Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Brooke Combe Brings Smooth Tunes to Rough Trade

Brooke Combe played to a packed house at Rough Trade in Nottingham on 3rd October, bringing a punchy mix of soul, Motown, R&B and disco to a surprisingly diverse audience, with fans spanning an age range from late teens through to those sporting more than a few grey hairs.

The combination of catchy, funky rhythms with hard-hitting, authentic lyrics lit up the room for what was a short yet powerful set from the Edinburgh-born singer-songwriter. With something for everyone and drawing on a range of musical influences spanning multiple decades, Combe bridges a generational divide that eludes many newcomers to the scene.

Following a fabulously energetic supporting performance from Hawaiian artist and band Eli Smart, Combe leapt straight into her set with the laid-back, blues-tinged ‘A-Game’, followed immediately by the bouncy, upbeat ‘Talk About Heartaches’. Combe gave a brief thanks to the audience before launching into the soul-heavy ‘My Heart Don’t Give Up’ with a performance that was channelling more than a little Joan Armatrading.

Putting down her guitar to flex her limbs, Combe occupied the full space on the compact stage with the self-confident anthem ‘Impress You’ in which she vents her resentment at the times she has compromised just to be liked; “If I dress in heels just once/Maybe I can get their love … Please just give me your approval”. There was definitely more than enough ‘take it or leave it’ confidence in Combe’s performance to make up for any past capitulation.

The set really hits its pace with the disco-soul-funk-R&B fusion dancefloor filler for which Combe is probably gaining the most fans - “Miss Me Now” - which brings the pained lyrics and infectious energy of Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ right up to date. There’s a hint of personal angst in the lyrics which never detracts from the beat that got the whole room dancing. “Don't you say you miss me/When I am falling down/Don't you say you miss me, miss me now/You never say you're hurting/When I know that you're down/Don't you say you miss me, miss me now”.

The evening ended with a passioned rendition of ‘AYWM’, aka Are You With Me, a strong, strutting soul mainstay in which a lover is given that same ‘take it or leave it’ attitude demonstrated earlier. The audience called for more, but more was not forthcoming, perhaps demonstrating the same hard-earned ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude shown throughout the gig. Maybe the minimalist audience interaction is part of that, maybe it’s a sign of her developing stagecraft, or maybe the music itself is a shield to stop the audience seeing more of the heartache behind the lyrics. In any case, it does put the focus firmly on the music, and the music stands the test.

Combe drew the attention of Island Records with a social media distributed cover version of Baccara's 1977 hit ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’, going on to win the award for Best Female Breakthrough at the 2021 Scottish Music Awards which she celebrated with the Tweet “We’re just getting started babyyy”. At the age of 22, Combe is indeed just getting started and showing a glimpse of what is yet to come.

The entire set lasted under 40 minutes but still crammed in 10 songs. There was no stopping for a cozy chat, sharing of intimate traumas or even a “Good evening Nottingham!” to interrupt the relentless pace, as if Combe is bubbling over with an unstoppable flow of musical self-expression.

At this stage in her rapidly accelerating career, let’s hope there’s much more of that to come.

Peter Freeth

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Images: Peter Freeth, Genius Photography

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