The wind and the rain, the clouds low, the people in the streets in macs, wrapped up, heads covered, cowering, necks disappearing into shoulders. It was summer in Penzance alright, perhaps this will deter the holidaymakers from coming down as the country opens up. I also heard today that the quarantine for travellers coming from abroad is going to be abandoned from next week, unless you are American of course. Oh yes and de Pfeffel’s dad has decided to break the current rules and fly to Greece, I wonder if he’s eloped with Domino Crumby?
The government is really on fire at the moment, bad negotiations with the EU and in this time of economic crisis de Pfeffel has declared (ha, get it?) that a no deal Brexit would be good. Really? Unlike most of the good people here, I will be able to escape to my wife’s country if I need to, I wonder where England will be in two years? As we have not been together long enough (4 years next week) and despite being married we cannot stay in this country anyway even if we wanted to. The visa applications, the proof of income, sporadic as a musician, the guarantee that money will flow, it’s all too much. We are hoping to be on the road for the next 5 years, let’s see if the virus lets us do that.
I was also reading today about the concept that Thumper and The Repugnants are trying it on with voter suppression and if they still lose, calling it rigged. Conspiracy theory? Well, it won’t be long till we find out. There’s different ideals, different approaches, people are different, but at the moment we are seeing something unprecedented in America as the regime is trying to stop Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic and the latest scandal about the bounty on soldiers in Afghanistan, it just seems to wash off these people’s backs like water friendly vaseline in a Russian hotel room. I never imagined that the conservatives could be so willing to throw their principles out of the window on such a large scale. Of course we only hear what we want to hear, we only stand up for our own side or do we? Wasn’t there once a time when a difference of opinion was met with compromise? We may disagree on god and abortion, but racism, misogyny, dictatorship, denial and lies are not the best policy whose ever side you’re on. You might not agree with Reagan or Bush, Obama or Clinton, but you might agree that they weren’t monsters – then there’s Putin, president for life.
So trying to find solace somewhere away from all this nonsense, as promised today the picture we have posted is the tree hugging picture. As you can see the tree is definitely reciprocating despite social distancing. It seems that the cure for messing with nature comes from nature. See, even if you mess with nature it still tries to help.
Franz Kafka was born today in 1883. I’ve read The Trial and Metamorphosis and seen the film of The Castle with Austrian actor Maximilian Schell (Academy Award winner in 1961 for Judgement in Nuremberg). I’ve also seen Metamorphosis live on stage on Broadway in 1989 with Gregor Samsa played by Mikhail Baryshnikov in his ‘breakthrough’ performance as an actor. Baryshnikov had defected to Canada in 1974, a sensation in international intrigue and the world of ballet. I remember vividly him acting the part of the cockroach. If they put that play on again they might fill that role easily.
Also today my fave bass player Andy Fraser was born. He was discovered by Blues legend Alexis Corner after being introduced to her dad by daughter Sappho. At 15 he was playing with John Mayall and in 1968 was a founder member of Free. He co-wrote All Right Now and lots of great Free songs. He was also a classically trained piano player. He formed Sharks with Chris Spedding after Free and then the Andy Fraser Band. He died in 2015 aged 62 (yikes). Unique, inventive, talented, a true original.
Music today started with the debut album from Dutch legends Focus. Their first album, Focus plays Focus, was released in the Netherlands in September 1970 and is the only album with the original lineup of Thijs van Leer, vocals, keys and flute, Jan Akkerman, guitars, Martin Dresden, bass, trumpet, vocals, and Hans Cleuver, drums, vocals. All but Akkerman are credited with vocals. For some reason this debut is always classed as Progressive and never as Psychedelic Progressive, but to me the vocal tracks have a sixties Psychedelic turn. Outside the Netherlands the album was released in 1971 as In And Out Of Focus with an extra track, House Of The King (perhaps on the European version outside the Netherlands, but not on my American or Australian copy?). The vocal tracks are what set this album apart from the later Focus albums and you can hear the influence of Martin Dresden who was gone by the second album. Melodic songs, nice melodies, always great guitar from Akkerman.
