Thursday, July 14, 2016

Focus - 1970 - Focus Plays Focus (In and Out of Focus)

Focus Plays Focus (Dutch Version)

01. Focus (instrumental) (9:45)
02. Why Dream ? (3:57)
03. Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) (3:56)
04. Anonymous (7:00)
05. Black Beauty (3:05)
06. Sugar Island
07. Focus (vocal) (2:44)

In and Out of Focus (UK version)

01. Focus (Vocal) 2:44
02. Black Beauty 3:05
03. Sugar Island 3:03
04. Anonymous 7:00
05. House Of The King 2:20
06. Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) 3:56
07. Why Dream 3:57
08. Focus (Instrumental) 9:45

Note: The initial releases use the title "Focus Plays Focus", later changed globally to "In And Out Of Focus"; Worlwide there were 4 different covers, and the track list changed also on several editions. The CD reissues would finally include all 8 tracks, only found together before on Polydor LP editions.

- Thijs van Leer / vocals, organ, flutes (not confirmed: piano, electric piano, Mellotron, harpsichord, vibes, trumpet)
- Jan Akkerman / electric & acoustic (?) guitars
- Martin Dresden / bass, vocals (?)
- Hans Cleuver / drums, vocals(?)

Emerging from a wealth of Dutch bands Focus burst onto the scene in the late sixties and unleashed their debut album in 1970, firstly only in Holland but soon Focus started to make waves and the news spread and a second edition of the debut was released which was minus two of the albums important tracks ("House Of The King" and "Sugar Island"), and then finally the whole world, if they wanted, could hear the entire album just as it was meant to be. The album is tight and cohesive as initially the sound is very influenced by the sixties British scene with psychedelic overtures and most certainly in the vocals. "Focus (vocal)" is a gentle swaying opener with a neat organ beat from Hans Cleuver, also Focus' percussionist, as the band then pursue an adventure through a mix of eclectic instrumentation and styles, most notably Thijs Van Leer's sonic and ultra melodic flute playing. Especially on the semi prog/psycyhe and rapid flurry of the instrumental "House Of The King". Jan Akkerman's guitar playing is as exciting and refreshing as anything his band mate could come up with. At this early stage of Focus development the band were in the moment of taming their sound which they would define by Focus III, but here they were still working under the structure of the short tune. A few tracks do contain vocals, which somehow sound almost semi coherent almost stoned like yet under developed. "Black Beauty" is about one of the most accessible tracks in the Focus canon, along with "Sugar Island", a song with references to Castro's Cuba. Initially this track was lifted from the debut due to American disharmony with the communist country. Stupidly in my opinion. "Why Dream?" is an interesting piece of, again with a psyche element. It seriously rams home the mantra over and over in a hypnotic manner and is one of the better songs which has vocals but "Happy Nightmare (Mescaline)" is not. A tale of bad trips, LSD like, it comes across more annoying (a touch of filler maybe), even a tad instructive than pained and tinted with warning which is what I might have expected. Nevertheless Focus' debut effort is a fine album with a touch of hard rock, a hint of jazz, a splash of baroque all tied up in a very Focus like wit in a very progressive manner. Well worth a listen.