flexing their muscles, featuring superb guitar work and amazing all-round musicianship, as well as sporting some superb riffs. The usual lengthy instrumentals are present also, as well as some manic vocals from the manic but genius Thijs Van Leer. Although Hamburger Concerto is not as unerring as Moving Waves or Focus III, anyone who enjoyed the previous releases would undoubtedly find great satisfaction from this album. (by Ben Davies)

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Personnel:
Jan Akkerman (guitar)
Colin Allen( drums)
Thijs van Leer (keyboards, flute, vocals,  harpsichord, synthesizer, recorder, mellotron, accordion)
Bert Ruiter (bass)

Booklet

Tracklist:
01. Delitæ Musicæ (Akkerman) 1.12
02. Harem Scarem (van Leer) 5.52
03. La Cathedrale de Strasbourg (van Leer) 4.56
04. Birth (Akkerman) 7.45
05. Hamburger Concerto 21.16
05.1. Starter (Traditional)
05.2. Rare (Akkerman)
05.3. Medium I (van Leer/Akkerman)
05.4. Medium II (Akkerman)
05.5.Well Done (van Leer)
05.6. One for the Road (Akkerman)
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06. Early Birth (Akkerman) 2.54
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07. 07 – Hamburger Concerto (live) (taken from the bootleg “Live In Japan”, 1975) 21.16

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More Focus:

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Focus – At The Rainbow (1973)

USFrontCover1At the Rainbow is the first live album from the Dutch rock band Focus, released in October 1973 on Imperial Records. The album was recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London on 5 May 1973. A studio album was initially slated for release, but it was shelved due to disagreements within the band. (An album compiled from the tapes of these sessions was later released with the title Ship of Memories.) At the Rainbow was released instead. (by wikipedia)

The instrumental rockers of the early ’70s never were any good at dulling down their musical expertise; and, indeed, it’s only a matter of seconds into their first and only live release — Live at the Rainbow — until one realizes just how talented Focus were. Jan Akkerman, named “World’s Best Guitarist” by Melody Maker in 1973 ahead of Eric Clapton and others, was amazingly on form in this performance. Thijs Van Leer, chief songwriter and performer in the band, showcased his talents on flute, vocals, and organ with unparalleled finesse. Bert Ruiter knocked out his basslines tight to Pierre Van Der Linden’s drums, undoubtedly two of the finest players on their respective instruments. It would be so easy to go off on a tangent explaining the mastery that Focus had musically; suffice to say, however, the bands technical proficiency is rarely matched in the world of rock. Live at the Rainbow featured some of the band’s best and most well known tracks: “Sylvia,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Focus II,” and so on.

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Original Dutch front + back cover

Although much of the content sticks closely to its original studio form (12-minute tracks were regular on studio albums), with maybe an extra solo or two thrown in for good measure, a few songs host drastic changes. “Hocus Pocus,” for example, is almost unrecognizable. This live version is multiple times faster than its studio counterpart — those familiar with only the studio version are certainly in for a shock! Throughout the album the performance is simply astonishing. Live at the Rainbow is a fine purchase for any Focus fan, or, indeed, anyone looking for a band with a good degree of originality and musical ability. (by Ben Davies)

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Original Dutch labels

This is a live album by Focus. It is an excellent live performance of the early Focus. The selected tracks are interesting: there are “Hocus Pocus”, “Focus 2” “Sylvia” and a shortened version of the epic “Eruption”, among others. The sound is pretty good, and the musicians almost sound like on the studio albums. The polite crowd favorably responds at the end and the beginning of the tracks. On “Focus 2”, Jan Akkerman seems not at his best: he often hesitates: I think the track is a bit played too fast. The mellow version of “Eruption” is particularly brilliant. “Hocus Pocus” is almost better than the studio version: they play it much faster. The yodeling is very well succeeded, and there are even a couples of further extravagant vocals parts and whistling: IMPRESSIVE! The other shorter version of “Hocus Pocus” is also fantastic, with again another special & different yodeling. (by greenback)

