A former Amsterdam Conservatory student, Thijs van Leer
(keyboards/flute/vocals) with Martin Dresden (bass) and
Hans Cleuver (drums) formed a trio in 1969, they backed several Dutch singers in the late 1960's. At one of their rehearsals Brainbox guitar virtuoso Jan Akkerman stepped in and jammed along with them. The manager of Brainbox, John van Setten found out and kicked him out of the band. This led to Akkerman joining Focus. In 1970 they backed the Dutch version of Hair, they can also be heard on the Dutch Hair album. After their work for the musical they named their band Focus.
A few months later Focus recorded their debut album, In And Out Of Focus, released in 1970. The album consists of both vocal and instrumental tracks. As a single the non-album track, House Of The King, was released which became a big hit. After a few months Akkerman wanted to rejoin with his Brainbox mate Pierre van der Linden to form a new band. Van Leer was asked to join them, or to stay with his own trio. He decided to join them. They also asked Cyril Havermans to play bass and do the vocals. This left Dresden and Cleuver aside. With this new line up they worked on their second album. It was produced by Mike Vernon, who would remain their producer throughout their whole career. This was Focus II, or Moving Waves (the name of the album outside the Netherlands). The single Hocus Pocus, with some frantic yodeling and brilliant guitar work, became an enormous hit just as the album did. Focus toured the Netherlands and England and gained a lot of popularity. As another single Sylvia was released and became a hit also.
In the summer of 1971 there was also a change in the line up. Cyril Havermans left the band to pursue a solo career. His place was taken by Bert Ruiter. With him as a new member they started recording their third album, Focus 3. it was supposed to be a single album, but so much material was recorded in a three week period they decided to make it a double album project. This album went straight to number one in the Dutch charts.
In 1972 the English magazine Melody Maker voted Focus as "Brightest hope for the year" and "Best foreign group". Furthermore Jan Akkerman was described as the "Best guitarist in the world" and Van der Linden as the "Greatest drummer in Europe". The same year Focus went to the USA and Thijs van Leer released his first solo album, Introspection, which at that time is the all time best selling album in the Netherlands. Jan Akkerman released his second solo album, Profile, recorded with the help of Bert Ruiter, Pierre van der Linden and the later Trace bass guitarist Jaap van Eik. A year later saw the relaese of his third solo album.
The frantic activity had drained the band and recording sessions in mid-1973 failed to produce a new album, although some of this work was later released as Ship Of Memories in 1976. To keep the public and the record company pleased a live album was released in 1973, recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London. During preparations of their second American tour van der Linden decided to leave as he didn't not like the style of the group anymore, he formed with ex-Ekseption keyboardist Rick van der Linden the band Trace. He was replaced by the Scottish drummer Colin Allen, who had previously played with Stone The Crows and with John Mayall. With the new drummer the album Hamburger Concerto was released. This would turn out to be the last of their series of brilliant albums.
On the next album, Mother Focus, Allen played only on one track. The album was finished with the help of session drummer David Kemper. On this album the real Focus sound had gone. It had become more mainstream and even funky. When Focus goes on tour in Australia and Japan Pierre van der Linden returns for a short period. Because of this musical direction and the tensions between him and Thijs van Leer, that went back to the start of their collaboration, Jan Akkerman left Focus. Akkerman continues his solo career, and in 1976 he makes an album with his Brainbox mate, Kaz Lux.
As a replacement for Akkerman, Belgian jazz guitarist Phillipe Catherine joins the band. New drummer is Steve Smith and as extra guitarist Eef Albers is recruited. In 1978 they record an album with singer P.J. Proby. But the magic is over and Focus as a band ends. Thijs van Leer went on with his solo career, Bert Ruiter joined Earth & Fire.
In 1985 however Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer team up again and make an album which they call Focus. The album isn't a success and they split up again. The 1972 line up got together once more in the late eighties to do a tv special 'Classic Albums'. In this special Dutch seventies bands talked about their most important album and played together once more. It also included an episode with Kayak. In 1993 Akkerman and Van Leer play together at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, where they also play some Focus songs.
In 1998 Thijs van Leer tries to regroup Focus again. This time with old members Bert Ruiter and Hans Cleuver and with guitarist Menno Gootjes. But before the planned tour starts they break up again, because of problems between Ruiter and Van Leer.
And then in early 2002 drummer Ruben van Roon contacted guitarist Jan Dumée and bass player Bobby Jacobs to form a Focus tribute band, which they call Hocus Pocus. The rehearse together and when the time is right they invite Thijs van Leer to come over and play with them. Van Leer comes over and is so much impressed that they decide to do a few concerts together. In stead of Hocus Pocus they band name is changed to Focus. They play all over the world at several festivals, and start to record an album. By this time Ruben van Roon has left the band because of personal circumstances and is replaced by Bert Smaak. In the fall of 2002 a new Focus album is released.
In 2004 an album with BBC recordings form 1976 is released. On this album tracks are featured that have never been released by Focus before. Even more remarkable is the return of Pierre van der Linden in Focus the same year. In 2006 Jan Dumée leaves the band, he starts the band On The Rocks with former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton. He is replaced by Niels van der Steenhoven. The band is also working on a new album New Skin, which is released at the end of 2006. In 2011 van der Steenhoven leaves the band and is replaced by Menno Gootjes who had been with Focus in an earlier incarnation. And then, five years later, Focus are recording new tracks for what will become album number 10. This album, titled X, will be released in 2012.
(sources: Oor Popencyclopedie, Nationaal Pop Instituut, Album sleeves,