Anyone who has been reading my Blog since the New Year will soon realise that it has been very much dominated by a variety of Dutch bands of late. First a review of Mariëlla Tirotto’s wonderful new album: Live In Concert (See my Blog #34). Then a review of the excellent debut album by Blueshaker: Handle With Care. (See my Blog #36). Now, I am writing a review of a fantastic gig by – perhaps the most well-known band from The Netherlands – the mighty FOCUS.
One of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve been to in recent years, was Focus at the BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton, back in October 2013 (just a few months before I started my blog). That was the tour to promote their tenth album – simply entitled Focus X. Of course, when I heard that these Dutch Prog-Rock veterans were due to play the same venue again this year, I jumped at the chance of seeing them in action once more. This time they were also promoting their Golden Oldies compilation album (see my blog #3: ‘Prog-Rock Revisited’). Cousin Charlie got the tickets sorted with promoter PETE FEENSTRA, and we were ready to go.
Now, I first became aware of Focus as a 13 year-old, back in ’73 when the wonderful instrumental ‘Sylvia’ became a hit single in the UK. A school-mate of mine had the live album Focus At The Rainbow which I liked straight away; and which introduced me to more of their unique sounds. Sometime after that, another mate lent me Moving Waves – again, a good album. And so since those musically formative teenage years back in the 70s, I’ve considered myself to be something of a Focus fan; so I was very much looking forward to the gig.
As regular readers of my Blog will already know, I like the Boom Boom Club; its one of my favourite venues. Its a fair drive from my home in Essex, and crossing the Thames at Dartford on Friday afternoons can be a pain in the arse; so when I go to this venue I normally set off early and stay with Charlie (who lives just ten minutes walk from the club), and take the opportunity to sink one or three pints – a rare pleasure for me these days as I’m usually driving home from gigs completely sober! We arrived at the venue in good time, and said hello to Pete Feenstra and a couple of others that we knew.
First on the bill was the support act, THE STEVE EGGS BAND – who describe themselves as a ‘Country/Rock/pop’ group. They hail from South London; and were founded in 2011. Charlie had seen them before and said they were good. I’d heard the name, but I’d never seen them; so I was interested to find out all about them. They are a four-piece outfit led by Mr.Eggs himself (lead vocal/rhythm guitar); and ably assisted by JON KERSHAW (lead guitar/vocals); PETE WASS (bass/vocals); and MARK TAYLOR (drums/vocals).
Now I like a bit of Country-Rock and I was looking forward to it. This band did not disappoint. They began with their Eagles-esque song ‘Going To California’ – I liked the trans-Atlantic lyric about ‘a London boy’ travelling to the USA in this song. Good start. They then continued their short set of eight original Rock / Country-Rock songs, which included: ‘Here Comes The Rain’ penned by bassist Pete; ‘Heartbreaker’ from the new album; ‘Good Intentions’ which reminded me of Molly Hatchet; and the rockin’ ‘Roll Over’. They are obviously influenced by some of the Rock and Country-Rock greats, yet they do have an originality that clearly shines through. I liked them.
As a musical unit, these boys were tight and competent. Steve, equipped with a Gibson acoustic, strummed a steady rhythm throughout, and sang confidently. Lead guitarist Jon, sporting a red Strat, showed himself to be very useful, very early on; and impressed with his wah-wah pedal. Pete played a Hofner bass guitar (don’t often see them), and made very good use of it, I must say. Drummer Mark looked precarious, parked on the edge of the crowded stage; but produced a fine exhibition of the percussive art. They’re a good band to watch too; quite lively. They look like they thoroughly enjoy playing their music, and appreciate the applause they are awarded at the end of each song. I got hold of a copy of their latest album Hometown Skyline, and may write a review on this Blog soon.
Here is a link to The Steve Eggs Band website:
And now to the main event. The last time I saw Focus, as I’ve said, was in October ’13 at this same venue. That occasion was a mid-week gig, and the club was far from full up (we even sat at tables like a trendy music café – unusual for the Boom Boom). This time though, the punters were rammed in from the stage-front to the exit! As soon as the support act had cleared their kit from the stage, the indifatigable Mr.Feenstra was up there introducing the band we’d all come to see – the inimitable Prog-Rock legends, Focus.
The line-up that climbed on stage to great applause at the Boom Boom Club have been together since 2011. Yet all of them have had a lengthy association with the group over the years. They currently consist of: THIJS VAN LEER (hammond organ, flute, scat-vocals, yodels); MENNO GOOTJES (guitar); BOBBY JACOBS (bass); and PIERRE VAN DER LINDEN (drums). Excellent musicians, all.
Thijs started the proceedings with a majestic flute intro to the first track from their debut album of 1970 Focus Plays Focus – the self-titled piece, ‘Focus’. What better way to begin? Before the cheers had finished the band were straight into their first European hit single: ‘House Of The King’. Their classic piece ‘Eruption’ followed to great approval. Thijs took centre stage during this for a flute solo – and some remarkable scat-singing! This rendition also show-cased Menno’s guitar skills; showing him to be well worthy of standing in JAN AKKERMAN’s shoes!
After Thijs reminded us that his Mrs was manning the merch desk, they gave us the iconic ‘Sylvia’ – arguably their most popular work – and a fine execution of the piece it was too. From Focus X they then gave us the manic ‘All Hens On Deck’. The apparently seldom played ‘Peace March’ was played next; followed by the beautiful ‘Focus II’.
From the Hamburger Concerto they then played two pieces, including ‘Harem Scarem’ – which is about the joys and the dangers of alcohol. This was extended into a sequence of remarkable solos by all the band members in turn. Each excelling in his chosen field. Menno was particularly noticeable in this – his Gibson Les Paul being an extension of his mind! Yet all were exceptional. Then we were plunged into the finale of the show – it was, of course, the iconic ‘Hocus Pocus’.
After the gig, Charlie and I had a brief chat with Thijs, Bobby and Menno. We complemented them on a remarkable performance. ‘We were in good form’ Jacobs said. They certainly were.
Thanks to Pete F and all the hard workers at the Boom Boom for making this gig happen.