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Liverpool, The Barfly 4 May 2003

With original guitar hero Jan Akkerman seemingly distancing himself from the early material, the only way you'll get to hear some prog-rock classics is by watching the new version of Focus - put together by founder member, flautist and keyboard player Thijs Van Leer.

This version of the band made quite an impact when they made their debut UK performance at the Whitchurch festival last summer, since then they have been to America as part of a Classic Rock Festival and released a DVD and a new album. They are also little by little exorcising the ghost of Akkerman who, together with Van Leer, shaped the original band's sound - a blend of prog rock and jazz fusion with an emphasis on soaring melody and almost wholly instrumental.

New guitarist Jan Dumée has the unenviable task of slipping into Akkerman's guitar pedals, and it is to his great credit that he accomplishes this feat with great dignity. Akkerman is a unique player who always delighted with the totally unexpected turn of phrase whilst retaining consummate musicianship. One suspects Dumée has these qualities but sensibly he sticks to the plot and demonstrates an uncanny understanding and grasp of the early material and Akkerman's phrasing. He is very honest about this approach and claims that he is not trying to take anything away from the material. The result is totally authentic, the only thing lacking is Akkerman's musical histrionics but then he was(and is) a unique player.

The set was a mix of old and new and it is a great credit to the band that the new material sounds as good as the old, identifiable as Focus but contemporary in its own way. The second piece played tonight 'Tamara's Move', a Dumée composition, was wonderful: reminiscent of a former classic 'House Of The King' it leaps along with a great bass figure and Van Leer's brilliant Hammond keys, the extended ending allowing Dumée space to execute a brilliant and engaging solo.

With the classics 'Hocus Pocus' and 'Sylvia' firmly in the set, and even the bulk of 'Eruption' (from the 1972 album 'Moving Waves') if you had closed your eyes you could have been back in the early seventies. Whilst die-hards might begrudge Akkerman's absence, it is a perfect and unique opportunity to luxuriate again in classic, melodic, prog-rock.

Text © 2003 David Randall

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