Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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In Remembrance of Zara Sophia

June 25, 2013
bradspurgeon

zara sophiaPARIS – Today I learned the news of the tragic death of Zara Sophia. I, like most of the people who heard her in open mics in Paris a couple of years ago, met her only a few times. But her voice, her music, her emotion and her presence were something we would not, and will not forget.

Zara has died at the age of 28 years, although the exact circumstances of her death have not yet been revealed from what I have been able to find out through various sources. She went missing on the 30th May and was only found on 7 June, on a beach in England. She had no cell phone or money with her, but her car was parked near by. Although early reports said there was no suspicion of foul play, a police inquest was later carried out.

I wrote about Zara at least twice on this blog, because she touched me immediately from the moment I first saw her in the Highlander open mic when I wrote a post saying: “It was Wednesday, so it was the Highlander. I had been intending to sign up early at the Highlander, and then run over to the Tennessee to see Rafa and his band, with Les DeShane on lead. But in the end, I immediately signed up for the Highlander and met a newcomer, Zara Sophia, from England, so I just had to sit and talk and learn about her, as I had a feeling that she might have some talent. How can one have that feeling? No idea. But I did, in fact, enjoy immensely what Zara did, so give it a listen and see if you agree – in the video below.”

That was the beginning of December 2010, and I was doing my Mecano bar brunch at the time with my open mic on Sunday afternoons. So I immediately told Zara about it, and she was there for the following Sunday, which ended up being one of the best of them all – thanks to her and the American anti-folk musician Viking Moses. Fortunately, I was able to make some much better videos of Zara in the good lighting of my open mic, so I made several. I only put two or three up on my blog at the time, but I’m taking the opportunity of putting all I have up on this item, in Zara’s memory. There is one in particular, the shortest of them all, just an end-of-song thing where we catch a glimpse of Zara looking over at me, and her smile says it all about her personality.

On my blog item at the time I wrote a little about my conversation with Zara and my sense of her as a musician, and she responded in a way that surprised me, making me realize my impressions were grounded in reality: “Zara has just arrived in Paris from her homeland of England, and I had listened to her songs on her Myspace and found that with one of them she reminded me a little of Sandy Denny, the late singer for the band Fairport Convention, who also put out several solo albums. When I spoke to Zara yesterday I learned that, hey, guess what? Growing up she heard her parents listening to Sandy Denny all the time, and her mother even sang some of the songs to her. I got Zara to do one yesterday, as well, the wonderful “Matty Groves.” But Zara’s voice is anything but a imitation of Sandy Denny. In fact, there are some clear touches of it, but the rest is Zara….”

I recorded her version of “Matty Groves” at the time, but I did not put it on the blog. Now I am doing so.

Today as I read around through various sources about Zara’s life from other bloggers and friends and newspaper articles in England, I learned that she had actually once performed as an opening act for Pete Doherty, in 2008, who had clearly recognized her obvious talent as well. She had also travelled to India – which I recall her telling me – and affected an interesting collection of people there as she had all who met her in Paris at the open mics.

She will not simply be missed, but she will remain an example of great purity and talent for anyone who knew her.







Viking Moses and Zara Sophia at the Brunch

December 6, 2010
bradspurgeon

I don’t know how this is happening, really, but my weekly brunch has continued to prove entertaining and surprising week after week, despite occasionally seeming as if… it won’t. Now, if that is not a very original line, and sounds kind of oddly forced, let me say that the two performers I had at my weekly brunch at the Mecano bar in Oberkampf in Paris yesterday were anything but forced or un-original. In fact, if you can define a kind of genius in popular music as being a singer songwriter who grips you with the originality and the interest of their voice, emotion and the stories they tell without sounding like anyone else but themselves, then both of these performers were touched a little by that genius.

I first saw Zara Sophia at the Highlander last week and immediately invited her to my brunch. The microphone at my brunch being about 10 times better than the mic at the Highlander, her voice was a real treat of emotion, texture and highs and lows of melody.

Zara has just arrived in Paris from her homeland of England, and I had listened to her songs on her Myspace and found that with one of them she reminded me a little of Sandy Denny, the late singer for the band Fairport Convention, who also put out several solo albums. When I spoke to Zara yesterday I learned that, hey, guess what? Growing up she heard her parents listening to Sandy Denny all the time, and her mother even sang some of the songs to her. I got Zara to do one yesterday, as well, the wonderful “Matty Groves.” But Zara’s voice is anything but a imitation of Sandy Denny. In fact, there are some clear touches of it, but the rest is Zara….

To my horror, however, I found out that for perhaps only the second time since I have started recording with my Zoom Q3 portable video and sound recorder for this blog, I left it at home. Fortunately I at least had my iPhone 4 to record in HD, but the sound is NOT what my Zoom would have provided. So I’m sorry to let down on getting some of the great textures of these voices across.

That is particularly noticeable with the other guest, the extraordinary Viking Moses, who was in Paris to play a show at the International, and who dropped by for the brunch, thanks mostly to the fact that his friend Earle Holmes was there and invited him to come along.

It took a considerable amount of chatting him up, but I managed to get this Missouri-born Appalachian world travelling minstral to sing a few songs. The brunch, thanks to his sudden appearance, went on until after midnight. From its more or less 3 PM start time (I was actually eating my brunch at that time, and went on a little late). Now Viking Moses was a discovery for me. But anyone who has heard of the term “anti-folk,” will probably have heard of him. He’s in there with people like Adam Green, who once opened for Viking Moses. And oddly enough, he reminded me a little of Stan Rogers, the Canadian folk singer from the Maritimes whom I have mentioned before, and who died in the early 80s in his early 30s.

Viking Moses has a very unique sound to his voice, he plays a mean understated guitar – the singing is often understated too – and his lyrics are dynamite stories both personal and fictitious. There are also touches of Tom Waits to this, although not in the sound of the voice – just in the music, some of the feeling and general zeitgeist of it. I came home and today listened to two of the three albums I picked up from him yesterday, and found it really fabulous. One of them he wrote with the idea that it should be sung by Dolly Parton. And how strange is this, he threw in a song by Dolly Parton that he sings himself on the CD: “I Will Always Love You.” Yes! And unfortunately for me, I happened to have been doing my push-ups at the moment that he began singing that, and I was close to tears and could not complete my full number of daily push ups, despite trying to block the lyrics out of my mind, and his plaintive take on this song.

Viking Moses is also a fabulously interesting troubador who travels the world on a shoestring budget and plays small concerts everywhere, from London to Budapest and elsewhere, often in mini concerts for 20 to 30 people in their living rooms. This, of course, reminded me of my own adventure playing music around the world – except his takes much more guts.

His sound appeals to me because it is real, it is true.

And by the way, when the term “anti-folk” came up, he scoffed at it a little and said something to the effect that, “I don’t write anti-folk, I just write songs.” The label had been foisted on him, it seemed. A real discovery, and yet again another surprise day at the brunch.

More videos of Zara and Viking Moses:

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