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Personnel:
Jan Akkerman (guitar)
Thijs van Leer (keyboards, flute, vocals)
Pierre van der Linden (drums)
Bert Ruiter (bass)

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Tracklist:
01. Focus III (v.Leer) 3.53
02. Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (Akkerman/Ruiter) 11.29
03. Focus II (v.Leer) 4.36
04. Eruption (Excerpt) 8.29
04.01. Orfeus (v.Leer) 1.33
04.02. Answer (v.Leer) 1.25
04.03. Orfeus (v.Leer) 1.22
04.04. Answer (v.Leer) 0.20
04.05. Pupilla (v.Leer) 1.10
04.06. Tommy (Barlage) 1.54
04.07. Pupilla (v.Leer) 0.45
05. Hocus Pocus (Akkerman(v.Leer) 8.30
06. Sylvia (v.Leer) 2.48
07. Hocus Pocus (Reprise) (Akkerman/v.Leer) 2.48

Performed at the show, but still unreleased

“Anonymus 2”
“House Of The King” (Instrumental) (filmed)
Lute solo (“Britannia” by John Dowland)

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Focus – III (1972)

FrontCover1Focus 3 or Focus III is the third studio album from the Dutch rock band Focus, released as a double album in November 1972 on Imperial Records in the Netherlands, Polydor Records in the UK, and Sire Records in the US. Recorded after touring in supporting their previous album, Focus II (1971), the album saw the band write extended pieces and is their first with bassist Bert Ruiter in the group’s line-up.Focus 3 or Focus III is the third studio album from the Dutch rock band Focus, released as a double album in November 1972 on Imperial Records in the Netherlands, Polydor Records in the UK, and Sire Records in the US. Recorded after touring in supporting their previous album, Focus II (1971), the album saw the band write extended pieces and is their first with bassist Bert Ruiter in the group’s line-up.
Focus 3 received a positive reception upon its release. It went to No. 1 in the Netherlands for one week and reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 35 on the US Billboard 200. “Sylvia” was released as the album’s sole single, which reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 89 in the US. The album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling in excess of 500,000 copies.

In July 1972, after touring in supporting their previous album, Focus II (1971), the band retreated to Olympic Studios in Barnes, south west London, to record their next album. Initially a single LP was intended to be recorded but the group had written a considerable amount of new material, so the group opted to release a double album.

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Mike Vernon reprised his role as the record’s producer with George Chkiantz assigned as recording engineer.[ Two versions of the album’s sleeve design exist; its North American release features each member photographed during a performance on the BBC music television show The Old Grey Whistle Test with a black background. The second, designed by Hamish Grimes, depicts a close-up of van Leer playing the flute with the title over his face.

“Round Goes the Gossip” features five lines from the poem Aeneid by the ancient Roman poet Virgil, sung in Latin by van Leer and its chorus hook, “Round goes the gossip”, also sung by Vernon. The five lines from the poem are printed on the album’s sleeve in Latin and English[1] with the 1916 translation by Henry Fairclough.

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“Love Remembered” is a track written by Akkerman, playing an acoustic guitar with van Leer’s flute, which is based on a young couple’s morning walk. Van Leer wrote “Sylvia” in 1968 when he was a member of his previous theatre group Shaffy Chantat, formed by singer and actor Ramses Shaffy. He was not fond of a composition that singer Sylvia Alberts was given to sing for her solo performance, so he wrote the instrumental with a set of lyrics in English written by Linda van Dyck. Its original title was a long one: “I Thought I Could Do Everything on My Own, I Was Always Stripping the Town Alone”, and concerned an independent young woman who fell apart after she met the love of her life. van Leer kept the music, re-arranging it as an instrumental track when it came to selecting material for the album.

He renamed it “Sylvia” after Alberts “to tease [her] a little”. The track includes a guitar introduction written by van Leer’s brother Frank.

