SOPHIA - 'DE
by Alex Van Loon)
Those who attended De Nachten festival in Antwerp or Amsterdam in
January 2001 had the opportunity to experience the Sophia concert
in person. In honour of the occasion, Robin Proper-Sheppard’s band
was accompanied by a string quartet, and the addition created music
that made a lasting impression. Yours truly was there in Antwerp and
can assure you that it was a memorable event. Here is some background
for those who aren’t familiar with Sophia: Robin Proper-Sheppard used
to be the singer in The God Machine. In a melancholy mood he gathered
a few friends and recorded a number of mellower songs, which later
appeared on the 'Fixed Water' release. To his surprise, the CD was
a success, especially in Belgium, and he was somewhat obliged to tour
with Sophia. The shows were likewise a success, and a second album,
'The Infinite Circle', followed. And now a live CD, recorded during
De Nachten. The release is dedicated to his daughter Hope, who we
sang 'Happy Birthday' to during the show. There are quite a few new
songs on this CD, including 'The Sea', 'Ship in the Sand' and 'Bad
Man', and that in itself makes this CD a worthwhile purchase, as they
are definitely among the best this notable songwriter has crafted
so far. The fans will also recognise striking versions of such Sophia
classics as 'So Slow' and 'The River Song', along with a pleasing
cover of John Lennon’s 'Jealous Guy'. A sonic fireplace: gather around
and enjoy the warmth.
Rifraf (April 2001, by rvb)
The Sophia concert during De Nachten festival is kind of like UFOs.
Few have actually seen the phenomenon, but everyone knows someone
who has a friend who saw it and the stories surrounding it are taking
on a life of their own. For the non-believers, nomad-songsmith Robin
Proper-Sheppard has committed the concert to CD. Yes, and? Everything
you heard is true. A wrapt audience, a cartload of ethereal strings
and a band clearly in its stride. It doesn’t take any more than that
to make a truly memorable concert.
One thing that stands out on this live album is how just three old
songs (‘So slow’, ‘If only’ and ‘The river song’) made it to the final
selection. And yet the new songs seem to have no trouble carrying
the concert and the CD. Also, a song like ‘Ship in the sand’, with
its dreamily mumbled bit of lyrics “Forget the past, it’s just an
ugly backdrop/That stains everything we try to believe in/Accept the
things that failed love brings/And don’t project it on to anyone else”,
has already become one of our all-time favourites. A sweet and unique
moment shared with the audience between the successful Lennon-cover
‘Jealous guy’ and the inevitable finale ‘The river song’ is an unexpected
highlight. Can’t handle the suspense a minute longer? Tough luck!
You should have already visited your local record shop.
Kerrang! (July 2001, by Catherine Yates)
Live album of stark music from former God Machine singer. 4 out of
Those who remember the apocalyptic portents delivered by brutal masters
of thunderous rock dissonance The God Machine may also remember their
shock at hearing Sophia for the first time. The stark, minimal and
deeply vulnerable music was a direct contrast to the band singer Robin
Proper Shepard dissolved upon the death of his friend and TGM bass
player, Jimmy Fernandez.
Drawing more on the dynamics of country music than anything with a
distortion pedal, this live album demonstrates the power of the understatement.
Though Sophia live are eight members plus of string sections, guitars
and pianos, Shepherd's stripped down songs of honest simplicity provide
a more focussed emotional blow than many a rock act. Beautiful.
www.noize.at (6/5/01, by Won Sin)
Robin Proper-Sheppard, Mastermind von Sophia, legt mit “De Nachten”
ein wirklich schönes Livedokument vor.
Aufgenommen wurde das Werk beim De Nachten Festival in Amsterdam und
in Antwerpen. Das Besondere daran ist, dass es überwiegend neue Songs
zu hören gibt und dass dies eines der Sophia-Konzerte in Begleitung
eines Streichorchesters ist. Schon der erste Song „The Sea“ besticht
durch tieftraurige Melodien, die von den Streichern noch untermalt
werden und bereits alleine den Kauf dieser CD rechtfertigen. Die wunderbare
melancholische Stimmung und die angenehm naive Direktheit der Songs
wird hier gut eingefangen. So kann man bei „So Slow“ einfach nur die
Augen schließen, sich fallen lassen und sich einen überwältigenden
Schauer nach dem nächsten über den Rucken laufen lassen. Auch „If
Only“ klingt im neuen Gewand noch intensiver. Ein weiterer Höhepunkt
ist „I Left You“, das sich so wunderbar dramatisch voran schleppt,
dass mal wieder die Frage aufkommt, warum diese Band nicht einer größeren
Hörerschaft bekannt ist. Schließlich passt sich das John Lennon-Cover
„Jealous Guy“ hervorragend an, und das ist doch schließlich auch ein
Solange es aber genügend Menschen gibt, die Sophia zu schätzen wissen,
wird Robin Proper-Sheppard uns hoffentlich weiterhin mit solchen Songperlen
beglücken und sich um eine kommerzielle Ausrichtung keine Gedanken
machen. Schließlich lebt diese Musik von der Intimität und Ehrlichkeit,
die heutzutage leider viel zu selten in der Musik auffindig zu machen
sind. Wer lässt schon ein Geburtstagsständchen des Publikums als einen
extra Track auf der CD, um die kleine Tochter glücklich zu machen?
