Wednesday, 4 April 2018

"Hocus Pocus Box: Complete Album Collection + Bonus CD" by FOCUS (July 2017 Red Bullet 13CD Box Set of Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Yaddy Ya, Yaddy Ya, Yadda Ya... Bom! Bom!"

Bit of a Dutch Prog Rock beast this. Tons of info to get through – so once more my hairy friends unto the yaddy-ya, yaddy-ya, yaddy-ya, bom, bom! And that’s just your Hocus Pocus my giddy young son...

UK released Friday, 14 July 2017 - "Hocus Pocus Box: Complete Album Collection + Bonus CD" by FOCUS on Red Bullet RB 66.307 (Barcode 8712944663075) is a 13CD Clamshell Box Set containing 12 albums (11 studio, one a double and one live album) and a Bonus Thirteenth CD called "Best Of Focus". 

CDs 1 to 8 and CD13 are Remasters done by IAN GILLESPIE at Tape One in London in 2001 (old Red Bullet reissues) – CDs 9 to 12 are later dates (1985 to 2012) and are the masters of the time. There is a mention in the liner notes of 'Peter Brussee Remasters' done at Q Point Studios in Holland - but it doesn’t specify what has been upgraded or why. As is - the box set plays out as follows:

CD1 - "In And Out Of Focus" from 1970 and 1971 (36:04 minutes):
1. Focus (Vocal) [Side 1]
2. Black Beauty
3. Sugar Island
4. Anonymus
5. House Of The King
6. Happy Nightmare (Mescaline) [Side 2]
7. Why Dream
8. Focus – Instrumental
The Dutch band's debut LP was originally released mid 1970 in Holland as "Focus Plays Focus" on Imperial Records 5C 054-24192 with a seven-track line-up (CD Tracks 1, 7, 6 and 4 made up Side 1 with Tracks 2, 3 and 8 making up Side 2). However, Polydor UK and USA decided to relaunch the debut as "In And Out Of Focus" in both countries with a rejiggered track line-up and the Dutch non-album single "House Of The King" tagged onto the end of Side 1 thereby making an 8-track LP. This variant initially had a gatefold 'dotted blue' sleeve (Polydor 2344 003 in the UK and Sire SAS 7404 in the USA) – but confusingly this was also replaced at some time in late 1971 with a single ‘picture of the band photo’ sleeve in the UK and the same 8-track line-up (same catalogue numbers too, the US artwork differed yet again). It is this late 1971 British variant that is used in this CD box set (artwork and track list as above). This is the 2001 Remaster done by Red Bullet.

CD2 - "Moving Waves" from 1971 and 1973 [aka "Focus II" in Europe] (41:40 minutes):
1. Hocus Pocus [Side 1] (Album Version at 6:42 minutes)
2. Le Clochard
3. Janis
4. Moving Waves
5. Focus II
6. Eruption [Side 2]
Tracks 1 to 6 are their second studio album "Moving Waves" - released October 1971 in the UK on Blue Horizon 2931 002 and January 1973 in the USA on Sire SAS 7401. It was re-launched on Polydor 2931 002 in the UK November 1972 and this version peaked on the UK charts at No. 2 (peaked at No. 6 in the US charts in January 1973). The CD remaster is 2001 by Red Bullet.

CD3 - "Focus III" from 1972, 2LP set (67:08 minutes – see NOTE):
1. Round Goes The Gossip [Side 1]
2. Love Remembered
3. Sylvia
4. Carnival Fugue
5. Focus III [Side 2]
6. Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!
7. Elspeth Of Nottingham
8. Anonymus II [see NOTE re Sides 3 and 4 and playing times]
Tracks 1 to 6, 8, 7 and Track 5 on CD1 (in that order) make up the original double-album "Focus III" [aka "Focus 3"] - released November 1972 in the UK on Polydor 2659 016 and April 1973 in the USA on Sire SAS 3901 (in different artwork). It peaked at No. 6 in the UK and No. 35 in the States.
NOTE: on the original double-album "Anonymus II" was broken into two parts "Anonymus II (Part 1)" and Anonymus II (Conclusion)" and in fact spread across Side 3 and 4 of the 2LP set - Part 1 on Side 3 and the Conclusion at the beginning of Side 4. Here the 19:28 and 7:30 parts have been combined into one song at 26:24 minutes. Also the last song on Side 4 was "House Of The King" (sequenced 'after' "Elspeth Of Nottingham" on the original double) - but as it is featured on "In And Out Of Focus" CD - it's not included here. The remaster here is 2001 by Red Bullet.

CD4 - "Focus At The Rainbow" (1973 Live Album) (42:34 minutes):
1. Focus III [Side 1]
2. Answers" Questions! Questions? Answers!
3. Focus II
4. Eruption (Excerpt) [Side 2]
5. Hocus Pocus
6. Sylvia
7. Hocus Pocus (Reprise)
Tracks 1 to 7 are the live LP "Focus At The Rainbow" - released October 1973 in the UK on Polydor 2442 118 and November 1973 in the USA on Sire SAs 7408. It peaked at No. 23 in the UK and No. 132 in the USA.

