Review – Focus – Focus 12 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Focus need little or no introduction to most folks, I would imagine. Although most of that Knowledge will be a familiarity with either Hocus Pocus, Sylvia or House Of The King, all of which come from their heyday in the early 1970’s, some 50 plus years ago. Well, Focus are still very much an ongoing concern with Thijs Van Leer at the helm and still very active for a 75 year old man, Pierre Van Der Linden is actually 78 and still a very powerful drummer.

This album is unsurprisingly Focus’s 12th official studio album, although there have been a few more recent live releases like ‘Live At The Robin’, ‘Live In Europe’, from around 2010, and the excellent ‘Live in Rio’ which had a bonus album of the Focus numbered tracks Focus 1 to Focus 11, entitled ‘Completely Focused’ and was a great addition to their catalogue.

Which brings us back to this new album from the Dutch veterans and possibly Holland’s most legendary band. ‘Focus 12’ is an album of ten tracks mostly written by Thijs Van Leer but produced by the younger guard of band members Udo Panakeet (bass) and Menno Gootljes (guitar), who also contribute two compositions on the album. This fresh perspective is all part of keeping the music fresh and exciting. However I’m not entirely convinced that this works the way it should or could have, let’s listen and I’ll try to explain my feelings about this album more fully.

The album begins with Ford Focus, which I guess is not about the long standing production model of vehicle. Well it certainly is a sprightly little number and one that sets you up for what is to follow. Which, in this case, is Focus 13, this is the latest in the continuing series of numbered instrumental tracks. Again, this is certainly pleasant enough but initially fails to really ignite and capture the listener. There’s a nice guitar tone and lines but, thankfully, the latter part of the track gains in both pace and intensity which really redeems things. Bela opens with a graceful piano melody which really shines but is then overtaken by a highly mixed guitar line from Menno that ties into the piano melody, Thijs then switching to Hammond organ to provide a counterpoint melody. This track is good, if a tad pedestrian in its pacing, it has a really great sound though.

Meta Indefinita has some great tones including a plucked bass part playing harmonics, some dirty growling guitar parts and the percolating percussion of Pierre Van Der Linden. I suspect this is the totally improvised track on the album, as it seems to fit the bill. Thijs Van Leer’s flute floats over the top of it all and Menno adds more countrified licks, which is a good touch and works well, it’s pretty good, all told, and definitely shows good intentions. All Aboard is an even tempo piece with a good bass line from Udo and some fine, fluid guitar from Menno which morphs into a harder section that closes the track out. Born To Be You is a brief piano vignette that, while pleasant enough, adds little to what has gone before, even when the rest of the band join in. Nura is initially pedestrian until around the ninety second mark when it comes alive with real power and energy to become something a little more special and interesting.

Bowie fares a lot better as it is a bit more interesting, Whether it is a tribute to David Bowie or something entirely different is really not clear as the bulk of the track is a long solo piano piece from Thijs, it is beautifully performed though, it must be said. Quite why Focus have chosen this approach is slightly baffling to me as many folks will not listen long enough to enjoy the changes of pacing. The penultimate track, Positano, is another case in point, the initial part leading you into a false sense of security with mainly gentle guitar lines and piano before, around the two minute mark, everything changes for the better as a crashing guitar riff enters the fray, bass and drums pile in as does Thijs’ flute. Again, it’s all very good indeed but a bit late in the day, I expect excitement nearer the start of the track. Gaia is the album’s final track and this starts with a sultry organ part and some great ensemble playing with little guitar fills from Menno being added. It is not until halfway through that the track gains any urgency or even intensity as, until then, it has been very pedestrian. Menno adds some almost country style guitar fills which enlivens things a little but it’s all a little to late to save the track for me.