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Peet Johnson, one of the group’s biographers, highlights several musical references and similarities that van Leer incorporates in “Focus III”, including riffs from Bernard Hermann, “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” made famous by Petula Clark in 1967, Tchaikovsky, and Schubert. The track’s end segues into “Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!”, titled by Akkerman, featuring extended flute and guitar solos. Ruiter came up with its basic riff, with Akkerman coming up with the “second part”.[8] Akkerman wrote “Elspeth of Nottingham” after driving around England for a holiday in 1967, stopping in a town in the Cotswolds where he first heard Julian Bream play the lute which inspired him to learn the instrument. Akkerman requested to include birdsong on the recording; Vernon suggested to include sounds of cows mooing and the song’s title, the “Elspeth” being an old Scottish variant of the name Elizabeth.[8][9] “Carnival Fugue” borrows from Johann Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier before venturing into cool jazz territory, then culminates in a rock finale with piccolo improvisations and a hint of Calypso rhythms on guitar. “Anonymous II” borrows its theme from “Anonymous” from the band’s first album and features a solo spot for all four members, lasting for 26 minutes.
The vinyl pressings of the album includes “House of the King”, a track Focus recorded for their first album, Focus Plays Focus (1970), intended to fill up space on side four. The two former members who perform on the recording, bassist Martin Dresden and drummer Hans Cleuver, are not credited on the album sleeve.

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Released in November 1972, Focus 3 was a commercial success for the band, reaching No. 1 in the Netherlands for one week.[11] It reached a peak of No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart[12] in March 1973 during a 16-week stay on the chart.[10] In the US, it reached No. 35 on the Billboard 200. “Sylvia” was released as the album’s sole single, which reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 89 in the US. In November 1973, Billboard announced the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling in excess of 500,000 copies. The album reached the same certification in the Netherlands and the UK. (by wikipedia)

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Riding on the success of their hit single “Hocus Pocus” from the revolutionary Moving Waves album, Focus got to work on this, their third LP in four years. While the debut album featured a style not too dissimilar to the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Focus’ second LP, Moving Waves, was purely instrumental and wholly serious-minded. Focus III kept this same sound, but approached it with a jollier, more accessible tone. As with its predecessor, Focus III featured only one tune that would have a chance of being a hit single. The enjoyable rhythm of “Sylvia,” partnered with Jan Akkerman’s victorious guitar solo, some of Van Leer’s finest organ work, Bert Ruiter’s tight basslines, and Pierre Van Der Linden’s mellow drumming, assured the track classic status.

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“Sylvia” found worldwide success and gained the band valuable radio and press exposure. The song remains one of the most loved and best remembered songs from Focus’ catalog. The consistency in musical quality throughout Focus III is enough to merit any listeners’ respect. To be frank, this LP has it all: diverse songs, astounding musicianship, one of the finest singles ever released — Focus III should unquestionably be ranked alongside the likes of Revolver, Dark Side of the Moon, and any others of rock’s greatest. (by Ben Davies)
In other words: A masterpiece !

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Personnel:
Jan Akkerman (guitar, lute)
Thijy van Leer (keyboards, flute, harpsichord, vocals)
Pierre van der Linden (drums)
Bert Ruiter (bass)
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Hans Cleuver (drums on 09.)
Martin Dresden (bass on 09.=
Mike Vernon (background vocals on 01.)

Booklet

Tracklist:
01. Round Goes The Gossip (van Leer) 5.14
02. Love Remembered (Akkerman) 2.49
03. Sylvia (van Leer) 3.32
04. Carnival Fugue (van Leer) 6.09
05. Focus III (van Leer) 6.04
06. Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (Akkerman/Ruiter) 13.50
07. Anonymus II(van Leer/Akkerman/Ruiter/ v.d.Linden) 26.21
07.1. Anonymus II (Part 1) 19.28
07.2. Anonymus II (Conclusion) 7.30
08. Elspeth of Nottingham (Akkerman) 3.11
09. House Of The King (Akkerman) 2.51

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Focus – Focus Plays Focus (In And Out Of Focus) (1970)

FocusPlaysFocusFC1Focus are a Dutch progressive rock band formed in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in 1969 by Thijs van Leer. The band have undergone numerous formations in its history. Since 2011 it has comprised van Leer on vocals, keyboards, and flute, Pierre van der Linden on drums, Bobby Jacobs on bass, and Menno Gootjes on guitar.

