Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bogus Band Bio #5: The Progressive Sound Stylings Of FOCUS!

I preface this latest entry as I have all the other previous “Bogus Band Bio” entries; that this is a phenomenally ridiculous and fictional account of a phenomenally ridiculous band, and should any members of said band or their legal representation read this, highly unlikely as that would be, please forgive me as I am a deranged lunatic with far too much time on my hands.

Without further adieu, I give you...

"Hocus Pocus, My God It's FOCUS!"

Flutist Thijs Van Leer, bassist Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver met at a “fiddler’s meet” in the summer of 1968, where Van Leer’s brother, Po Tidholm-Van Leer (men in Sweden are required to keep their maiden names after marriage), was vying to retain his title of Lord Fiddler King-Man, which he had won every year since he was a young prodigy of 3. Po’s main competition, as it had been for many years, was a young man by the name of Orlendr Guofriar. Guofriar was born without the benefit of elbows which made his prowess on the fiddle even more spectacular and subsequently endeared him to the local crowd. A combination of Po’s arrogance and Guofriar’s spectacular performance that day led to the crown being passed on to a new, elbow-less champion. Po was understandably devastated, and ran away from the festival soon after the announcement, crying “VLANDERSPAST!! VANDERSPLAST MON HICKKMAAN!!”, which loosely translated means “elbow demon is lactose intolerant”.
He ran 4 miles to the Cliffs of Despair and plunged 400 feet into the icy sea below. Local artist Gjord Hildegarrrrd captured the moment in this fine artist’s rendering:

The Swedish Sea Rescue team tried for hours to save Po but their effort was cut short due to the drunken captain who choked on a schnitzel while trying to traverse the choppy waters (see below).

At the funeral the following day the three boys placed their toenail clippings on the body’s eyelids while they sipped on cat’s milk which, of course, is part of Swedish burial tradition. It was at this time that the three boys became men and decided to honor Po’s memory by vowing to form a progressive rock band in his honor. Po’s lack of focus at the prior day’s competition would be the inspiration for the burgeoning band’s moniker; the Swedish translation for “Focus” is “Gilgerbloorst”, but Thijs decided to change it to the English translation in the hopes of being able to tell Po’s story to a worldwide audience.
The first two albums were cut in a flurry of creative productivity, and were a fair collection of progressive rock tunes but devoid of a clear, erm, focus, and the material is primarily dominated by Thijs Van Leer and his classical sensibilities. But at least as often, it sticks with fairly conventional period Swedish folk-rock with occasional jazzy shadings. Akkerman's "House of the King Fiddler", the first recorded tribute to their fallen brother Po, is the most heart wrenching and accurate Jethro Tull rip-off ever recorded.
Their second album, Moving Waves, contained the breakthrough worldwide smash “Hocus Pocus”. Built around a killer guitar riff by Jan Akkerman , this instrumental replaced Sweden‘s National Anthem as a staple of SPR (Swedish Public Radio) for three straight days. The bizarrely hilarious vocal and incendiary accordion solos by Thijs van Leer have to be heard to be believed. Compared to the groundbreaking “Hocus Pocus” the other tracks seemed comparatively constrained: the gentle "Le Clochard" features some gorgeous classical guitar over Mellotron strings, but other than that the rest just feels like directionless meandering. The album concludes with "Eruption," which while mimicking the multi-suite nomenclature of Yes and King Crimson, is essentially a side-long jam session.
After the massive success of “Hocus Pocus” the band decided to take a 4 year sabbatical to, erm, focus on individual solo projects. Hans Cleuver lent his voice to the popular Swedish breath mint commercials for Ricola (that’s him singing “Riiiiiiicoooolllaaaaaaa”) while Thijs Van Leer was busy utilizing his considerable production talents to help mentor the up and coming Swedish disco group ABBA.
Martin Dresden, on the other hand, spent his time and royalties forming the National Unified Waffle Makers Union (NUWMU), a collective of underpaid waffle merchants based in Amsterdam. Their mandate was simple: a fair and equitable opportunity to sell their delectable fried batter treats in Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District without fear of harassment or reprisal. Martin was rumored to utilize several “unpopular and violent” tactics to achieve his goals. The hashish merchants of Amsterdam didn’t take too kindly to Dresden’s bully tactics, but were too stoned and docile to really do anything about it. Therefore, Dresden and his collective thrived on the tourists appetite for waffles and were finally accepted into the fold of the whore mongers and drug dealers of the Red Light District. As a matter of fact, Dresden was eventually honored by being elected president of the B.I.A. office (Business Improvement Area) and getting a local Rhune sculpture named in his honor.