Now I must say that I am working from a download and the final album may flow a lot better. I guess I won’t know till I get my own CD and see for myself but, based on this, I’m sad to say that this album fails to capture the imagination fully and is not really up to the stands one expects of a band like Focus. The cover from Roger Dean is, of course, splendid but I just wanted more from this album somehow…

Released 5th July, 2024.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Focus (burningshed.com)

FOCUS ANNOUNCE NEW STUDIO ALBUM ~ FOCUS 12 – CD, Vinyl and Digital Release : JULY 5th

Spirit of Unicorn Music are pleased to announce the forthcoming release of FOCUS 12, the brand new studio album from Focus.

Founded by Thijs van Leer, Focus have been at the forefront of the progressive music movement since 1969, yet they still continue to deliver engaging, innovative and skillfully crafted music.  Focus 12 exemplifies this and proves why they are still a firm fan favourite, the world over.

For Thijs van Leer (75) and Pierre van der Linden (78), age is nothing more than a number.  Both continue to contribute to Focus with a passion.  Thijs, who has written the majority of the new album, rises at 4.30am every day in order to work on his compositions.  Whilst the album boasts some of Pierre’s greatest and most energetic drum sequences to date.

Allowing the younger guard to take the audio reins for the first time, Focus 12 is produced by band members Udo Pannekeet and Menno Gootjes, who also contribute two compositions on the album.

Thijs commented “How beautiful life can be when a band plays so easily and so together.”

Focus 12 was recorded at the world-renowned Wisseloord Studios, in the band’s native country, of the Netherlands.  A first for Focus, the album features a completely improvised piece which was captured as it spontaneously took place in the studio, during the recording process.  Thus proving that more than 50 years on, the band are still excited by undertaking something new and different.

Van Leer continues “Thanks Pierre, Udo and Menno for so much musical passion!”

The band continue their long association with legendary artist Roger Dean whose stunning artwork graces the front cover and packaging.  The vinyl version features a stunning gatefold sleeve.

Focus continue to be one of the hardest working rock bands on the planet, regularly touring the globe playing live.  This July, they undertake a string of live dates across the USA and Canada, as part of Asia’s Heat Of The Moment Tour.

Thijs van Leer concludes “After all these years, Focus is in the here and now; the triumph of survival!

Focus 12 will be available on CD, Vinyl and on all good streaming services and can be pre-ordered here:   https://burningshed.com/store/focus

Track Listing

1.    Fjord Focus

2.    Focus 13

3.    Béla

4.    Meta Indefinita

5.    All Aboard

6.    Born To Be You

7.    Nura

8.    Bowie

9.    Positano

10. Gaia

Focus are:

Thijs van Leer : Flute, Organ, Piano, Synths

Menno Gootjes : Guitars, Piano, Synths

Pierre van der Linden : Drums

Udo Pannekeet : Bass, Synths, Programming

Produced by Menno Gootjes and Udo Pannekeet

Recorded by Danny Sykes, Udo Pannekeet and Geert Scheijgrond at Wisseloord Studios and Wedgeview Studios, Netherlands

Mixed by Udo Pannekeet

Mastered by Sander van der Heide

Heat Of The Moment 2024 Tour Dates:

Wednesday, 3rd July          : Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield

Thursday, 4th July               : Fallsview Casino, Niagara Falls

Saturday, 6th July                : Chevalier Theatre, Medford

Sunday, 7th July                  : The Paramount, Huntingdon

Tuesday, 9th July                 : Bergen Performing Arts Center, Englewood

Wednesday, 10th July         : Count Basie Center, Red Bank

Friday, 12th July                  : Tropicana Showroom, Atlantic City

Saturday, 13th July              : Wind Creek Event Center, Bethlehem

Sunday, 14th July                : American Music Theatre, Lancaster

Tuesday, 16th July              : Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium, Spartanburg