Formed of members of the pit band for the Dutch production of the rock musical Hair, Focus gained popularity following the success of Focus II (1971) which contained the hit single “Hocus Pocus”. Their success continued with Focus 3 (1972) and Hamburger Concerto (1974). Following their break up in 1978, Focus reunited in 1985, 1990, and 1999 before reforming in 2002. They continue to tour and release albums.

In 2010, “Hocus Pocus” was used as the theme for Nike’s 2010 World Cup commercial Write The Future which renewed interest in the band.

At the release of their first album Focus Plays Focus (re-released with a different track sequence as In and Out of Focus) (1970), Focus comprised keyboardist and flutist Thijs van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman, bassist Martijn Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. The album was little noticed outside the Netherlands, where a small but avid fan base developed. In the United Kingdom the single “House of the King” initially garnered attention as a Jethro Tull sound-alike. Akkerman left the group to form another band with Pierre van der Linden, a drummer he had previously performed with in Johnny and the Cellar Rockers, The Hunters, and Brainbox. Van Leer made the difficult decision of leaving behind his bandmates Cleuver and Dresden to join Akkerman’s new group which, after enlisting bassist Cyril Havermans, retained the name of Focus. (by wikipedia)

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Focus’ debut album is gentler and more low-key and vocal-oriented than their subsequent efforts; fans of Jan Akkerman’s pyrotechnics may be disappointed by his relatively restrained presence, but others may be pleasantly surprised to find a more economic group than they remember. A fair collection of progressive rock tunes without a clear focus, the material is dominated by Thijs Van Leer, often introducing classical sensibilities. But at least as often, it sticks with fairly conventional period folk-rock and blues influences, with occasional jazzy shadings. Akkerman’s “House of the King” is the most accurate Jethro Tull imitation ever recorded. (by Richie Unterberger)

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Personnel:
Jan Akkerman (guitar)
Hans Cleuver (drums, percussion)
Martijn Dresden (bass)
Thijs van Leer (organ, flute, vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Focus I (vocal) (Cleuver/v.Leer) 2.44
02. Black Beauty (Akkerman/Dresden/v.Leer) 3.06
03. Sugar Island (Staal/Dresden(v.Leer) 3.05
04. Anonymous (Akkerman/Dresden/v.Leer) 6.33
05. House Of The King (Akkerman) 2.51
06. Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) (Dresden/Hayes/v.Leer) 3.59
07. Why Dream (Cleuver/v.Leer) 3.58
08. Focus (instrumental) (Cleuver/v.Leer) 9.44

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Focus – Live In America (2003)

FrontCover1 After a reunion or back to studio , whatever you wan to call it, Focus released “Focus 8” in 2002 year, an excellent album by the way and which marked a good comeback from one of the prog monsters on the 70`s, the “sad” thing is that we can`t enjoy the talent and exquisite sound of Jan Akkerman`s guitar, instead of him, another good guitarist called Jan Dumee appeared on the album making a great work.

One year later, Focus made a tour and the line up of Focus 8 remained with Thijs Van Leer (who???), Bert Smaak on drums, Jan Dumee on guitars and Bobby Jacobs on bass, so they made some concerts in the US and released this album from a concert there called “Focus: Live in America”.

It was a pleasure for fans to see a reunion and release of a new album, also a pleasure to see them touring and above all, a pleasure to enjoy their classic music. This DVD features 10 songs, if I´m not wrong they didn`t include any song from their latest album then “Focus 8” ironically, but they did include some of their most well known and loved songs such as “Eruption”, “Sylvia”, “La Cathedral de Strasbourgo” and obviously “Hocus Pocus”.

