Hero Worship: Robin Proper-Sheppard
Malcolm Middleton explains how The God Machine and Sophia Collective frontman gave him comfort as he bubbled into his crisps
My first encounter with Robin’s music was in 1992 when a friend lent me The God Machine’s Purity EP. It was like nothing else around at the time, even though guitar music was popular and grunge was about to kick the arse out of baggy, funk metal and shoegazing. Scathing and sharp metal guitars bursting seamlessly from beautiful picked acoustic and string sections, with Robin crooning and wailing exactly like we all want to but can’t.
I suppose we all have records and bands that mean so much to us at crucial times in our lives, for that The God Machine are very important to me. I quickly copied the EP to cassette and hogged my mate Ewan’s 12” until he had to come round my house and scrape it from the record player. I don’t know what it was about the songs – possibly that the loudness of blasting guitars can stop your brain churning over the same old shit, and then there’s also the comfort secured from the peaceful moments.
So I guess it was all about the contrast between hoping, and knowing there’s no hope. Exactly what the teenage angst-ridden Malcky-mind required! I remember going through my first ever real break-up and crying all night alongside the first God Machine album Scenes From The Second Storey, Ken Kesey’s Demon Box and a six-pack of Wotsits. In my memory I was probably wearing a black polo-neck, but in reality it would’ve been a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin t-shirt. Oh how times haven’t changed.
I didn’t really keep up with the music press at the time so it was a great day a few years later when I was bored and perusing Our Price Records in Falkirk, and landed clammy-handed upon the brilliant Zen whiteness of the second God Machine album One Last Laugh In A Place Of Dying. Perhaps the only time a band hasn’t let me down with their second album. It’s made with the same tools as SFTSS but delivers more – more loud, more quiet, more slow, more furious, more desperate, more beautiful. More or less. Then that was that; bass player Jimmy Fernandez died suddenly from a brain tumour and The God Machine disbanded. I’m embarrassed to admit that at this point I wrote to Fiction Records offering my services as a replacement bass player, but have still to hear a reply.
That wasn’t that though. A few years later Stuart Braithwaite asked if I’d heard Robin’s new band Sophia, knowing that we shared a love of TGM. I hadn’t, I had no idea about them. Robin had kicked his distortion pedals aside and stripped away the contrasts of TGM and settled on the down side – the low, the comfort, the calm, the beauty and the sadness. It’s hard to say now how big an influence he’s been on everything I’ve been involved with musically – from the guitar playing and lyrics to the attitude. It’s probably also his fault that my songs evolved into self-deprecating moan-a-longs, as I constantly try to capture his essence but continually fail to deliver the poetry.
I think it was 1999 when I met Robin for the first time. Arab Strap were playing in Brussels and Robin came to see us because he was friends with Adele (Bethel). They say never meet your heroes, but Robin was great – a gentleman. We’ve stayed friends ever since, done a bunch of gigs together, I’ve played in his band, he’s shouted to his friends about my albums, I wrote a song about him, he drank my schnapps and passed out in my hotel bed in Rome listening to Jackson C. Frank.
We’ve had many a conversation about the impending doom of happiness and how one day we’ll write songs complaining that there’s nothing to complain about. So at least there's that to look forward to. But the best bit was last year when Robin sang REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Lovin’ You at my wedding. A long way from angsty tears and a six-pack of Wotsits! There are so many places to begin with Robin’s music (buy all of it!) but I’d say start with the song Purity. Turn it up, grab the tissues (and some crisps).