Playlouder (23/8/01, by Tommy Udo)
This live album from Robin Proper-Sheppard's 10 piece collective is
like a distant cousin of unhappy classics such as the gorgeous debut
by The Czars two years ago and the recent Sparklehorse album 'It's
A Wonderful Life'. It's part of a select and secret genre that could
best be described as the sound of American men articulating their
lives of quiet desperation through music. The debut album 'Fixed Water'
and 1998's 'The Infinite Circle' painted a mental picture of a stark
and empty interior landscape, of a man who was in the process of falling
apart and accepting the situation. It was as if the most despair laden
country and western songs were written by angst ridden English teachers
instead of hillbillies, truck drivers and dirt farmers.
Recorded in Belgium and Holland during rare live shows at the beginning
of the year, 'De Nachten' captures the highbrow blues of Proper-Sheppard
to perfection. There's a chilling and uncharacteristically manic rendition
of 'The River Song', right after he has made the audience sing 'Happy
Birthday' to his daughter, a cover of John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy'
which dispels any memory of Bryan Ferry's smootho de croon version
and four new songs - including the monumental 'Ship In The Sand' -
that hopefully mean that a new studio album is on the way.
www.pennyblackmusic.com (by John Clarkson)
From the sea to the river....
Sophia's third album, and first live recording, the neo-orchestral
'De Nachten ', is a striking and evocative affair of the heart that
runs a gamut of emotions from despair to hope, and from grief to intense
Effectively the solo project of guitarist and vocalist Robin Proper-Sheppard,
an American who has lived in London for the last thirteen years, Sophia
first formed in 1995. Proper-Sheppard, who comes originally from San
Diego, first came to Britain in the late eighties as the frontman
in a discordant rock trio, the God Machine, who released two albums
'Scenes from the Second Storey' and One Last Laugh in the Place of
Dying' on the Fiction Records label in the mid nineties. The God Machine
broke up abruptly when their bassist, Jimmy Fernandez, died suddenly,
the victim of a brain tumour, in 1994. While the band's drummer Ron
Austin subsequently became a film maker, Proper-Sheppard, after a
difficult year which he spent mourning his friend and out of music
, formed in early 1996 a label, the Flower Shop Recordings. It has
since put out records by the likes of Elevate, Ligament, and Swervedriver
, and in September is due to release Copenhagen's debut album 'Tales
from the Forest.' Later on in that same year he also began to write
and perform songs under the Sophia banner.
While the God Machine combined together grinding metallics and rough-edged
atmospherics, Sophia, although equally intense, in contrast have until
now proved to be more low-key and introspective. With musical backing
from some of the other artists on the Flower Shop Recordings, Proper-Sheppard
has recorded two acclaimed studio albums, 'Fixed Water' (1996) and
'The Infinite Circle' (1998), under the Sophia moniker, which have
drawn critical comparisions with Neil Young, Sparklehorse, Smog, Palace
and Mazzy Star.
Although both 'Fixed Water' and 'The Infinite Circle' were country-influenced,
'De Nachten', which was recorded over two nights in January at a Dutch/Belgium
musical festival in Amsterdam and Antwerp , finds Proper-Sheppard
switching direction. Reminiscent of Barclay James Harvest, and also
of the Bathers and the Blue Nile, it has a similar sense of the epic
to the former's 'A Concert for the People (Berlin)', and merges this
together with the latter two groups' sweeping orchestrations and carefully
detailed aestheticism. As well as Proper-Sheppard, 'De Nachten' also
features the talents of another nine musicians, including Elevate's
James Elkington on guitar ; Delicatessan's Will Foster on piano and
a four piece string section which has both Heist's Calina de La Mare
and Copenhagen's Ruth Gottlieb on violins. There are radical new interpretations
of three old songs ('So Slow', 'If Only' and 'The River Song'), four
previously unrecorded songs ('The Sea', 'Ship in the Sand, 'Bad Man'
and 'I Left You') and also a cover version of John Lennon's 'Jealous
Of all the eight songs on 'De Nachten', it is ironically the Lennon
classic that is least convincing and which leaves the least impression
, proving to be pleasant but perfunctory, and adding little to the
original. It is, however, a small flaw in what is an otherwise both
inventive and engaging set. Emotive and charged, Proper-Sheppard's
vocals are crystallised and sharp, and his simple, but directive lyrics
tackle a powerful variety of moods with clarity and often self-deprecating
honesty. The musicianship of all the ten players om the stage is also
never anything than accomplished. Proper-Sheppard and Elkington's
guitar work , Doug Thorp's bass and Jeff Townsin's drum provide a
solid backbone, from which Foster's stabbing piano and the string
section dip, weave and soar in and out.
