[sic] Magazine

Sophia @ Botanique, Brussels. March 20th, 2014.

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Robin Proper-Sheppard takes to the stage, dressed head to foot in black, as do his band. Black jeans, black shirt, black everything. You might think black heart too, judging from the music but actually he comes across as a really nice guy. This, ladies and gents, is the Johnny Cash school of wardrobe.

The similarities won’t end there.

This mini-tour, of which tonight is the second of three dates, marks the first ‘full-band’ Sophia concerts for five years. Robin has been over in Europe doing acoustic and living room stuff. Indeed, he lived in Brussels for a period of time, following ‘differences of opinion’ with the UK authorities. The city holds many memories, bad and good, for the troubadour and permeates a number of Sophia songs. Iconic venue, Botanique is sold out. How is this possible, I wonder? I’m pleased of course. Yet I had no idea his profile was that high. I’m doubly pleased just to be here. (Merci Botanique and thank you Robin)

Before Sophia we get a set of bright, breezy electropop from a group called New Found Land. I really like the name. The songs however aren’t retro enough to be hip or eccentric enough to trouble the Bjork/Ane Brun market. Some ways to go for New Found Land in my humble opinion.

(They will probably be Platinum this time next year.)

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Sophia, though, are something else, something of a pilgrimage for me also as I have contrived to miss them every time they play. Some bands are just cursed for me, like a car journey home when every light is red. It was exactly the same with the God Machine. There’s a regularity that borders upon ‘bad joke’. At least if the Universe has been against me in the past, not so tonight. Sophia open with live favourite, ‘The Sea’ plus a promise to play quite a few other ‘oldies’, ‘So Slow’ (up next) being the oldest of all, written as it was at the very beginning of Sophia. For me, this led to several conclusions, for starters, as they won’t be drawing too much on the last couple of records, I probably won’t get to hear ‘Lost’. (sad face) No matter, I still believe in Angels. Secondly, with no new album (yet) to promote tonight’s set could turn into a Sophia greatest hits, (Happy face) Jesus, could we even get ‘Desert Song 2’?. No way, surely? Oh indeed yes, we get it, we get it fairly early on and it goes without saying it is a thing of marvel. The intake of breath at the beginning was audible.

And that was just me.

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You know when your friends and family ask you why you like ‘miserable’ music? (I get that a lot, so I’m guessing you do too). Sometimes I just want to say, ‘Miserable? You think this (eg The National) is miserable? You haven’t heard the half of it’ and play them some Sophia. What should I choose, dear reader, to inflict upon my ‘normal’ friends? ‘Heartache’? No, not tonight. Too tame. How about ‘Razorblades’, ‘Bastards’ or ‘River Song’ (Doctor Who’s personal favourite Sophia track)? Us Botanique people get all of those tonight and more. This evenings setlist is well-thought through and it shows Sophia at the bands very best. There is enough diversity (within the Sophiaverse) to avoid sameyness and ennui. (Fifteen ‘rock-out’ crescendos in a row won’t work) Tonight was the first gig in a long time that I have enjoyed from start to finish, with no achy legs, going to the bar or ‘pee-break song’ –(title for you there Robin, free of charge, ‘The Pee Break Song’) Sophia filled my heart with joy tonight. If you want to call this “miserable”, that’s your loss. Go listen to London Grammar or whomever. I don’t care.

I have followed Sophia’s career, release by release and I have come to realise that, whilst Robin will never go back to the music of God Machine, he has certainly come back to himself. I mean, ‘Desert Song 2′ …. need I say more? Your honour, the case…..rests. Sophia never was the son of God Machine (Jesus Machine?) Sophia is Sophia, self-contained and self-sufficient. Mores the point, Sophia got very good very quickly and they keep getting stronger.

Somehow, coming here tonight, I heard Sophia properly for the first time.

The band close with new song ‘It’s Easy to be Lonely’. Sophia songs often have a sting in their tail; Even the most innocuous ‘busk’ can build into a cathartic climax. ‘Easy To Be Lonely’, whilst never a busk, does exactly this.. For three minutes Sophia smoulder – the handclaps delight, and the angst-ridden lyrics are like familiar slippers. Three minutes of familiar Sophia tropes, smouldering like embers…

… and then they burn.

The song explodes with energy and verve. This time the magic touch comes in the form of a guest choir – young, fresh-faced men and women every one of them, seemingly trained purely for this one piece. Well let me tell you this, if you’re reading, you did Sophia, yourselves and everybody else proud. It certainly was ‘easy’ being ‘lonely’ tonight – alone in a packed-out Botanique …..with everybody else. Sophia isn’t for people who like music. Nor for people who believe music is an important part of life. Sophia is for people for whom music means everything.

Sophia website

Les Nuits Botanique, 2014

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