Tag Archives: Focus 3

July 17th 1973

“Lent Focus 3 to Gra for him to tape for MP. 10p each. Also gave him C90 to record Be Good — MAN”

Surely Gra and I weren’t profiteering from our home taping were we?

*Cough*

Changing the subject rapidly, let’s just say that if I were to recommend one Man album to anyone “Be Good To Yourself at Least Once a Day” would be that choice.

It seems to be the one that sums the band up the best. 4 lengthy tracks – obviously recorded with live performances in mind – it jogs along at an even pace and features two of their ‘killer’ cuts… the 11-minute opus of “C’Mon” and the previously-mentioned classic “Bananas

In a display of some nepotism, the record sleeve opened up to reveal a fold up map of Wales. Maybe Deke Leonard & Co felt the country was the British Isles very own “West Coast”, in keeping with their fascination for Californian jam bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service or the Grateful Dead?

However, I can state there is a BIG difference between San Francisco and Cardiff.

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A 1973 Aside (I) – “Focus 3” Album

Focus – Focus 3

As the title cleverly suggests, this was Dutch band Focus’ third album.

Where the best-selling predecessor “Moving Waves” was a mostly tight and somewhat aggressive album, “Focus 3” is, by comparison, a much looser and free-form work.

Over the length of two vinyl albums, Thijs van Leer, Jan Akkerman and the rest of the band are able to showcase their skills in compositions that often resemble little more than jazz jams.

Round Goes the Gossip” is – to be blunt – a pretty insipid way to kick any album off. It sound like Van Leer was trying to write a traditional pop song, and it falls terribly short of its mark.

Love Remembered” is much more what we came to expect from the band, flute and acoustic guitar slowly giving way to lightweight drums. Every time I hear it I am, for some reason, always reminded of John Barry’s instrumental interludes for the early James Bond films.

Sylvia” was the hit single from the album, Akkerman – like so many times before – bouncing his virtuoso guitar work off Van Leer’s keyboard and… erm… yodelling skills. Yes, yodelling. I have always loved how the song sounds like it’s ending… and then just kicks back into gear again before slowly fading.

Carnival Fugue” exemplifies the ‘jam’ aspect of this entire album, featuring as it does a gentle lilting intro that suddenly builds into a substantial – but often muddy – drum/guitar/organ/piccolo playoff routine.

Jan Akkerman - then and... um... now

Focus III”  remains one of my favourite tracks by the band. I love how Akkerman’s guitar sounds throughout its six-minute or so length. It’s a beautifully restrained piece of work, the dynamics (at least for me) utterly captivating. It’s another composition that almost sounds as if it was purpose made as some kind of film soundtrack… I remain surprised the band were never approached by Hollywood in that regard. (btw, the YouTube clip selected for this cut is a vastly inferior recent live version of the song withOUT Akkerman on guitar – it stands up okay but it feels like some kind of weird karaoke performance by comparison)

Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!” really kicks off the extended jam section of the album, another seemingly improvised-on-the-spot piece that swaps out instruments from beginning to end. It’s almost as if Focus were trying to be a jazz/rock band before the phrase had even fallen into popular use. Van Leer shows himself as much of a skillful organ player as the great Jimmy Smith, whilst Akkerman proves once again that other so-called ‘natural guitarists’ (Clapton comes to mind here) are mere pyrotechnic pretenders to his own throne.

Elspeth of Nottingham” is a medieval-themed birdsong, lute and flute piece that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Robin Hood TV series. Pretty ghastly.

Thijs Van Leer - then and... um... now

The lumbering 26+ minute “Anonymous 2” closes the album. I do believe it could single-handedly sum up the phrase “self indulgent”. This is what I call a “kitchen sink” cut.. everything is thrown at the listener. Guitar runs, a lengthy drum solo, a bass solo, a flute interlude and heavy-fingered organ work are all in the mix for you to wrap your ears around.

