It’s hardly surprising in the viral age that someone with a voice quite like Brooke Combe‘s has amassed an eye-watering online following by simply posting bedroom cover versions. Staying true to her journey so far, Combe’s searing yet soulful cover of the Arctic Monkeys anthem ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ earlier this month clocked up well over 100,000 views on Twitter alone within a week, stopping those aimlessly scrolling through their timelines in their tracks.
“I thought it would do well, but I didn’t expect it to get that reaction, though!” the 21-year-old songwriter modestly tells NME from her family home in Scotland. Despite having shared covers of everyone from Marvin Gaye to Miley Cyrus in the last few years, the Monkeys rendition is Combe’s first professionally recorded cover. It may have only been a matter of time given her soulful and impacting voice, but, as is so often the case with social media, it still took a lucky break for her to grab the right attention. “Things moved so quickly,” Combe recalls of the response to her breakthrough April 2020 cover of Joel Corry’s ‘Sorry’. “Corry retweeted it, and it snowballed from there.”
Within weeks Combe was signing contracts, getting her first original songs in shape and being invited down to Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios to work with the likes of The Coral’s James Skelly and Blossoms’ Charlie Salt. “That first week I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “I felt like I was going in with these high-end musicians and I’m just coming down from Scotland not knowing what I’m doing, but everything just fell into place.”
Combe’s debut single ‘Are You With Me?’ was a product of her lockdown summer last year spent travelling down to Merseyside. But while Alex Turner might have been chasing wronged lovers at three in the morning on the ‘AM’ hit that Combe so masterfully covered, the Edinburgh-born artist has quite the different early-hours ritual – something which actually led to the creation of ‘Are You With Me?’. “I’ll be lying in my bed with the lights out just about to fall asleep, then I’ll be like: ‘I have to get up, I have to write this song.’ I got up at 3am and it literally took me 15 minutes, everything was coming at once.”
Coming from a family of music lovers, it didn’t take long for Combe to discover her powerful voice. “I was trying all of these instruments from a really young age and seeing what was suited to me. I was trying my hand at different things like guitar and piano, and then the voice just came in my final year at school.” One of the first artists she ever covered remains a huge influence today. ”For me, Amy Winehouse is just the top. I analyse lyrics now as a songwriter just to try and grow and develop. I can’t believe she wrote so many of those songs on her own – it just blows my mind.”
Combe nails such influences elegantly on ‘Are You With Me?’, a bouncy heartbreak banger which lets her affecting and punishing vocals shine. Much like Parr Street’s arguably most famous alumni Coldplay, you can easily imagine Combe’s anthem sweeping over the fields of Glastonbury in the future as she drops big lines around booming full-bodied instrumentation: “Are ya with me honey? / Are ya with me darling? / It’s getting tricky, but I feel the fire burning.”
Having the expertise of Blossoms’ Salt, who plays bass on the track, also helped, given that he’s in a band who have conquered festival main stages and recorded two number one albums inside the studio’s walls. “There’s such a good vibe when you walk through those doors: you just know you’re going to create something really special,” Combe says. “Even just seeing all the people who have been there before, it’s so inspiring. It’s like: ‘I’m actually here, we’re making moves now.’”
While grateful for the path that her social media covers have laid out for her, Combe admits that she was becoming a little too comfortable simply doing just that. “It doesn’t prepare you for the real thing,” she says. “I’ve never really gigged, and right when I was supposed to we went into lockdown. You see all these followers [online], but when I see them in the flesh it will be real. I feel like the live element will be the icing on the cake and push me out of my comfort zone.”
It’s even more crazy, then, that on the back of this wild year she’s now been picked up by Arctic Monkeys’ booking agent. NME has to ask the question: can you see yourself opening for them one day? She laughs: “I do all the time! I dream big, let’s just say that. Three years ago that idea felt so far away, but now it feels like if I wanted it bad enough we could get there. We’re working so hard on all these tracks and I feel good about it – maybe I will open for the Monkeys one day.”
Combe is clearly optimistic about her future, and rightly so – especially given that she has more solo material in the bag. “I’ve been sitting on these songs for ages, so I’m so eager to see them out there. Everybody is buzzing to see what I’m going to produce. I’m very nervous, but I’m proud of it.
“As long as it comes from there,” she says, tapping her heart, “we’re alright.” In the meantime: Alex Turner, watch this space.