Tray1For me all this album is excellent, beautiful music, symphonic sound at it`s best, jazz touches here and there and rockier pieces that would make you have a nice time, if you are familiar with the band, please watch this video surely you will enjoy it , and if you are not familiar,i would recommend first to listen to their earlier studio albums and then watch this, Thijs Van Leer shows his unique and very talented style.

Besides the songs that I mentioned above, you will find another classic such as “Focus 1”, “Sylvia” or “House Of The King”, besides a slice of Van Leer`s flute delicious solo, probably the performance of “Eruption” is my favorite moment here, this is a concert, not a show so dont expect weird things, just sit, relax and enjoy the music. (by memowakeman)

And: it´s time to hear all these classic Focus albums from the early Seventies again !

BackCover1Personnel:
Jan Dumee (guitar)
Bobby Jacobs (bass)
Thijs van Leer (keyboards, flute, vocals)
Bert Smaak (drums)

BookletATracklist:
01. Focus I (v.Leer) 12.59
02. House Of The King (Akkerman) 2.53
03. Focus II (v.Leer) 5.21
04. Eruption (v.Leer) 16.28
05. Sylvia (v.Leer) 4.35
06. Focus V (v.Leer) 4.38
07. Cathedral de Strasbourg (v.Leer) 6.47
08. Focus VII (v.Leer) 9.55
09. Hocus Pocus (v.Leer/Akkerman) 9.46
10. Focus III (v.Leer) 4.46

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Focus – Mother Focus (1975)

FrontCover1Focus here featured virtuoso guitarist Jan Akkerman for the last time, not to work with his long-term writing partner Thijs Van Leer for another ten years. Mother Focus also sees Focus’ highly skilled bass player Bert Ruiter try his hand in songwriting. The outcome includes the one of the finest funk tracks on the album — the hilarious “I Need a Bathroom.” The album begins with quite possibly the finest track on the album — and maybe the most typical Focus — the titular “Mother Focus.” The funky theme underlying the number sets the mood for the rest of the LP with aplomb. Indeed, Mother Focus is far from the usual instrumental material. For this reason, Mother Focus may not appeal to the usual fans of the Dutch proggers. The number of feel-good tunes making up the album’s core makes up for the lack of a rocking single in the style of “Hocus Pocus.” A mellower, happier aura permeates the recording as a whole, particularly noticeable in the soothing “Tropic Bird.” Undoubtedly, though, Mother Focus is let down by the lack of Akkerman’s and Thijs’ presence. The whole album cries out for one of them to jump out and take center stage for a while. Instead each track is filled with numerous melodies and rhythms, with only the occasional jaunt from Akkerman. Mother Focus is a fine album in its own right, but maybe not what one would be expecting when taking into account the progressive rock features of their earlier albums. Funk predominates in the last respectable Focus LP. RIP Focus.  (by Den Davies)

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Inner sleeve from Japan

Personnel:
Jan Akkerman (guitar)
David Kemper (drums)
Thys Van Leer (keyboards, flute)
Bert Ruiter (bass, vocals
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Colin Allen (drums on 02.)

BackCover1Tracklist:
01. Mother Focus (v.Leer/Ruiter/Akkerman) 3.03
02. I Need A Bathroom (Ruiter) 3.02
03. Bennie Helder (v.Leer) 3.31
04. Soft Vanilla (Ruiter) 3.00
05. Hard Vanilla (Ruiter) 2.35
06. Tropic Bird (Ruiter) 2.42
07. Focus IV (v.Leer) 3.55
08. Someone’s Crying ….. What! (Akkerman)  3.18
09. All Together! ….. Oh That! (Akkerman) 3.40
10. No Hang Ups (Stoppelman)  2.54
11. My Sweetheart (v.Leer/Ruiter/Akkerman) 3.35
12. Father Bach (Bach) 1.30

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