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Alexanders, Chester 20 October 2005

A new Focus album is nearly ready, and we received a sneak preview during the band's second visit to the Jazz Theatre in Chester.

I seem to recall they debuted 'Yippy-i-ay ' on the last trip, but this time we also heard 'Sylvia's Stepson' and the magnificent 'Girl From Bangou'.

Whether Focus can pull in a whole new, or at least younger, audience with the latest CD remains to be seen. The hardcore following are those for whom long guitar solos, wide trouser legs and a dog-eared copy of 'Moving Waves' are still de rigeur in 2005, and they ain't letting go yet. Neither, it seems, is the band.

When you ask genial guitarist Jan Dumée to name his influences, almost inevitably the conversation comes round to Jan Akkerman and Focus. It is quite clear, hearing the note-perfect classics like 'Focus II' and 'Focus III', that Dumée lives, breathes, and loves, this music.

At the outset, the cynical might have said that the millennium incarnation of Focus is merely a tribute band, a shadow of its former self. But the band are so relaxed now that it all seems perfectly normal, Dumée even introduces his own trade mark flourishes whilst keeping faithful to those Akkerman-esque volume swells.

Thijs Van Leer and company bring a real passion to the performance and understanding about how dynamic rock music should be performed and all are supreme instrumentalists in their own right. Van Leer is an amiable and articulate raconteur as well as flute and keyboard maestro, and both Dumée and Bobby Jakobs bring compositional strength.

Now bolstered and legitimised by the great Pierre van der Linden on drums; Pierre actually made his live debut with the band at this very venue a year ago.

Whilst the second half showcased a medley of former glories, starting with 'House Of The King', 'Eruption', and rallying with an extended 'Harem Scarem', the first half featured the new pieces and the classic 'Tamara's Move'.

This last tune, featured on the band's Focus 8 album, has a 'House Of The King' feel to it and gives Dumée a chance to stretch out at the end. This time, maybe it's Pierre's influence, but Jan's figures were jazzier than of old. Perhaps a little disappointing for those grey beards who had to wait until that new piece 'The Girl From Bangou' to really get their rocks off.

Review: David Randall

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