REVIEW: Focus at Lowdham Village Hall

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‘When we play here we feel something very deep,’ revealed Thijs van Leer, founder member of the Dutch prog rock combo Focus who played Lowdham Village Hall, Friday, November 23.

‘We feel we are at home,’ he continued to resounding applause. Van Leer proved an enigmatic front man, almost wizard-like with his now long white hair protruding below a leather cap. As well as explaining many of the tracks, at various times he lead the audience in coordinated clapping, scat vocal call and response, communal yodelling and team ‘ding donging!’

Focus wooed the packed hall with their fusion of rock, jazz and classical. Although there were odd outbreaks of head-banging, for the most part folks stood mesmerised by the virtuosity of the musicianship. Emerging in the early 70s and, therefore, contemporaries of King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, et al, Focus show great longevity. There have been numerous personnel changes but the current line-up features van Leer (organ, flutes, and vocals) along with Pierre van der Linden (drums), Menno Gootjes (guitar) and Udo Pannekeet (bass). This Warthog gig gave them an opportunity to showcase tracks from their new CD, Focus 11, which, for those who remember the classic Yes album covers, has its sleeve designed by Roger Dean.

In 1971 Focus were the first band since the Shadows to have two instrumentals in the BBC singles chart, and they played both here, Sylvia and Hocus Pocus with its extraordinary scat, yodelling chorus. Another single of that era, House Of The King, which some might recognise as the theme for TV science programme Don’t Ask Me, also featured.

How many numbers does it take to make a Focus gig? From this showing, not very many. Most tracks took the audience on a sonic journey through a range of moods, tones and tempos, with keyboard runs and guitar solos extending over several minutes. Classic examples were Eruption and two tracks from the CD Hamburger Concerto, both referencing Strasbourg Cathedral, Cathedrale De Strasbourg evoking the bells both through instrumentation and vocal ‘ding dong’, and the anarchic Harem Scarem with its controlled musical mayhem. Each group member had their time in the limelight with solos always hugely appreciated by the crowd.

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The afore mention Hocus Pocus, with an extended intricate drum solo, brought the show to a climax before the band returned to play one of their favourites, Focus 3, a sonic soundscape to sign off with.


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