Focus + Long Road Home
Thursday 20th April 2023
Bush Hall, London
Like John Miles, music was my first love. And it will be my last. But another passion our esteemed editor AJ and I both share is that of South London’s finest, the mighty (sic) Charlton Athletic. I was thinking of a particular game during our Premier League years (after a magnificent Championship season prior) when a guy I went with was moaning and saying he’d rather be in the lower league as it was killing him seeing us getting tonked all the time. I disagreed, saying that the sweet moments were so much sweeter.
It just so happened that on the night of this conversation we were sitting in the Covered End watching Charlton entertain Liverpool. And, in the 83rd minute, just as Kevin Lisbie slipped another one past Jerzy Dudek to complete an unlikely hat-trick and a humbling 3-2 defeat of the mighty Liverpool, I turned to him and said just “this is why”.
The point of all this? Sometimes, you put the hours in, and magic happens. And, poor analogy though it may be, it sprung to mind halfway through an evening spent in the company of the magnificent Focus.
But prior to that, we were treated to a thoroughly entertaining, somewhat semi acoustic set by 3/5 of Long Road Home… no keys or drums, but bassist Derek White, guitarist Steve Summers and vocalist Mike Sebbage played 30 or so mins of mostly original Blues Rock material (Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘Ain’t no love in the Heart of City’ - yes; that one - being the only cover) that definitely deserves a bigger listen. And, with a new (debut) album in the immediate offing (which I am sure will be mentioned again in these pages in due course), we’ll all have the chance to do so soon.
One thing that was as amusing as it was impressive was the sound guitarist Summers got from his acoustic when soloing…. you know that bit of Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’ video when Kyle performs a screaming solo on an acoustic to the bemusement of Dave Grohl’s demon? It was like that! Lord knows what he was feeding it through… or maybe it was the incongruous-looking Strat neck working magic ☺
As I am sure the picture library will attest, during the interval AJ presented Focus with their (sooo deserved) WRC “Best Prog performance of 2022” award. It was really special to be able to show our appreciation in this way, particularly as the band were all very receptive to our gushing.
And the point of the out-of-place football story and the ‘sometimes magic happens’ theme? Focus are always great… they are fantastic musicians with a solid, complex, rewarding set of core pieces on rotation and a wealth of back catalog to call on. But tonight… well; they were just majestic.
This being the 5th? 6th? time AJ and I have had the pleasure to attend Focus shows over the past 15 months or so, everything tonight seemed just a notch above normal. Both AJ and I have fanboy’ed over individual pieces in previous recent reviews so I won’t do so again here, but for some reason, the stars were fully aligned.
Thijs was as engaging as he always is, playing the roles of organist, flautist, vocalist and bandleader with consummate skill. Menno played the iconic lead breaks we all love sharper than ever and flung in a couple minutes of outstanding freeform unaccompanied soloing in the middle of ‘Harum Scarum’. Udo quietly gets on with holding down an always complex bottom end in the most understated way possible (although manages to funk out a bit in the hidden intro to ‘Sylvia’ and to shine even brighter during his always outstanding solo in ‘Harum Scarum’). And the enigma that is Pierre van der Linden… someone must have left the lid off of his vitamin jar… he played with such joy, power, and control for the entire set, and – this I will say again - his solo during ‘Hocus Pocus’ – at the end of the gig is nothing short of phenomenal.
And so with final bows taken after the closing notes of ‘Focus 3’, we were so elated we decided on a celebratory one-for-the-road before heading home, possibly saying thanks and goodbye to the band as they did their merch duties.
And it was whilst having a quick chat with Udo we heard the piano in the small bar area just behind us strike up. Thijs. After a couple of short pieces whilst we were saying goodbye to Udo, we shuffled a bit closer along with the 20 or so other people still left just as Thijs started a familiar refrain which we immediately recognised as Richard Harris’ ‘MacArthur Park’. For an absolutely captivating four and half minutes, those lucky enough to still be there were held totally spellbound by a true master.
During the set, Thijs actually thanked Menno for playing ‘Focus 7’ so beautifully that it had brought tears to his eyes. I felt compelled to tell Thijs the same thing after this.
As I said… sometimes, magic happens.
Setlist: Long Road Home
Long road home
It’s what they call the blues
Waiting for the kill
All good things
Ain’t no love in the Heart of the City
Gone gone gone
House of the King
All Hens on Deck
Le Cathedrale de Strasbourg