Despite all my reservations here I maintain a soft spot for “Focus 3”, probably because it was one of those album from my youth that I just played so/too much. I’m not sure I could listen to the whole thing in its entirety anymore – it’s something of a curate’s egg after all – but it’s often a pleasant surprise when a cut unexpectedly turns up whenever I am shuffling my iPod.

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May 9th 1973

“Caught F.Oak coach home illegally. Borrd Billion Dollar Babies off of Jackie S. Went up Gra’s in the evng. saw his new addition – Garrard SP25 III (G800).  Borrowd Gemini Suite & Book of Tailisyn, lent him Focus 3,”

Good lord, there’s so much going on – and to write about – in today’s diary entry…

Let’s tackle it in order shall we?

By a matter of living just a few hundred yards outside a government-prescribed zone – I am not making this up – I was denied the opportunity of catching a scheduled coach home from school each day. Instead – and as if to somehow verify my ‘prolitariat’ status – I was forced to wait with the hoi-polloi for a regular bus service each day.

By contrast, friend who lived just a few blocks away from me in  , were ferried home in a clean air-conditioned coach. Bastards.

However, every so often I either just sneaked onto the coach (prepared to claim ‘ignorance’ if I was caught out) or was able to borrow somebody’s coach pass. (In those days, I.D.’s rarely came included photos). Seems as if today was one of those days.

Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies” is not an album that has really sat with me over the ensuing years.

Indeed, it only has 4 tracks that I continue to adore.

The title track, Billion Dollar Babies – duet between Alice and Donovan – sounds far more ethereal on record than it does in this live performance, but – like a lot of Alice’s stuff – is guitar-riff laden.

No More Mr Nice Guy” is a Stones-esque basic rocker which proves that Alice is not adept at maintaining a falsetto voice.

Hello, Hooray” sounds like it may have been recorded for his School’s Out album sharing lots of the same style and feel – maybe no accident it is the opener?

Best of them all, however, and only marginally below “School’s Out” as my favourite Alice track ever, is “Elected“. Written, probably, as some kind of rock’n’roll response to the whole Nixon/Watergate debacle, it simply screams along with utter hairbrush in mirror mime-ability…. not that I am saying I ever….. OK, yes I admit it. (It would be years until I caught that promo video for the song, and I remember laughing so hard the first time I saw the chimpanzee walk in with the wheelbarrow full of money)

Like so many albums of the era however, it is my memories of the sleeve that has remained with me the longest. The fold out cover was designed to look like a snakeskin billfold wallet – it even had rounded-off corners. When you open the cover out there was a loose 12″x24” “billion dollar bill” clipped inside  that featured a photo of the band and irreverent cartoons.

I’ll say it again – the advent of Compact Disc RUINED album artwork.

The Garrard SP25 Mk IIIwas – in 1973 – my hi-fi Holy Grail.

Especially when twinned with a Goldring G800 stylus. The exact package friend Graham apparently managed to acquire. Bastard.

More about this piece of kit when – as must happen somewhen – my diary tells me I bought my own.

I have talked about Deep Purple’s atrocious “Book of Taliesyn” before – indeed 26 years later I can’t imagine exactly why I would have borrowed it again? – but this is first mention of Purple’s equally dodgy “Gemini Suite”

So dodgy in fact that “Gemini Suite” has not flitted across my personal radar AT ALL in the interim years… years which include over 22 years of actually working in the music industry, and being asked for stuff!

I’ll admit I had to look the album up online to nudge any kind of even vague memory about it. Consequently, my research *ahem* ‘reminded me’ it was a piece of Jon Lord-composed music (performed by Deep Purple and an orchestra) which was commissioned by the BBC for a TV show highlighting the association between rock music and traditional classical material.

Yes, that sounds like it was some kind of train wreck. Finding this excerpt online however, suggest a train wreck may have sounded better?!

Somewhen in the past few months, it would appear that I bought Focus’ “Focus 3” album, a rambling double concept album. I threatened to buy it back in January, but opted for “Moving Waves” instead.

How weird that my diary never made mention of its subsequent purchase?

