REVIEW – Focus @ LSBC, Corn  Exchange, Devizes – Saturday 20th November 2021

Best Gig Of The Year In D-Town!

Andy Fawthrop

Second day on the trot in the Corn Exchange for me – on Friday night it was Motown Gold, with D-Town’s (ahem) young things bopping away to hits from their lifetime’s soundtrack.  But on Saturday night it was something completely different – a journey into the wilds of 70s Prog Rock, with a side-serving of close-harmony contemporary folk.……

This was a complete change of venue for Long Street Blues Club for one night only, switching from the usual Con Club to a much larger hall and stage, in order to accommodate a more fitting light and sound show for one of the music business’s most famous bands, as well as to pack in a bigger crowd.  And it was a move that was fully justified, as the music-starved hordes of The Vize turned out in their hundreds.

But first things first – the support act The Lost Trades, consisting of three well-known local singer/ song-writers: Phil Cooper, Tamsin Quin and Jamie R. Hawkins.  (See Darren’s pre-gig interview with them if you’d like to know more about what makes them tick, [coming soon, Ed!]).  I’ve personally seen these guys sing before, many times, both as individual performers and as The Trades, and they’ve always impressed me.  On this occasion, and with a big attentive crowd in front of them, I thought that they absolutely nailed it.

Kicking off with “Only When We Sing With One Voice”, “Road of Solid Gold” and “Kingdom Falls” – all tracks on their latest album – all three performers looked relaxed and well-rehearsed.  Their multi-voice harmonies were spot on, and their (apparently) effortless swapping around of instruments showcased their collective talent and versatility (including a complete no-panic moment when Jamie broke a guitar string).  The songs were far from being one-dimensional, and instead were nuanced and textured.  As a group, I feel that their song-writing has improved no end, each of them contributing their own ideas, as well as improving the inputs of the others.  Their performance, to my ears at least, is strongest when Jamie takes the lead on vocals and, as they did on their last song, they simply drop all the instruments and just give us the stripped-down acapella harmonies.  All in all a top-notch, consummate performance which I expect will have won them a lot of new friends.  Just superb.

And then, as someone famous once said, for something completely different.  And you couldn’t get much more different than veteran Dutch prog-rockers Focus. 

Currently in the middle of their 50th anniversary UK Tour (which continues to mid-Dec, then starts again from April 2022), these guys are an absolute institution.  Still touring, still making albums (they are now on their tenth!) and new music, and still bringing crowds to their feet across Europe, Focus blew into D-Town and, with a little musical hocus-pocus, blew us all away.

Fronted by founding member Thijs Van Leer (an imposing figure in long black leather coat) on Hammond organ, flute and (ahem) vocals, the rest of the band were: veteran member Pierre van der Linden on drums, Menno Gootjes on guitar and Udo Pannekeet on 6-string bass.  And they seemed to be there on stage in absolutely no time at all, following a rapid changeover from the Trades, almost taking everyone by surprise.  Before we knew it we were off with the first number, fittingly called “Focus 1” – no warm-up, no intro, just straight into it.

And that was the start of a breath-taking two-hour-long set.  Suddenly we were in the midst of progressive rock – heavy chords on the organ, light passages on the flute, with guitar solos, bass solos, drum solos, some wonderful wandering jazzy improv passages, and (of course) those bizarre vocal interludes, scat singing and yodelling.  Most of the set was instrumentals – these are (in true prog-rock parlance) not just “songs” in the conventional sense, but rather “pieces”, consisting of different phases, passages, moods.  We were getting very close to Concept Album territory here, but we managed to avoided any such cliché as that.

Of course we got all the big 70s chart hits – how could they not on an anniversary tour? – “House Of The King”, “Sylvia” and a blistering, massively-extended version of “Hocus Pocus”.  But there was plenty of other stuff to enjoy too – “Le Tango”, “Peace March”, “All Hands On Deck”, “Hamburger Concerto” to name just a few others.  The vocals, such as they were, were largely incoherent, incomprehensible noises uttered by Thijs at key moments in the pieces.  But it was far from a one-man show, as proved by Thijs when he wandered off stage several times, including once through the audience and into the foyer, as the other musicians took their solos and duets.  Menno’s guitar-playing was stunning, and a real highlight for me, beating the bass and drum solos by a long way.

I have to say that this was the gig of the year for me.  By the end of the night the band not only got a fully-deserved encore, but a full-throttle standing ovation.  As far as I’m concerned, they knocked it right out of the park.  If you were there, you know exactly what I mean.  And if you weren’t there, you missed the best show in town!

Given what I’ve said above about The Lost Trades’ equally superb performance, the whole evening delivered a fantastic night’s entertainment, and a really strong advertisement for live music in Devizes.

Future Long Street Blues Club gigs:

Saturday 27th November 2021                   Antonio Forcione Quartet

Saturday 18th December 2021-                  KOSSOFF…The Band Plays On

Friday 14th January 2022                               Chicago Living Legends

Saturday 5th February 2022                         Tinsley Ellis

Saturday 19th February 2022                       Mike Zito Band

Saturday 26th February 2022                       Mark Flanagan Band

Friday 4th March 2022                                    Black Sabbitch (Corn Exchange, Devizes)

Saturday 19th March 2022                            Soft Machine

Saturday 2nd April 2022                                 Alastair Greene Band

Friday 8th April 2022                                       Billy Bremner’s Rockfile (Devizes Town Hall

Saturday 9th April 2022                                  Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy (Corn Exchange, Devizes)

Saturday 16th April 2022                               Billy Walton Band

Friday 6th May 2022                                        Birdmens

Saturday 17 September 2022                      CSN Express (New Rescheduled Date)


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