'De Nachten' is opened by the six minute 'The Sea', which begins with
a chiming, but insistent guitar solo to which the other instruments
are slowly and forcefully added, and has Proper-Sheppard beckoning
his love to run away with him to sanctuary of the ocean. It is closed
with another redemption song 'The River Song' , a dervish Waterboys
style waltz with sudden, grating guitars , which finds the vocalist,
weary of himself, finding comfort and spiritual absolution in the
In between, on the mournful 'So Slow', the first song Proper-Sheppard
wrote for Sophia after Fernandez’s sudden death, Proper-Sheppard reflects
upon his friend's life and demise, while on the equally dark 'I Left
You', he captures in a matter of a few short stanzas the guilt, hurt
and shame that he feels after running out on a relationship. 'If Only'
in contrast, however, is a tender, yearning love song, while 'Ship
in the Sand' has him looking positively to start all over again.
Emotive, diverse, frank ‘De Nachten’ is an absolutely compelling experience.
Both an excellent introduction to Proper-Sheppard’s work and also
a worthy addition to the Sophia and the Flower Shop Recording's catalogue,
it is, without doubt, one of the albums of the year.
www.fortapache.it (by Fabrizio Massignani)
Robin Proper-Sheppard dev’essere un genio. O quantomeno uno che è
nato per pensare, comporre e suonare grande musica. Stanno lì a dimostrarlo
i due durissimi ed epocali lavori elettrici con i formidabili The
God Machine, così come, finita drammaticamente con la morte del bassista
Jimmy Fernandez quella prima esperienza, i due successivi dischi acustici
tirati fuori con i Sophia. Dopo il passatempo chiamato May Queens
ed in attesa di un nuovo album in studio da far uscire entro il 2001,
per mantenere ancora vivo il nome degli stessi Sophia Robin decide
di pubblicare questo "De Nachten", lavoro catturato live
lo scorso gennaio in due successive serate ad Amsterdam e Antwerp.
Tutto bene, se non fosse per il piccolo particolare che questo ‘riempitempo’
è anche album assolutamente magnifico. Riprendendo tre canzoni già
edite su disco ed aggiungendo a queste quattro brani inediti e la
cover di "Jealous Guy" di Lennon, Sheppard si circonda di
pianoforte e quartetto d’archi per riempire di magia le proprie tracce,
rallentando ulteriormente le già note "So Slow", "If
Only" e "The River Song" per ottenere effetti da brivido,
prima di toccare epici livelli d’interpretazione con le nuove "Ship
in the Sand", "Bad Man" e soprattutto la strepitosa
"The Sea" posta in apertura, concentrato dilaniante di speranza
e dolore. Esattamente i temi che il singer/chitarrista americano ama
affrontare da sempre, ancora distrutto da un traumatico divorzio vissuto
in prima persona ma, forse proprio per questo, assolutamente perfetto
quand’è il momento di mettere in musica drammatiche sensazioni d’amore
morente, trasponendole in splendide ballad acustiche così intense
da travolgerti il cuore, catturandolo nel profondo.
Insomma, pianoforte e voce, chitarre e violini, in canzoni che a tratti
ricordano anche qualcosa dei voli a firma Godspeed You Black Emperor!.
Peccato solo, perché un peccato c’è, che un disco talmente esaltante
sia tarlato da una traccia come l’ottava, senza titolo, che non è
musica ma solo la lunga esortazione fatta da Robin al pubblico per
obbligarlo a cantare in coro Happy Birthday da dedicare alla figlia
Hope nel giorno del suo compleanno. Un passaggio davvero patetico.
Per il resto, invece, lavoro assolutamente da delirio.
Musiczine.net (by Jérémy Dagnies)
Cet album "live" réunit des chansons enregistrées le 12 janvier 2001
au Paradisio d'Amesterdam et le lendemain au "Singel" d'Anvers. Huit
titres dont une reprise assez personnelle et surtout très réussie
du " Jealous guy " de John Lennon. Lors de ces deux sets, Robin Proper-Sheppard
était bien entouré de son groupe, mais également d'une section de
cordes. Ce qui donne un aspect somptueux à l'interprétation des chansons
de cet opus ; et en particulier celle du superbe final " The river
song ". Un seul bémol, le " happy birthday " adressé à sa fille de
4 ans. Un moment sans doute privilégié, que l'artiste a sans doute
voulu partager avec son public ; mais dont la reproduction sur CD
fait un peu tarte…