Later that same year with two new members, Cyril Havermans on bass and Pierre van der Linden on drums, Focus unleashed Focus II, better known as Moving Waves. It contained Hocus Pocus, that was the song that made the world take note, the single charting at No. 20 and the album reaching No. 2 in the UK charts (No. 8 in the US, No. 4 at home). Van Leer’s yodel, playful keys and Akkerman’s ice slicing guitar sound, with van der Linden’s drum breaks, succeeded in that impossible task of gaining attention with a catchy instrumental. The album though was a definite entry into the world of Progressive Rock. All the elements were there, a classically trained flautist who also played organ and Mellotron, odd timings, a creative guitar player and sympathetic drummer and bassist. What’s not to like?
They were already at it with the shorter Progressive tracks on Side 1 with Le Clochard (the beggar) and Janis. At first the third and title track sounds so like early ELP with the piano and the character of the voice, you have to check the album cover to make sure it’s really Focus. The side ends with Focus II, another lovely instrumental. On Side 2 it’s the suite (Eruption), how do they even imagine all these changes? It’s a wonderful journey with van Leer and Akkerman exchanging melodic tones over van Leer’s original visionary concept. At one point I expect to see Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor stride in to a vast arena where Pierre van der Linden will perform the rite for the soul of the volcano. Yes, this really should have been a soundtrack, a grandiose celebration of something spectacular with a cast of thousands.
That’s it, I can’t escape Focus tonight, those first two albums were so enjoyable. So next came the double album Focus 3, released in 1972, opening Side 1 with van Leer’s slightly mad Round Goes The Gossip before reclining on a faraway beach to Akkerman’s Love Remembered. And then they did it again with another classic instrumental single, Sylvia. It’s another van Leer composition yet with beautiful Akkerman guitar lines that van Leer must have written on the keys as they are the main theme. The song reached No. 4 in the UK chart. Carnival Fugue ended Side 1 and showed off van Leer’s knowledge of ancient music.
For Focus 3 there was another change in personnel and Cyril Havermans was replaced by Bert Ruiter on the bass guitar. Three albums, three bass players, two drummers, what was going on in the Focus camp? Musically they were on fire with van Leer’s classical and compositional skills and Akkerman’s exquisite guitar playing, every track was a journey. Side 2 opens with the title track written by van Leer, but the side is shared with an Akkerman/Ruiter composition, Answers?Questions? Questions? Answers?. Still one wonders how the opening track is a van Leer composition when it’s the guitar lines that make the difference. Did he write the melodies on the keys and play them to Akkerman or is the composition in the chord changes with Akkerman making up these great lead and memorable melodic guitar parts?
Side 3 is one long track, Anonymous II, credited to the whole band. I suppose sections might have been credited to each member, but one imagines that it all came out of a jam. This reminds me of why I love bootlegs, moments of brilliance captured in an unguarded moment, but never followed through on an official release. If you ever want to contribute anything to the archive, any seventies bootleg always works.
Side 4 continues with the Anonymus II conclusion and then the album ends with two Akkerman compositions, Elspeth Of Nottingham, and you suddenly hear how van Leer and Akkerman were on the same page in regards to influences and appreciation of music of the distant past. Lastly it’s House Of The King again and this reminds me that on the first album there’s also a track called Anonymous (credited just to van Leer), which I suppose is why Anonymous II is so called. Focus 3 reached No. 6 in the UK chart and No. 35 in the US.
Their fourth studio album was Hamburger Concerto (1974), which has those wacky fellows finding a classical theme and then calling sections of the suite on Side 2, Rare, Medium and Well Done. Notably they again changed their drummer and welcomed ex Stone The Crows man Colin Allen. At this point Focus seemed to be functioning with Akkerman and van Leer comfortably creative, but before this album they’d released Focus Live At The Rainbow (1973) but were meant to release a studio album. Disagreements in the band shelved it and it came out later as Ship Of Memories. It seems like for all their creativity there were always tensions within the band. It wouldn’t be long before Akkerman would leave, making one more album, Mother Focus, in 1975 and embarking on a solo career. Focus replaced him with Philip Catherine and Eef Albers and then they made Focus Con Proby! Yep, Focus with PJ Proby, but that weirdness is for another day.
I’ve actually seen Focus twice in recent years, only Thijs left. Song Of The Day has to be Sylvia/Hocus Pocus from The Old Grey Whistle Test Christmas 1972. This performance is what made the single Sylvia a UK hit in 1973.