So as to save this post from falling off the edge of the planet due its length, please expect an incoming EFA70’sTRO  “aside’ to talk about it.

For which I duly apologise in advance.

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January 19th 1973

“Lent Tarkus – E.L.P. to Johnny M and borrowed Machine Head and Deep Purple in Live Concert off Gra” / “T-1 day to get Moving Waves (If I have got enough money mite get Focus 3 instead)”

OK, I have officially confused my 50-year-old self here

Most of this is straightforward stuff, but I am having a hard time working out exactly what “Deep Purple in Live Concert” refers to.

I’m pretty certain I am not referring to Purple’s “Live in Japan” album, as I am sure, being something of a stickler for a certain level of teenage accuracy, I would have said “Live in Japan“.

The band, years later, did release a double live album entitled “Deep Purple in Concert” – which consisted of live BBC recordings from 1970 and 1972 – but this was not issued until 1980 at the earliest.

Therefore I am left with two possibilities.

One being that I am referring to Deep Purple’s ill-fated – and somewhat scary – ‘duet’ with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra entitled “Concerto for Group & Orchestra“, an ugly notion that, and please trust me on this, has got NO more prettier with time.

The second possibility is that Gra(ham) loaned me a…. gasp!…. bootleg recording of a concert. I do remember he travelled a lot with his father overseas and usually came back with ‘pirated cassettes’ of all the new release albums whenever he went to China or Japan. Could it be that an overseas foreign music pirate was also selling bootleg tapes? Erm….well, yes!

Machine Head” is much easier to scribble a few lines about.

It remains Deep Purple’s best-selling and most successful album. No wonder really when it contains seven seamless track, including the triple whammy of heavy metal classics that are “Highway Star”, “Space Truckin” and “Smoke on the Water”

Highway Star” was first conceived on a tour bus in the presence of a reporter who had asked the band how they wrote songs. Apparently, Ritchie Blackmore grabbed a guitar and started playing a simple riff to which Ian Gillan sang some improvised nonsensical lyrics. By the time the band had reached their destination, the song had been refined, completed and… was performed live on stage that very night for the first time!

As good as the riff and the song is, the thing that always makes it for me is that extended organ solo from Jon Lord. Stunning.

Talking of extended organ solos, lets do it all again for “Space Truckin” shall we Mr Lord? A sci-fi rock & roll boogie of epic proportions – albeit with dodgy lyrics – which features what can only be described as a “hammond freakout” by Purple’s keyboard player. Here’s a live version from New York in 1973….

Truly awesome

Smoke on the Water” is, for me, the ultimate rock riff. It is the only riff I can play, and to my wife’s continuing chagrin I attempt to play it on almost ANY kind of musical instrument you can think of. I think my highlight may be programming a whole set of children’s toys to play it simultaneously in a WalMart one, otherwise boring, afternoon a couple of years ago.

As most (rock &/or roll) people know, the song tells a true story about the band going to Montreux to record an album where, amongst other scheduling delays, they witnessed the city’s casino burn to the ground. A fan at the Frank Zappa concert being held in the casino’s auditorium shot a flare gun at the ceiling, setting fire to the rattan covering and eventually the whole building. Deep Purple watched the whole thing go up from across Lake Geneva (hence “smoke on the water” – d’UH!).

The rest of the cuts on “Machine Head” are no slouches either, although I’ve never personally cared too much for “Maybe I’m a Leo” or “Never Before”. “Pictures of Home” seems to be a weird showcase for every member of the band’s solo talents whilst “Lazy” is often regarded as another Heavy Rock “classic”.

Although, maybe surprisingly, this is NOT my personal favourite Purple album (I reserve that distinction for “Who Do We Think We Are?” – of which I am sure I shall talk more about later this diary year) it is, without hesitation, the one I always have, and always will, recommend to anyone thinking of popping their toes in Deep Purple (smoke-enhanced, or otherwise) waters for the first time.

My fevered anticipation for “Moving Waves” continues, although I see I have muddied my own pitch by now considering Focus’ ambitious double album “Focus 3” as a possible alternative.

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