CD5 - "Hamburger Concerto" from 1974 (43:07 minutes):
1. Delitiae Musicae [Side 1]
2. Harem Scarem
3. La Cathedrale De Strasbourg
4. Birth
5. Hamburger Concerto [Side 2]
6. Early Birth
Tracks 1 to 6 are their fourth studio album "Hamburger Concerto" - released August 1974 in the UK on Polydor 2442 124 and in the USA on Atco Records SD 36-100 (same month). It peaked at No. 20 in the UK and No. 66 in the USA.

CD6 - "Mother Focus" from 1975 (37:14 minutes):
1. Mother Focus [Side 1]
2. I Need A Bothroom
3. Bennie Helder
4. Soft Vanilla
5. Hard Vanilla
6. Tropic Bird
7. Focus IV [Side 2]
8. Someone's Crying...What!
9. All Together...Oh That!
10. No Hang Ups
11. Father Bach
Tracks 1 to 11 are their fifth studio album "Mother Focus" - released October 1975 in the UK on Polydor 2302 036 and September 1975 in the USA on Atco Records SD 36-117. It didn't chart in the UK, peaked at No. 152 in the USA. 

CD7 - "Ship Of Memories" from 1977 [unused 1973 material] (40:03 minutes):
1. P's March [Side 1]
2. Can't Believe My Eyes
3. Focus V
4. Out Of Vesuvius
5. Glider [Side 2]
6. Red Sky At Night
7. Spoke The Lord Creator
8. Crackers
9. Ship Of Memories
10. Hocus Pocus (U.S. Single Version)
Tracks 1 to 10 are a compilation album of older material "Ship Of Memories" recorded in England and Holland (mostly 1973, some 1970) - released June 1977 in the USA on Sire Records SAS 7531 and September 1977 in the UK on Harvest Records SHSP 4068. It didn't chart in the UK and peaked at No. 163 in the USA. It was released 1976 in their native Holland hence the copyright date of 1976 on the labels.

CD8 - "Focus Con Proby" from 1978 (48:11 minutes):
1. Wingless [Side 1]
2. Orion
3. Night Flight
4. Eddy
5. Sneezing Bull
6. Brother [Side 2]
7. Tokyo Rose
8. Maximum
9. How Long
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Focus Con Proby" - released January 1978 in the UK on Harvest Records SHSP 11721 and February 1978 in the USA on Harvest ST-11721 (didn't chart in either country). Five of the nine tracks feature English Vocalist PJ PROBY (Tracks 1, 4, 6, 7 and 9) and the band has PHILIP CATHERINE as its principal guitarist instead of Jan Akkerman. The album was released first in the Netherlands in 1977.

CD9 - "Jan Akkerman and Thijs Van Leer - Focus" from 1985 (59:34 minutes):
1. Russian Roulette [Side 1]
2. King Kong
3. Le Tango
4. Indian Summer
5. Beethoven's Revenge (Bach-One-Turbo-Overdrive) [Side 2]
6. Ole Judy
7. Who's Calling
Tracks 1 to 7 are the album "Jan Akkerman & Thijs Van Leer - Focus" - released August 1985 in the UK on LP and CD on Vertigo 824 524-1 and -2

CD10 - "Focus 8" from 2002 (59:12 minutes):
1. Rock & Rio
2. Tamara's Move (Allegro-Adagio-Allegro)
3. Fretless Love
4. Hurkey Turkey
5. De Ti O De Mi
6. Focus 8
7. Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota?
8. Neurotika - Rehearsal Take
9. Brother
10. Blizu Tebe
11. Flower Shower
Tracks 1 to 11 are recorded with Thijs Van Leer and a Focus tribute band who become the 'new' Focus - it was released as a 500-only signed private pressed LP in Holland in 2002 and reissued on CD by Red Bullet in 2006 (Red Bullet 66.252)

CD11 - "Focus 9 – New Skin" from 2006 (79:54 minutes):
1. Black Beauty
2. Focus 7
3. Hurkey Turkey
4. Sylvia's Stepson - Ubatuba
5. Niel's Skin
6. Just Like Eddy
7. Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee
8. Focus 9
9. Curtain Call
10. Ode To Venus
11. European Rap(sody)
12. Pim
13. It Takes 2 2 Tango
14. Brazil Love
Tracks 1 to 14 are the album "Focus 9 - New Skin" - released September 2006 in the Netherlands on CD on Red Bullet RB 66.253

CD12 - "Focus X" from 2012 (49:39 minutes):
1. Father Bacchus
2. Focus 10
3. Victoria
4. Amok In Kindergarten
5. All Hens On Deck
6. Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango)
7. Hoeratio
8. Talk Of The Clown
9. Message Magique
10. Crossroads
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Focus X" - released November 2012 in the Netherlands on CD on 4Worlds Media EW0123CD

CD13 - "The Best Of Focus" from 2001 (76:31 minutes):
1. Hocus Pocus [6:42 minutes Full Album Version]
2. Anonymus
3. House Of The King
4. Focus - Instrumental
5. Janis
6. Focus II
7. Tommy
8. Sylvia
9. Focus III
10. Harem Scarem
11. Mother Focus
12. Focus IV
13. Bennie Helder
14. Glider
15. Red Sky At Night
16. Hocus Pocus (U.S. Single Version)
Tracks 1 to 16 are the CD compilation "The Best Of Focus" - originally released June 1993 in the UK as "Hocus Pocus - The Best Of" on EMI CDP 8281622 (Barcode 724382816225) and reissued 2001 in the Netherlands as "The Best Of Focus - Hocus Pocus" on Red Bullet RB 66.194 (Barcode   8712944661941).

