For those of you who are unaware, Clitheroe is a small town in Lancashire quite close to Blackburn and according to its website the Grand was, "Created to provide state-of-the-art performance and live music facilities in the heart of the Ribble Valley, The Grand is now quite simply the best venue for miles around!" Andy Powell's version of Wishbone Ash played here a couple of weeks ago as did It Bites and Mostly Autumn. I have previously enjoyed gigs from the likes of the Quireboys and former Strangler Hugh Cornwell. The chance to see Dutch prog legends was one that just could not be missed.
Initially The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were due to be the support act but apparently the lure of joining Alice Cooper at the Alexandra Palace in London was more fun than a trip to Clitheroe so I felt it was OK to turn up slightly later than originally planned. Upon entering the venue the first person I saw as I made my way towards the bar was Focus main man Thijs van Leer who appeared to be bringing a takeaway for his wife who was manning the merchandise stall. The evening was to continue in a strange way for the duration.
The current line up of Focus which consists of van Leer, legendary drummer Pierre van der Linden, guitarist Menno Gootjes and Bobby Jacobs on bass played for two magical hours. Whilst large swathes of our fellow Englanders watched a bunch of no talents perform karaoke on the X Factor a couple of hundred hardy Lancastrians were treated to a musical tour de force and quite the most eccentric front man this correspondent has ever seen.
It would have been very easy for a heritage act like Focus to just play the hits a perfunctory manner but they didn't (obviously they did play the hits) but we were also treated to Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee and the Bobby Jacobs penned Sylvia's Stepson from Focus 9 as well as a new tune from the forthcoming Focus 10 which, according to Thijs van Leer will have a Roger Dean designed cover – cue huge cheer.
You know when an act can throw in an all time classic such as House of the King very early on that something impressive is afoot and that was most certainly the case. With van Leer switching from Hammond organ to flute and often both at the same time it was amazing how entertaining Focus were. My abiding memories of the evening were my elder son turning to me early on in the set, pointing at van Leer and saying, "He's bat-shit mental" and also the crazy man who danced like David Brent all the way through Hocus Pocus but in particular through the drum solo which was not a short solo either. Two hours of astounding musicianship and surreal entertainment from Mr. van Leer made Focus at the Grand one of the better ways I've ever spent twenty pounds.