2/4/2022 Focus Review by Claire Spencer

Dutch prog rock maestros Focus returned to The Flowerpot as part of their 50th Anniversary tour after their previous gigs were postponed due to Covid, but it was well worth the wait as what followed was a memorable performance. Looking back through my treasured Raw Promos ticket stubs collection, this was to be the fourth time I'd seen them at The Pot.

I knew the band had already arrived as I saw a Dutch plated Mercedes van round the corner parked outside of The Clockworks, as I arrived for the sound check, but on entering the music room there was no sign of the band, though all the gear was set up including Thijs van Leer's trademark Hammond. I was informed that three of the band had gone to see the Leeds match at Elland Road and that they were expected back soon. Focus had also bought their own soundman, by the name of Geert, who was definitely a real Dutchman as he sported a genuine pair of Dutch clogs.

Sure enough, the band arrived shortly afterwards, guitarist Menno Gootjes looking very much the part in his obligatory leather jacket along with bassist Udo Pannekeet. Main man, organist and flautist Thijs van Leer was wearing a Leeds Utd scarf, though he later informed me that he was in actual fact an Ajax supporter! Pierre van de Linden, their modest but superbly adept drummer, had not gone to the football, electing to stay behind instead.

After the sound check, Geert was asking where he could get some fish and chips, and after some discussion as to what was nearby, John, the Flowerpot's regular soundman and myself shot off in the car to Kedleston Rd chippy to get food for Geert and the tour manager, as the others had already eaten. Returning post haste, the gargantuan portions of fish and chips were ceremoniously scoffed in the green room to much satisfaction all round.

The room was now beginning to fill with expectant fans, who were treated to a pre gig solo performance from Thijs still wearing his Leeds Utd. scarf! Half past nine duly arrived and the band came on stage with 'House of the King' being one of the first tunes of the evening, which was actually their first hit record in Holland in early 1971. In fact, I remember hearing it at the time on the offshore 'pirate' station Radio Veronica, and, little did I think back then that I'd get to actually meet the band, but hey, that's how The Flowerpot works its magic

Focus played a wide selection of their material over a period of over two hours; what was noticeable was the progressive, almost at times jazzy, variation from the usual sound of the original, which added an additional layer of interest. Menno Gootjes guitar skills on his Gibson were a joy to behold; he is undoubtedly a worthy successor to Focus' original guitarist Jan Akkerman. Udo Pannekeet's skills on his mesmerising six six string bass were faultless as was the tireless precision drumming of Pierre van de Linden, an original member of the band along with founder Thijs van Leer.

The band revisited many of their old favourites: 'Sylvia,' one of two UK hits for the band, sounded as fresh as ever, whilst 'Harem Scarem' got the revisionist prog treatment. Standing beside Geert on the sound desk, the sound was spot on, and I was transported into audio heaven as the band played 'Tommy,' part of the Eruption suite from the album Moving Waves

There was however some sadness in tonight's performance as Thijs announced that their original bassist Bert Ruiter had died only days before. He then played a number in tribute to him, as yet untitled.

'Hocus Pocus' was yet to be played, and, as the night drew to a close, sure enough it was played in all its glory, twice as fast and twice as long as the original, with the inevitable fast and furious drum solo. Pierre van de Linden most definitely didn't disappoint! The band all gained momentary immortality as Thijs took a break from yodelling and sang out the name of the band members one by one, and then told the crowd how much he'd enjoyed playing The Flowerpot as he really liked the homeliness of the venue. The band finally rounded off the evening with 'Focus III.'

This was a fabulous performance by one of progressive music's most innovative front men along with some of Holland's best musicians. Incredibly, Thijs van Leer had just celebrated his 74th birthday only days before.