Once you get into the clamshell box - you notice with some irritation that "Focus 3" (their most successful and pivotal album) is a single card sleeve and not a gatefold, "Anonymus" is in the wrong place and suddenly one-track instead of two parts and the "Houses Of The King" song at the end of Side 4 is missing entirely from the CD (see NOTE above). Sure it's on both "In And Out Of Focus" and "The Best of" discs - but it wouldn't have taken a lot to sort this out - and playing time is not an issue here. The card sleeves for "At The Rainbow" is a single when it could have been a fold-over like the original and "In And Out Of Focus" takes a similarly lazy route - using the single-sleeve band-shot photo artwork for the reissue instead of the gatefold 'blue dots' original (see my separate review for the Japanese SHM-CD reissue of this - use Barcode 4988002565375 to locate the issue).

The Remasters are mostly the Red Bullet variants done in 2001 by IAN GILLESPIE at Tape One Studios in London (CDs 1 to 8 and CD13) - but there is an extra mention of PETER BRUSSEE at Q Point Studios in Hilversum in Holland for 'Remasters' without explaining what has done to what. Having said that they do sound good and at times - like on "Moving Waves", "Focus III" and "Mother Focus" - they sound spectacular. The stuff after 1985 is all recorded professionally anyway - so no problems audio wise there. And although that 13th disc does seem a tad superfluous to requirements when you've got CD 1 to 12 - it's handy to have it as a play-alone. The 40-page booklet features detailed Liner Notes by T J LAMMERS giving a breakdown of all albums - line-ups, track-by-track annotation and so on - all nestled amidst photos of the LPs and CDs, period Tour posters and photos, trade adverts, press clippings and so on. All you would need to know is here.

I'll admit that 1975's "Mother Focus" - I lost interest and don't know much of the later material. But then Focus were always about the mighty "Moving Waves", "Focus III" and "Hamburger Concerto" - all fabulous Prog Rock albums. That's not to say that the debut or the live set are slouchers - they're not. It's also odd for to hear "Anonymus" as one 26:24 minute track and not reach for that "Conclusion" on Side 4! Something like "Elspeth Of Nottingham" is hissy with the lute and birdsong - but still beautiful. And the 14-minute "Answers? Questions!..." is fantastic Prog Rock with Funky licks thrown in. As is that cool Akkerman guitar break 9-minutes into "Hamburger Concerto" that lasts for nearly eight more minutes – all of it sounding suitably chunky and awesome (his solos on both tracks justify his Best Guitarist award in the 1974 Melody Maker over other axe-Gods such as Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher and Jimmy Page).

The Chipping Norton studios material recorded by Blue Horizon's label boss and producer Mike Vernon for the "Hamburger Concerto" album was shelved at the time as it was deemed not good enough (40 minutes of it) only to resurface as "Ship Of Memories" on Harvest Records along with outtakes that stretched as far back as the first LP from 1970. But I'd say that the 6-track issued LP is one of the great forgotten 'instrumental music' albums of the mid-70ts - a record made under serious duress with Akkerman and Van Leer having to be recorded in separate rooms lest they actually talk to each other. The funky Rock of Hamburger Concerto's "Harem Scarem" is an obvious ape of "Hocus Pocus" but still works on its own terms - Akkerman and Van Leer playing off each other like gooduns - replacement drummer Colin Allen coming up with the song title. "La Cathedrale De Strasbourg" has nice counter-point vocals that play off against sweet piano chords. Thijs gets to go all clavinet mad on the seven-minute "Birth" (a Funky-Rock gem in my book) - but the LP belongs to another "Anonymus" side-long type monster - the twenty-minute six-part title track "Hamburger Concerto". All ELP in its scope, you get Classical influences, Baroque and slinky Funky Rock - guitarist Akkerman and keyboardist Thijs Van Leer sharing the writing credits on this showstopper. After the slightly odd Pop album "Mother Focus" - we get the equally odd but quite wonderful collaboration album with singer PJ Proby where the little blighter sings his guts out on songs like "Wingless" and "Brother". Of the later stuff - I'd truly surprised at how good "Focus 8" is - Thijs Van Leer working with a Focus covers band whom he liked and ended up employing as - well Focus! "Fretless Love" and "Focus 8" show that old magic. And on it goes...

For sure there is way more Focus here than any average punter needs and you can't help feeling that with a bit better thought and presentation - this could have been a solid 5-star release. For the moment - I'm digging re-visits to old friends and discovering that they made some ones I should acquaint myself with in the later years too.

Yaddy ya, yaddy ya, bom, bom! Both Tommy and Sylvia would approve... 

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