Bringing her A-Game to TRNSMT
by Gill Sherry
Imagine if the smoky vocals of Rebecca Ferguson, the allure of Amy Winehouse and the sultry mood of Sade were combined in one talented artist. Well, imagine no more! Step forward Brooke Combe.
“You would not be the first person to say that,” Brooke says about the various comparisons. “But go for that, definitely, they’re all great singers so I’m happy with that description.”
Brooke was brought up in Dalkeith in Midlothian and has her music teacher to thank for her soaring musical success.
“I was doing my music exams in high school and I didn’t want to play keyboard anymore. My teacher, Grace Jack, asked me if I could sing, so I sang ‘At Last’ by Eta James. When she heard my voice she said, ‘You’re definitely going to have to sing now!’”
Encouraged by her teacher, Brooke went on to study music at college and university. She wrote her first song at just 16 years of age and has just returned from an eight gig tour of Texas in the United States.
“It was hard work,” she tells me, “by no means a holiday, but it was an unbelievable experience. It was part of the South by Southwest Festival.”
And no sooner had she landed back on home soil, she began a UK tour with dates in Newcastle, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and London. Not forgetting her Glasgow gig which took place in Queen Margaret Union on 12th May.
Despite her young age (23) and the fact that she didn’t take singing seriously until she was 17 years old, she has an extraordinarily good stage presence. Hard to believe then, that she considers herself shy.
“I never really had much confidence, I’m quite a shy person if you were to know me. But I suppose when you’re on stage it’s a different thing. There’s not really much room to be shy, is there? For me, the live shows are a big part of the whole career thing and that’s what I want to nail the most. Because I’m not that confident, I want to prove to myself that I can do it, I can go out there in front of thousands of people. Every time I’ve done something like that I’ve had to give myself a pat on the back.”
Rightly so. And with that in mind, she’ll be giving herself a particularly big pat on the back after opening the main stage at TRNSMT on Saturday 8th July.
“I cannot wait! I wasn’t much of a festival goer at all,” Brook admits, “until I started gigging myself. TRNSMT 2021 was the first ever festival I attended and now I’m opening the main stage! It’s just bizarre how quick things are moving.”
Bizarre? Perhaps. But also unsurprising. She has a unique singing voice and is an incredibly talented songwriter so the main stage at TRNSMT is the very least she deserves. She’s also performing at the Isle of Wight Festival and Live at Leeds in the Park. I’m genuinely not wishing to put words in her mouth when I ask if she’s looking forward to TRNSMT the most.
“Of course! I’ve got to give the love to my people before anything else. And the other two are a trek away from where I stay so I’m not looking forward to the van journeys!”
It’s certainly set to be a busy summer for Brooke who has just released a brand new mixtape. I would’ve thought she was too young for that particular terminology but she insists it’s an accurate description. Maybe mixtape doesn’t mean the same now as it did back in the 80s. Back then a mixtape was, well, a tape.
“It is a bit of a mixtape,” she insists. “Every song on there is different. There’s not a constant flow or thread to the tunes, it’s just a mix of everything I’ve been working on up to this point. We’ve put them all onto vinyl and called it a mixtape. Also, I’m not fond of the word EP, I just prefer mixtape.”
Mixtape it is, then! Whatever it’s called it’s also available on CD and on all of the major streaming platforms. Titled Black Is The New Gold it includes eight tracks (some with another eight bonus tracks), the title track of which is not only my personal favourite but also her latest single.
“It’s a very different song than I’ve ever released before. It’s a little bit more mature and it touches on issues that I feel are deeply rooted within myself, going back to my heritage and race and things like that.
I’ve grown up in a relatively white world… and there’s nothing wrong with that but what it’s meant for me is that, being mixed race, I wasn’t really in touch with my black side. So the song talks about that and all those things.”
She refers to the song as soulful, soul being a genre that seems to fit all of her songs.
“I would definitely say the one main thread throughout them all is soul vocals. I do feel I’ve got a soul voice so going forward that’s really the route I want to take. That’s sort of what keeps me close to my black roots… my love for soul and funk and R&B music. I want to show that and show that side of who I am.”
The mixtape also includes ‘A-Game’, the first song she ever wrote.
My song writing has developed from that point. For me, back then, the songs wrote themselves, pen to paper, I just wouldn’t stop. When I reflect on those tunes they are topical, but they don’t really mean as much as the songs mean to me now. I think I’m just a bit smarter with my phrasing and the word choices.
Her new material has certainly attracted plenty of attention. Not least that of a certain Paisley-born singer/songwriter.
“I supported Paulo Nutini in the amphitheatre in Bristol last year. It was amazing, it was absolutely packed. He was a gentleman, he couldn’t have been any nicer. He spent some time and spoke to my mum because she’s a big fan. That was one of things on my bucket list, to support Paulo, so getting the call, it was amazing.”
In addition to Paulo, I ask Brooke if she’s been inspired by any other singers or musicians.
“Hundreds!” she admits. “Paulo is obviously up there. And Amy Winehouse has always been up there. She played really tasteful guitar and that’s something I feel I do in my live sets. Other than that… I really love Khruangbin. They’ve got this female bass player, Laura Lee, and just the way she comes out on stage in all these fierce outfits playing the bass, just looks dead cool. She’s been quite a big inspiration.”
She also credits her parents for their great taste in music.
“That probably subconsciously inspired me or got me interested in music. From a young age I was allowed to be creative and free and always encouraged to play something. Music always took my interest, I would pick up instruments and I would learn them and then I’d pick up something else and learn that, and it’s still sort of going that way if I’m honest.”
Brooke considers the guitar and the piano as her ‘go to’ instruments but can play bass equally well. But it’s her lyrics and her distinctive singing voice that are turning Brooke Combe into a household name. Certainly, by the time her new album is released next year, this Scottish singer/songwriter will have gained an impressive fan base. Just in time for a promotional tour?
“No doubt! If I can get on the road I always will, that’s my favourite part. When the album’s coming out we’ll get a headline tour going again.”
In the meantime, you can catch Brooke at Glasgow Green when she performs at TRNSMT in July. She’s certainly come a long way since those exams at St David’s High School, thanks, in the main, to her teacher, Grace Jack.
“She encouraged me to sing,” acknowledges Brooke. “If it wasn’t for her I don’t know what I’d be up to right now.”