The art of the cover song has long been recognised: rock’n’roll greats cut their teeth with versions of each other’s creations, and now, in this current era, a well-placed interpretation of a hit song can jumpstart careers in ways previously unknown.
The latter is partially the cause of Brooke Combe’s recent breakout, after her bedroom sessions led to a studio opportunity to record her cover of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High’ at Liverpool’s now-defunct Parr Street Studios.
From here, she’s worked with The Coral’s James Skelly and Blossoms bassist Charlie Salt in crafting her own original material; the soaring ‘A-Game’ and ‘Are You With Me’ are proof that the star quality heard in those covers is Brooke’ alone. A support slot on Miles Kane’s 2022 UK tour beckons, but before then, she’ll be performing as part of NME’s House Of Papa showcase, in partnership with Papa John’s, at an intimate London music venue on September 29.
Ahead of her performance, NME caught up with Brooke to discuss her breakout year, her performing chops and where she goes from here.
What position were you in at the start of the pandemic as a musician?
“I hadn’t really thought about performing live until the pandemic. I’d been through quite a bad breakup and my family and friends around me were all telling me to get back into music, which is something I’d studied beforehand, so I used that as a bit of a springboard. I wasn’t like the other musicians who had missed playing live, as I didn’t have that experience yet, but now I’ve got a taste I’m raring to go.”
How did you end up recording the Arctic Monkeys cover at Parr Street?
“It came about through my manager. Once we’d signed on (to what?) I went down with my dad to Liverpool, and I just knew that something special was going to happen. I’d been doing covers in my bedroom but being able to perform a song by the Arctics – who I love – was a really special moment for me.”
What does that place mean to you?
“I didn’t know a huge amount about it before I went down to be honest, I went in quite blind to the situation. But it was amazing to be around The Coral guys and James Skelly and Blossoms and everyone like that and be a sponge and soak up everything they do and just learn as much as you can.
“I think it helped me be a bit more confident as well. In a room full of guys who all know their stuff, I knew that I could hold my own as I know my craft, and to try and not be intimidated by anything. They pushed me as well; there was a moment when we were writing one of the songs? with James and we were figuring out the bridge and he essentially told me to come back to the studio tomorrow to have a bridge figured out which was a new challenge for me, but I love that idea.”
Your recent live show at Glasgow’s King Tuts must have been a big one…
“It was actually my first time at the venue – I’d never really been much of a gig-goer before. But when I signed with my management, he was talking about how within the year we’d be playing King Tut’s and selling out; I just wanted to get the music sorted first, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.
“But it was such an incredible night, especially to have all my friends and family there to have a bit of a release after what had been such a difficult period for all of us. I would say as a performer I’m still learning a lot. However, I wasn’t as shy as I thought I’d be on stage as I’m a fairly shy person. Confidence comes with practice.”
What’s the biggest lesson you try to take from support slots?
“The biggest lesson I try to take whilst supporting acts is watch the headliner and see how they captivate their crowd. Also, to see what parts of my own performance the crowd enjoy and use that going forward. Obviously as a support act, people aren’t necessarily there to see you, so you have to take that as a challenge and not be intimidated. I can’t wait to perform at House of Papa soon, alongside the other up and coming artists on the line-up, to see what I can learn from them.”
And what’s next with your original material?
“I have more tunes coming out towards the end of the year and a music video coming up soon. I’m enjoying getting to know all these new parts of the industry, and particularly looking forward to the music video to see if I can act as well. I’ll also be doing a lot of support shows for the rest of the year as well as a few headliners – I’m heading down to TRNSMT Festival in Glasgow too, and I’d really like to try and get on the bill for that one day. That’s something to work towards!”