Wednesday, 17th July         : Ryman Auditorium, Nashville

Thursday, 18th July             : Columbia County Performing Arts Center, Evans

Saturday, 20th July              : Hard Rock Live, Orlando

Sunday, 21st July                : Pompano Beach Amphitheater, Pompano Beach

Monday, 22nd July              : Seminole Hard Rock, Tampa

Wednesday, 24th July         : North Charleston PAC, North Charleston

Thursday, 25th July             : Macon City Auditorium, Macon

Friday, 26th July                   : Saeger Theatre, Mobile

Sunday, 28th July                : VBC Mark Smith Concert Hall, Huntsville

Tuesday, 30th July              : The Armada Theatre, St Charles

Wednesday, 31st July         : The Pabst Theater, Milwaukee

FOCUS ANNOUNCE THE HOCUS POCUS TOUR 2023-2024 – UK Dates

Focus return to the UK, in November 2023, with their THE HOCUS POCUS TOUR 2023-24.  Fresh from the studio, where they are recording their eagerly-awaited new album, they will traverse Britain to give their loyal fans what they always want – a good time and timeless music.

Featuring Thijs Van Leer (Keyboards, flute, vocals), Pierre Van Der Linden (drums, percussion), Menno Gootjes (guitar) and Udo Pannekeet (bass), Focus have 14 dates scheduled at some of their favourite venues – and a few new ones, too.

Focus have so many highlights from their glorious 50-plus years including: Polydor having to close their record pressing plant to other bands for ten days to meet the demand for Focus records; being a favourite of Bob Harris on The Old Grey Whistle Test and to holding simultaneous top ten positions in the UK in both singles and albums charts. Through the decades, Focus remained relevant, their music entertaining live audiences, spearheading advertising campaigns [including the Nike South Africa World Cup TV spot] and Hollywood films [including Baby Driver and Troll movie).

A new Focus era arrived, in 2019, bringing with it a rejuvenated passion amongst the band. Focus released Focus 11, their first studio album for 6 years, complete with brand new Roger Dean artwork. The year was then spent touring from South America to Japan – and everywhere in between – in support of the new album.

With the dawn of 2020 came the 50th anniversary of the formation of Focus. Unfortunately, celebrations had to be put on hold due to global events. 2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the album Moving Waves (1971). The album featured the iconic track Hocus Pocus and following a live performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test in late 1972, a re-recorded Hocus Pocus would reach #20 in the UK singles chart in February 1973, the same week that Sylvia peaked at #4. Moving Waves hit #2 in the UK albums chart in March 1973 as the Focus live tour took the UK by storm.  Hocus Pocus reached number 2 in the USA.

2021 saw the release of the deluxe anniversary boxset Focus50 featuring Blu-ray and CD of the Live In Rio concert and a studio re-record of all of the Focus numbers. Focus returned to touring in 2022 and the band were delighted to be performing, once again, their classics such as Hocus PocusSylvia, and House Of The King together with some of the Focus numbers also making an appearance!

Holding a unique place in the hearts of music fans everywhere, Britain also holds a special place in the hearts of Focus, having toured here regularly through their 50-plus years and so the band are looking forward to their visit later in the year.

Some shocking news!” declares Focus founder and guiding light Thijs Van Leer. “Focus will be touring the U.K. in November!!” he laughs and then, with a deep sincerity: “We always feel welcome, here, we always feel AT HOME!!! Thanx!”

THE HOCUS POCUS TOUR 2023 UK dates:

Thursday 9 November        Derby                         Flowerpot

Friday 10 November            Fletching                    Trading Boundaries

Saturday 11 November       Great Yarmouth       HRH Festival

Sunday 12 November         London                       Bush Hall

Tuesday 14 November       Chiselhurst                Beaverwood

Thursday 16 November      Bristol                         The Fleece

Friday 17 November            Howden                     Howden Shire Hall

Saturday 18 November       Tunbridge Wells       The Forum

Sunday 19 November         Sale                            Waterside Arts

Tuesday 21 November       Blackpool                   Waterloo Music Bar

Wednesday 22 November  Kinross                       Kinross Green Hotel

Thursday 23 November      Galashiels                 Galashiels Mac Arts

Friday 24 November            Troon                          Winterstorm Troon Concert Hall

Sunday 26 November         Southampton            1865 Club

Buy tickets here:

https://bnds.us/oz2hux

Focus are: Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, flute, and vocals, Pierre van der Linden – drums, Menno Gootjes – guitar, Udo Pannekeet – bass