With her new collection, ‘Black is the New Gold’, out now, Brooke Combe is on a mission to bring back British soul. Check out the latest cover story for our New Music Friday playlist edit The Cut.
Words: Martyn Young.
Brooke Combe’s blend of intoxicating, soul-infused alt-pop has caught many an eye over the past few years with an increasingly impressive live show that has seen the Scottish singer grow into a seriously formidable performer. That focus on gigging and honing her craft has taken her from performing covers in her bedroom in Edinburgh to headlining stages and playing at SXSW only a couple of years later.
“We’ve just finished SXSW. We had a really good time there,” she says down the line from LA, where she’s stayed on to do some writing. “I went out a little apprehensive about it because it’s quite a daunting thought, but it was good to see how the American crowd reacted and what tunes they liked in the set. It has shown me quite a lot.”
Brooke is one of those artists who thrives in the live arena. The past few years have seen her undertake tour after tour both on her own and supporting the likes of Blossoms, whose early support also saw the band’s bass player Charlie work with her on her first recordings as well as their long-time producer and The Coral legend James Skelly. “It’s been a wild one,” she says as she remembers where she was pre-pandemic. “I had never done a real gig before. It’s been mad, but it’s been nice getting thrown in the deep end. I feel like I’ve just grabbed the reins, and I’m now hanging on for the ride.”
Now we’re coming to the most exciting part of that ride. With new songs and a spot headlining one of Dork’s stages at Live At Leeds this summer, Brooke is riding the crest of a wave. Channelling all the primal energy of her live shows on record, she has collected the songs from her initial songwriting experiments up to now on her striking mixtape ‘Black Is The New Gold’.
“It’s got some released songs already and then new stuff,” she explains. “It’s a nice timeline for me. It shows where I started and where I’m at now. I was looking into and researching my heritage. I had a bit of a penny-drop moment. I’ve grown up in a fairly white environment; being mixed race, it’s like, where do we fit in? I didn’t feel that connected to my Black roots. I was like, omg, I love soul music, I love funk, this is maybe why. It’s so important now. There’s a constant thread throughout the mixtape, which is soul; all the tunes vary and sound different. I hope people don’t just look at it as an album, as that’s not what it is. It’s an amalgamation of the songs I’ve done, the songs I had written for a good couple of years that I want people to hear and get them out the way so that I can work on the next set.”
“I feel like I’ve just grabbed the reins, and I’m now hanging on for the ride”Brooke Combe
Within those songs are the sharp bursts of energy that make Brooke’s music so resonant and direct. She deals with universal feelings and broad emotions like the thrilling rumble of her breakthrough track ‘Are You With Me’ or the evocative exploration of the title-track.
“Maybe that’s being Scottish!” she laughs when considering the self-assured directness of her music. “I’m not here to play games. I’ve got nothing to hide. We’re all friends here. Why not be direct? Those songs that are such a riddle, I love Arctic Monkeys and Alex Turner, but I find myself just questioning what the fuck does that mean? I suppose I’m going to tell a blatant and obvious story for people to relate to.”
The grounding of her live experience has helped mould Brooke into a supremely confident performer and dynamic artist, which is in contrast to growing up when she took a while to gain the confidence to realise music was something she could actually properly do.
“Growing up the music I was always coming back to was funk and Motown and R&B. I was fairly shy to a fault growing up. That hindered me, a lot of times I had performances I would just never do them,” she says. “Fast forward to about 17 and having my music teacher have a little bit of confidence in me to say you do have a good voice, and I think that you should do music and take it more seriously. You just need one person to believe in you. There are musicians I look up to, but where I’m at in my career, the people that drive me the most and inspire me are my parents. I’ve honestly never seen two harder-working people. They’ve shown me if you want nice things in life, nobody is going to hand you it. The work ethic comes out of that.”
“The vision for me is bringing back British soul. I want it to be massive”Brooke Combe
That strong work ethic has helped forge a huge step up as Brooke embraces being a true artist and everything that comes with it. The naivety and freedom of her earliest songs that feature on the mixtape are being replaced with something a bit deeper. “My songwriting has gotten a bit more mature,” she says. “Now I’m trying to tell more of a story of who I am and less about stereotypical or generic heartbreak and love. I’m trying to get a bit more wise with it. I’m more confident.”
Brooke is conscious of how inspiring it is for a young mixed-race woman to be up on stage smashing it every single night with a killer live band. “I’ve had a lot of mums coming up to me after gigs saying my daughter wants to be a musician now,” she laughs. “It’s a really nice feeling because never in my wildest dreams did I think I could inspire anyone. You want to make everyone proud.”
2023 promises to be a massive year for Brooke Combe. A year to fully realise potential and a year to take things to a whole new level. “The vision for me is bringing back British soul. I want it to be massive,” she says excitedly. “I’m not going to hold myself back. I want to try as many ideas as possible.” ■
Brooke Combe’s debut mixtape ‘Black Is The New Gold’ is out 21st April. She plays the Dork stage at Live at Leeds in the Park on 27th May 2023. Get tickets here. Follow Dork’s The Cut Spotify playlist here.