Focus II – Focus
Summer 1972, end of the the 4th form, Lewes Priory, three O levels finished. I’d taken Maths, French and Art a year ‘early’. I only remember the Art exam, which I did with Simon Korner. We had to paint “Decline”in two hours. There were girls from the actual 5th form in the room doing their O Levels. I was a virgin still and pretty inexperienced in the ways. I painted a soldier being shot and falling down, seven or eight different figures all overlapping, the colours getting paler and paler with each figure on the same piece of ground. By the time he hit the earth he was a skeleton. I think I got a “3”. So that left History, Geography, English Literature, English Language, Latin and Biology/Chemistry….hmmm any more for any more…for the following year ? I got ten all together including one I took in the Lower Sixth, Geology. And I failed Latin. So that makes nine. HA ! I’ve forgotten a whole O’level !! I didn’t take German that far, or Religion, or Music (for reasons I’ll discuss with you later), or Physics (yuk!) or Woodwork, Metalwork or PE. So what is the lesson that has disparu?? Humanities ? Was that an O Level ?
A small gang of us – all 15 years old – decided we were going to go to Reading Festival in August – or The Twelfth National Jazz Blues And Rock Festival August 11th -13th to give it its full name. And yes. The poster got it wrong ! Not the 11th. No one cared. Wish I hadn’t mentioned it now. It had been advertised in Melody Maker and the New Musical Express. Tickets were available on the gate priced £3.50, first come first served, so did we hitch hike up to Reading on the Thursday to make sure we got in? To be honest I can’t even remember who I was with. I’ve asked a few likely culprits but everyone is as vague as me pretty much. So candidates are : Martin Elkins, Adrian Birch and Martin Cooper. Possibly all three. We’d have probably smoked dope and drunk cider all weekend. Dope being hasish, Paki black or Red Leb, possibly Moroccan gold, whatever we could have scored. The Thames Valley police were all over the event, especially going in, searching people, busting hippies who’d come for some peaceful music vibes. Pigs.
Friday is a blur – I think Mungo Jerry played and Curved Air, the highlight was Genesis but I don’t remember it much at all I’m afraid. We probably slept in a large marquee where people without tents slept. Did I have a sleeping bag? Probably!
Saturday was better. The Welsh band Man played in the afternoon, loved them, as did Edgar Broughton – wasn’t too bothered about them, Solid Gold Cadillac – cannot remember at all, The Johnny Otis Rhythm and Blues Show – very enjoyable, and, blowing us all away : a band called Focus from Holland. A kind of prog-jazz-classical fusion, they had the crowd of unwashed stoners on their feet cheering for more. Headliners The Faces were preceded by the Electric Light Orchestra who were simply splendid. It was a great day.
The following day John Peel was DJ-ing between sets, mumbling away in gentle Scouse, and he not only played the Focus tune Hocus Pocus which we’d all raved at the day before and which was unlike anything any of us had ever heard before, full of Thjis Van Leer‘s yodelling, flute, accordion and nonsense, in-between Jan Akkerman‘s hard rock riffing guitar, it was a mighty sound and would be released as a single in the UK the following spring (!) I distinctly DO remember Peel also playing my first hearing of Roxy Music’s ridiculous re-imagining of pop music Virginia Plain with the see-sawing Eno synthesiser finish, and it was a sensation. Don’t forget we were all stoned of out tits, but we didn’t like Everything even so. Other Sunday highlights were Status Quo, Vinegar Joe with the wonderful Elkie Brooks up front, Stackridge, Matching Mole and Wizzard fronted by the mighty genius of Roy Wood. Blimey.
Status Quo, Reading ’72
I had just turned fifteen years old. Many of the other festival-goers were the same age as us, some were older, some younger. I didn’t wash for three days obviously. Latrines, holes in the ground for toilets. Burgers and hot dogs, beer and sandwiches. Can’t remember anyone throwing anything at the stage, or any fights or bad feeling. Once the last band had finished people lit fires and sat around them smoking joints and drinking beer. It was pretty damn good to be honest.
At some point that autumn as I entered the Fifth Form and O-levels proper I bought the LP Moving Waves, with Hocus Pocus as the leading track. But stealing the glory for me eventually is this beautiful piece Focus II which doesn’t flaunt its wares but quietly and beautifully makes me melt. Fantastic subtle tempo changes. I don’t think it was ever a single. I had records by very few of the artists at Reading – and mainly singles : See My Baby Jive, 10538 Overture, Stay With Me, Maggie May, Back Street Luv, In The Summertime and Baby Jump. I would go on to buy Focus, The Faces and Man of the bands I saw that year. And ELO later. Even at that young age a group of people strumming away on guitars wasn’t really floating my boat (Faces and Man excepted – there’s always exceptions !!) Well that’ll teach me to try and generalise.
Side two of Moving Waves was all one piece called “Eruption”. This was fairly typical of the era. Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson were doing similar things, it was the age of the LP. And despite my memory of Reading 1972 being so fuggy, I clearly enjoyed myself because I went back the following summer…to almost the same line-up strangely enough. Of which, more later.
Focus split up then reformed a few times. They are currently back together and touring the world. Proper musicians making great music. And they’re fun too. It’s the only time I ever saw them live. But whenever I hear this song, the sound and groove of it can only be 1972. Don’t you think ? Oh and incidentally – been searching youtube for some live clips of this track – they’ve either got Thjis Van Leer on gorgeous organ grooves but some fill-in guitarist who isn’t up to the precision and pure expressiveness of the original on guitar, OR Jan Akkerman smashing the searing guitar stuff and some horrible drummer rocking up what is a jazz break by genius Pierre van der Linden, and a perfectly good piano player. For the record Cyril Havermans was on bass guitar – such a lovely way it comes in here on bar 16 after two rounds of Hammond… So anyone who knows of good quality live versions of this marvellous tune with the chaps all doing their thing, then please leave a comment and I’ll add it later, easily done…