It wasn’t until their third album, the aptly titled Focus III, that the band really gained critical acceptance. Focus III kept this same sound, but approached it with a jollier, more accessible tone. As with its predecessor, Focus III featured only one tune that would have a chance of being a hit single. The semi-enjoyable rhythm of "Sylvia," partnered with Jan Akkerman's victorious and Thor-like guitar solo, and some of Van Leer's finest flugelhorn work, new member Bert Ruiter's tight basslines, and Pierre Van Der Linden's mellow drumming, assured the track classic status. "Sylvia" found worldwide success and gained the band valuable radio and press exposure. The consistency in musical variety throughout Focus III is enough to merit any listeners' respect. To be frank, this LP should unquestionably be ranked alongside the likes of Revolver, Dark Side of the Moon, and any others of rock's greatest.
After a triumphant tour of Bangladesh the band got to work on the fourth Focus album entitled “…Or Lack Thereof”. It flopped, paling in the wake of the massive success of III. This sent Van Leer into a horrible tailspin of alcoholism and addiction to Belgian chocolate Easter bunnies. He checked himself into the Stockholm Hospital For The Tragically Inflicted in February of 1975 and remained in their care until the Summer of 2002. The rest of the band attempted to go on without him, releasing no less than 57 albums during that time, but without their leader and spiritual mentor to guide them the band flailed, retreating to the bars and festivals of their homeland.
It wasn’t until the reclusive Van Leer wandered into the studio while the rest of the band were recording their 61st LP (Lingonberies and Nordquist) that the original band finally reformed. Van Leer explained that during his 27 year hiatus he had musically mentored a young lad by the name of Pete Almqvist who had gone on a pilgrimage of sorts to find and convince the mercurial Van Leer to rejoin his former mates and reform Focus. Pete later formed his own band, The Hives, and changed his name to “Howlin’” Pete Almqvist, but that’s another story.
During the time that Van Leer was in the hospital, Sweden had changed dramatically. Its remote position on the map, its remarkable capacity for staying out of wars and its endless supply of timber and ore made Sweden both a rich country and an unusual one by international standards. Old musical customs and traditions were suddenly thought useless. Young people closed their ears to the stories of their rock elders and refused to look back.
The band recorded one more album, 2005’s “Socially Unacceptable“, before disbanding for good.
Van Leer checked himself back into the hospital where he regales the patients with his one-man productions of famous Swedish folk lore. Here’s an excerpt from his latest show:
“Could you pass the salt, please (Kan du skicka saltet, tack)?”
“Here you are (Varsågod).”
“Thank you (Tack)!”
Hans Cleuver is living off his royalties from the first three Focus albums and his Ricola commercials while Martin Dresden was forced into exile by the members of his waffle collective after being caught embezzling millions of Krona from the NUWMU treasury vaults.


Holly A Hughes said...

I saw an amazing 80s cover band in Milwaukee at Summerfest a couple years ago that performed "Hocus Pocus" -- and I now believe that it was a totally underrated song. We were all just DELIRIOUS listening to it...

Hal Johnson said...

I love "Hocus Pocus." In fact, it's that song that opened the door to instrumental rock for me, leading to discovering bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Dixie Dregs. But I always wondered what the heck the deal was with the rest of the album.

A guitarist named Gary Hoey does a killer cover of "Hocus Pocus."

Uncle E said...

You two know this is a fictional account of the band, right?
I had no idea of the amount of love out there for Hocus Pocus. Could never get past the yodeling.

Holly A Hughes said...

Hear the yodeling, E. BE the yodeling. Within the yodeling lie all the secrets of the universe.

So glad you're with me on this one, Hal. Of course, it took me years to reach this state of musical nirvana which apparently you achieved long ago. I stand in awe.