Upon discovering that a 50 year old prog band with only half the original line up was coming to Manchester, I metaphorically crashed through a fence to get the opportunity: to see something so far removed from punk it might as well have been a harp troupe specialising in Indonesian folk music. Generously, they don’t bother with an opening act; they play two sets with an interval presumably to give the audience (few under 60) an extended offering of their unique set blend of jazz-fusion/hard rock/proto metal/quasi-folk alongside enough individual solos between the 4-piece to make the likes of Eddie Van Halen look like a subscriber of minimalism.

Commencing their set with a gentle flute passage only to then ease into a synthesis of guitar, Hammond organ and 6 string bass sets the tone; witnessing the sheer virtuosity (particularly of the guitarist) is something rather alien to me, even though I’m a fan of progressive rock this is the first time I have actually seen it firsthand. Some can call it indulgent or superficially label it unfashionable, but this kind of classical/jazz-rooted expression is something slowly dissipating in prevalence (good or bad?). Following a rendition of their early hit ‘House of the King’ (in the Netherlands, not UK), the band descend into a melancholic, long winded piece that touches on light-and-shade dynamics that eventually stumble into a segment with probably one of the most infectious bass lines I’ve heard this year; backed up by Van Leer’s trademark scat singing and an increasingly out of tune flute. As they continue through their variously titled Focus (insert number) cuts, the interval is reached, with the band taking the pension-procuring, economically wise approach of encouraging the venue denizens to purchase all the Focus-centric merchandise they may very well desire.

Having got closer to the stage in the intermittent period, I get witness ‘Focus 11’ (song titles inventive as ever), with the guitar playing probably at its most emotional; the excessive chord changes making Brian May look as hapless as Johnny Depp (recall guitar vid?) alongside the soaring frequencies that could easily attract the ire of an adjacent feral cat colony… had one actually existed. Claimed by Van Leer to be un-Focus like, the band evolve into what I can only describe as prog-lounge; the keyboard-flute thing being played an instrument I’d like to find out more about.

After a rendition of a string of Moving Waves cuts, the bass solos with an almost ambient effect on it, as the other instrumentalists retire, before the anticipated ‘Hocus Pocus’ surges out as set closer; the lack of any kind of aggressive audience dancing a minor disappointment. With age, Van Leer’s vocals have darkened and as such the guitar handles what would have been the falsetto segment, not that it takes away as the band’s sound was mostly instrumental anyway. Although drum solos had been undertaken a few times prior, a particularly lengthy (ten minute est.) one takes place while the other musicians sit and relax as the technical, yet loose polyrhythms (Ginger Baker homage or standard practice?) indulge their way into the audience’s memory, only to then go straight back to the esteemed number. The encore that follows on from this feels rather unnecessary; much like deflating an otherwise workable hot-air balloon, the serene tone chokes out the dynamism of the climax and blemishes what otherwise was a consistently flowing performance.

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Angus Rolland

Recent career decisions have compelled me into the journalistic... thing; I could list my literary influences or even debate which 3rd rate beverage has the best economic value per litre (But I won’t). Oh, in addition, I write reviews for the Independents Network.