Focus + Devanna Music

Tuesday 3rd May 2022

The Beaverwood, Chislehurst, Kent

After a late cancellation by the Edgar Broughton Band, support was provided By Devanna Music, the acoustic husband/wife duo of Joanna & Devon Prosser (who also appear in Kent-based band, The Dirty Perks). Devanna play their interpretation of a ‘favourites’ list that covers decades, and to be fair they pegged their audience reasonably well tonight and mostly stuck to material by The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Mamas & The Papas, John Denver, etc. They stuck in a couple of more up to date tracks (Adele, Ed Sheeran) in case any of the (largely) sexagenarian audience were feeling especially hip with a need to get down with the kids, but largely their setlist choice was sound and their vocal harmonies were both spot on and appealing.

They took the opportunity to fling in an original Dirty Perks track (good on them), which to my ears sounded slightly reminiscent of the wonderful ‘Hero of War’ by Rise Against (musically, not lyrically). You might see Devon and Joanna busking around Bromley as one of their several threads to be being full time musicians… give them a listen if you do; they deserve it.

Devanna Music Setlist:

California Dreaming (The Mamas and the Papas)
Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
Mrs Robinson (Simon & Garfunkel)
Summer of 69 (Bryan Adams)
Two of Us (The Beatles)
Make you Feel my Love (Adele)
Take me Home, Country Roads (John Denver)
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (The Shirelles)
Don’t Worry Baby (The Beach Boys)
Castle On The Hill (Ed Sheeran)
For a Little Bit Longer (The Dirty Perks)
Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen)

With the 50th Anniversary celebrations originally planned for 2020 having been forcibly postponed due to - you know - Focus have finally been able to get their 50th anniversary celebrations properly underway after a further couple of C19 isolations required by the band post-lockdown. In the interim, as well as 1970’s debut album, ‘Focus II/Moving Waves’ and ‘Focus 3’ have also seen their big 5-0 slip quietly by so finally being able to mark these multiple anniversaries fittingly seems long overdue.

Having managed to get to the multi-rescheduled gig at the Powerhaus (nee Dingwalls) just a few weeks before, we wondered if the setlist would be the same… whilst the core was very similar, with a pretty rich back catalogue, it was no surprise it was mixed up a little. After an organ/flute/one man choir intro from band leader Thijs Van Leer, ‘Focus 1’ opened the set, before being followed by the band’s first single, 1970’s ‘House of the King’, arguably one of the three tracks that any casual would have come to hear. I often wonder how a band with a number of iconic pieces feel about being expected to play them again and again, but Thijs was generous in his regard for what it gave the band, which he equated to (at the time) a couple of spotlights and an extra 20cm in stage height which helped them carrying on progressing (I remember Noddy Holder in an interview saying he couldn’t hate ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ too much as it had effectively put his kids and grandkids through university, which I guess is a similar sentiment).

After a hello and introduction by Thijs, to the joy of the non-casual attendees, we were treated to ‘Eruption’, effectively side 2 of 1971’s ‘Focus II/Moving Waves’ album. For me, this is like going to see Rush and getting all of ‘2112’, or Yes and getting all of ‘Close to the Edge’. By Thijs’ own admission; lots of pieces put together… I’m not sure how this compared to the album running time of a little over 22 minutes but it must have been there or thereabouts, with some sections excised and others added in (I think). Guitarist Menno Gootjes played Jan Akkerman’s iconic solo in the slow section beautifully before completely letting rip and making his own mark in the middle ‘swing’ section.

Thijs uses a couple of mics, one of which appears ‘straight’ and one with a chorus effect that makes him sound like a one-man choir as mentioned above. The latter was used to great effect in one of the middle sections (don’t ask me to name it; I’ve never known how the 15 named sections of this wonderful piece break down), but by using this and playing organ at the same time, the sound he creates is so full and warm it’s hard to believe it’s coming live from one person. Add in a scat vocal section (with a good degree of participation by the 180 or so crowd), the first solo by drummer extraordinaire Pierre van der Linden and a double time section with bassist Udo Pannekeet running amok over his 6 string and you have, to my mind, one of the most underrated Prog/Fusion (categorise as you will) pieces of music you might ever be lucky enough to hear live. Simply spellbinding.

The task of pallete-cleanser for the preceding feast fell to ‘Focus 7’, (oddly, from 2006 album ‘Focus 9’), with Pierre repeatedly swapping between sticks and mallets for the softer sections and another opportunity for Thijs to do his mesmerising ‘one man choir’ thing which was fine by me.

