Sir Thijs Van Leer: Live At Trading Boundaries

The Focus maestro, unplugged and intimate at this proggy epicentre.

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Occupying a former East Sussex coaching inn, Trading Boundaries has become renowned for presenting one-off performances and has been voted one of the UK’s top music venues.

It also hosts a permanent artwork exhibition by Roger Dean, who has illustrated this gorgeous chronicle of the night in October 2013 when prog royalty came to visit, in the form of Focus founder Sir Thijs Van Leer.

Although billed as a solo concert by the singer, pianist and flautist, Focus guitarist Menno Gootjes, who first played with the band in 1999 and became full-time in 2011, was in the audience and was persuaded to join in on borrowed guitar, resulting in the magical one-off captured here.

Disc one presents Focus On The Acoustic, with the pair working through highlights from the band’s songbook as almost chamber duets. Moving Waves, House Of The King, Sylvia, La Cathedrale De Strassbourg and assorted numbered Focus excursions.

Any devotee will wish they had been there.

Intimate mood established, Thijs tells his story in perfect English on the next two discs, punctuated by his musical illustrations. We hear how he grew up in a house in Amsterdam, “surrounded by music, culture and religion”. His dad played Bach on flute every day, while his mother was
a Sufi. By the age of 10, the child prodigy was composing and playing Bach on piano at Amsterdam concert halls. Two years later his father taught him flute, which led to the inspirational jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, which started him playing bebop in his first bands and composing songs including Moving Waves.

At 18, Thijs discovered rock through Jim Webb’s epic MacArthur Park, performing with different singers until forming his own trio to play Dylan and Traffic songs, and this turned into Focus after stellar guitarist Jan Akkerman joined in 1970. After making waves with the Tull-like House Of The King, 1971’s Moving Waves LP provided the turning point, boosted by the yodelling bombast of Hocus Pocus and compounded by the gorgeous baroque melody of third album’s Sylvia. Van Leer went on with further Focus incarnations, and explorations into classical, jazz, religious and world music. This writer was lucky enough to catch Focus in their live prime in 1972, and the enthralling set captured here is a worthy return to their leader’s world. Any devotee of music without boundaries will wish they had been there after experiencing this lovely little work of art, complete with photo album and Van Leer’s hand-written notes, which shows one of the 70s’ most panoramic talents still firing on all ever-questing cylinders with warm mischief.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!