Another extended intro from Thijs slowly built and revealed itself as Menno broke into the first burst of the iconic riff of ‘Sylvia’, another of the triumvirate of songs that casuals would arguably have come to hear. And I get it. Patti Boyd may wear the greatest rock muse of all time crown with ‘Something, Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Layla’ all written for her (according to folklore…don’t quote me), but were I ever to meet Sylvia Alberts (for whom this song was named, if not written) I would rip Patti’s crown off an hand it over. The riff, the lead line, the counterpoint bass line, the swirling Hammond, the false endings and restarts… it’s as perfect a 4 minute piece as you will ever hear in my opinion (and before anyone points out my oft-mentioned Rush obsession, ‘The Spirit of Radio’ holds the same accolade for a 5 min piece ☺).

After a short break, the second half of the set opened with the pacey ‘All Hens on Deck’ from 2012’s ‘Focus X’, Udo switching to a pick for the only time this evening (for the more percussive, clicky sound … I thought it might be to avoid an RSI from the unbroken, fast, single-note pounding during the ‘verse’ sections ☺ ).

The sad news (actually released on the day of the Camden Powerhaus gig) of the recent passing of band member Bert Ruiter enabled another outing for the haunting and poignant ‘Brother’ in tribute to the late bass player.

I was going to say something along the lines that only Focus could alternate a jaunty, flute-led tune with moody, atmospheric keyboard sections supporting mini-guitar solos and make it sound like the most normal arrangement ever as is the case in ‘P’s March’ (from 1976’s Ship of Memories), but then I came across this on Wikipedia:

“Written in the classical style by Thijs van Leer, but performed with Rock arrangements, this song alternates between uptempo, major key choruses, with melody stated on flute and piccolo, and minor key Bachian verses, with melody stated on electric guitar.”

Well. Quite.

Thijs explained that he wrote this for Pierre and it was originally called Pierre’s March, but the self-effacing drummer was not totally comfortably with having his name in the title, hence the abbreviation. It’s out there now though, Pierre ☺

A couple of slower pieces, ‘Moving Waves’ and ‘Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango)’ (which Thijs said he always hoped would get picked up by a movie director for a soundtrack, although whether this was unashamed plugging, genuinely rueful, or tongue in cheek I’m not sure) provided another circuit breaker before an extended ‘Harem Scarem’ which presented the opportunity for another blistering solo from Menno and an absolutely wondrous solo spot from bassist Udo. Starting slowly and building from single notes to chords made to swell with a delicately controlled volume pedal with a section that was all but a classical guitar piece dropped in the middle, preceded giving Pierre a nod to start up a jazzy rhythm that enabled a couple of minutes of Stanley Clarke-esque freestyling. Thijs come out from beyond the keyboards and stood looking on from Pierre’s side, clearly enjoying it as much as we were, before the band jumped back in to take the song home. Absolute class.

Things calmed again momentarily for a Thijs flute solo and another blast on the choir-a-tron before a seamless segue back to organ and an increasingly familiar motif eventually revealing itself as the flagship itself, ‘Hocus Pocus’, another track that despite potential over exposure is always a joy (I was delighted to see it pop up unexpectedly in the Edgar Wright film Baby Driver recently, hopefully acting as a gateway to Focus for another generation). Thijs’s introduction of the band from the (1973) ‘Live at the Rainbow’ album is one of those classic live album snippets that is totally iconic for me, and to hear this still at the end of gigs (with Thijs enjoying spinning it out to include the sound and merch guys) totally brings a smile to my face.

Time constraints and a difficulty in leaving & re-entering the congested stage efficiently meant the band took a minute or twos applause before encoring with ‘Focus 3’, from the 1972’s album of the same name, the main and closing sections of which are... well, uplifting enough for this to be a great closer.

There’s a quote from Gene Simmons (Kiss bass player and tongue flasher) at the beginning of Rush’s ‘Beyond the Lighted Stage’ film where he is asked to summarise them: “What kind of music is Rush ? It’s….Rush” and I think Focus are deserving of a similar sentiment: they are unique, special, unshadowed and superb at what they do. Despite the complexity of the music they are so tight, so locked in, so attuned to each other, and whilst the band is quite obviously comprised of members from two distinct generations, I am sure this is completely irrelevant to these four virtuoso players who each thrive on and enjoy each others playing (check out the picture of a seemingly awestruck Thijs looking on whilst Pierre solos).

They are all over the place at the moment, leaving the UK for shows in The Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Denmark before being back in the UK for a few dates in June then again in August, and with new recording (Focus 12) seemingly in the pipeline, they are still evolving, still moving forwards.

And long may it continue.

Focus Setlist

Focus I
House of the King
Eruption
Focus VII
Sylvia
(Interval)
All Hens on Deck
Brother
P’s March
Moving Waves
Le Tango
Harem Scarem
Hocus Pocus

Encore: Focus III

Mark C.