SHE is based out of London…
and is shaping up to become one of the brightest young stars here. I talk to Brooke Sharkey about her background and how she came to find music; what her new single, Offida, is all about and whether her album, Wandering Heart, is the start of great things – what we can expect next year. She talks about busking from a young age and playing across Europe; playing with Blick Bassy on 11th November – and what London is like for a young artist.
Sharkey gives me a window into her young life and what music means to her; the kind of sounds she was raised on – and what it feels like being lauded by some inspirational and beloved sources.
Hi, Brooke. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello there. I have to say, it’s been pretty special...
I was at my mum’s house in France, and now, I’ve just arrived in Paris for a show this evening - in a little intimate venue in Montmartre.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I translate what I go through in life into music - to make my own sense of things that happened; happen and may happen to me. It’s an emotional acknowledgement of an event: the insight into a person’s state of mind, or my own. Sometimes, the music comes before I have any idea that something needs my attention. I was brought up between France and U.K. and express my songs in both languages.
I’ve spent a lot of time roaming, busking and meeting interesting people; jumping around a lot - for reasons I wasn’t sure about until a few days ago.
Tell me about the new single, Offida. What is the tale behind the song?
Offida is the story of a lady who dedicates herself for weaving lace in a small town in Italy in the Marque region. I visited this town a few years ago and met this woman in a shop. We had a beautiful exchange and she talked about how hard it was to survive there doing was she does. I really related to this. There were all these incredible garments tucked away in her draws that don’t usually sell.
Most of what she made these days were lace butterflies that she sold for 6€ to tourists - to keep her afloat and took her a few hours to weave. I bought some lace earrings for my mum; gave her one of my albums and left the shop. She ran after me and handed me a butterfly and thanked me. I promised myself I’d give it to Jez - who ended up joining the band shortly after the song was made. I wanted to remember the exchange with this lady; not to have faith in surviving and being successful. It was deeper than that.
About her being an example of dedication to what she loved, and the song in reflection, was valuing the moment we had together; our unique exchange. I guess I wanted to give an example of one story I lived - so that, in some selfish way, could perceive most events and things that happen in life this way.
If others did too, then wow…what a place the world would be like.
The song is from your album, Wandering Heart. Can you tell me the themes of the album and what it was like to record?
The album, in retrospect, is a collection of moments, exchanges; places that a sequence of random events let me to leading the life I lead - which is one that relied nearly entirely on trust. I have been a busker most of my life and it has been my main source of spirit and income, too. The songs are refections of the good times and bad - and the challenges and the magical encounters that started to make me see things in a different light.
We toured the songs for a while before recording them. Adam Beattie (Bass or Guitar), Jez Houghton, and myself - and sometimes, Sam Pert - developed it from touring. It was a big learning curve for me to try and bring the essence of what we do on a record and it was a big challenge for me and my band member - but it was very rewarding to see it come together. I stripped each song to its essence. By that I mean, if it was a personal song, I would do it solo then build on it so the intimacy wasn’t affected. If it was about a place, I tried to capture the atmosphere with the relevant combinations of instruments and recorded it live.
Jez preferred to work alone so we let him do it his way; then he sent over his parts when he was done. The hardest part was having what I wanted and what each person in the band was satisfied delivering - and trying to adapt to their way of working too. Each of us is so unique: it’s the uniqueness of my band members that were also a bit part of this album.
Your voice seems to take in a lot of different emotions and colours. Who are the artists you look up to and were inspired by?
I connected to the spirit of Lhasa de Sela, Silvia Perez Cruz and Tom Waits (to name a few of the bigger names) but, also, to all the bands and musicians I have been lucky to find and stumble across - being a musician of many years on the East London music scene. Through the diversity of music, I have had the chance to encounter a lot and managed to find my own voice - to express my own experiences.
Did you bond with music quite early? What was it about music that made you want to write and perform?
My first connection with music was before I could talk.
My dad used to sing us sings; then when I got a voice and started experimenting with it. I remember trying to capture a melody by scribbling a line down on a piece of paper when I was about five. I have no idea what it is that makes us want to play. It feels good and connection and experiences come out of it - the richness only sometimes emerges later. Lots of them are revelations that I can relate back to when I stop valuing the moment. Creative works are a limitless pool that I carry on to uncover them each time I perform them. They change and grow and I change and grow.
It’s amazing to feel my way through them.
You started busking at sixteen and travelled Europe and London; France and Italy. Was that quite an enlightened time or was it quite tough?
I was still living in the same head of that girl until a few days ago - and would never have known what I was doing and how/what for. Now I can look back and see my life unfold slowly with the richness of those experiences. What it gave me was my own story that I didn’t know how to value them…but do now. The tough parts were the biggest lessons and formed me as a person.
The beautiful moments are there for me to savour forever.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Schaller Photography
Looking back at your time in music; which memories and gigs stick out?
I have played so many shows: they are all unique in their own way. The launches of new releases - such as St. Pancras Old Church in 2012; Wilton’s Music Hall in 2014 and The Jazz Cafe at the end of 2016 - are very memorable because it’s a time when every part of this journey I am on comes together - and I see all the wonderful people that have helped me along the way in the same room.
It’s very overwhelming and real.
London is your base. How important is the city to your music? What is it like for a young musician here?
Every musician’s life is different: everyone has their own path. We are united by common ground but I can’t stress how much we have our own underlying fate. We may end up in the same venues at some point but how we got there and where we go afterwards is so different. London is hard, easy; full of spirit and lonely. If you want to feel life at its most intense then live in London. I wouldn’t know how it feels for a young musician. I would know, if I met them and asked them, though, they will notice all the details that make sense to them - that would be entirely different to the places, people and experiences I go through and want to write about.
That’s the beauty of art - our own unique experience and view of the same things.
You are going to headline Union Chapel, London on 17th November. Are you looking forward to that and playing with Blick Bassy?
I first did a show with him in 2016. It was magical.
Sometimes, you need an element missing to notice other things. By that, I mean I didn’t know what he was singing about as he sings in Bassa - one of the many languages in Cameroon - and yet; I still felt like smiling, crying and tapping my foot. I have been praised and criticised for singing in French and English - as people either feel alienated or like they’re not understanding me. It is the perfect platform to imagine what I was saying.
There is something more to what Blick Bassy presents in his music. There’s a strong and vulnerable spirit. He’s amazing to watch and listen to and I trust his messages. I’m so excited about it. It’s insane.
What other tour dates do you have coming up? Which dates are you most looking forward to?
I’m doing many dates with Blair Dunlop who is (also) quite a talent and, from our conversations, an ace person. I’m looking forward to being on the road with him - and us combining our journeys.
PHOTO CREDIT: Bertrand Goareguer
It is nearing the end of the year. Will you have time to rest nearer Christmas and do you have any plans for later this year?
I have been writing a new album alongside my experiences since the start of the year. The songs have been a key tool to understanding my next steps in life and diving further into myself.
I’d like to spend some time alone this December and (spend) Christmas with my family in France.
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
I have spent the last few months diving into music that my close friends listen to - mainly what they were brought up with - so I’m not up-to-date with current acts at the minute.
Maybe let me know if there’s something you’d like to share with me?
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Lhasa de Sela - Lhasa
This album is beautiful, but what I like most about it is her outlook, her life and her version of her life. She says “When I was young, I realised that the words you put in a song are precious”. She has spent time getting closest to who she really is: the pain and the joy.
You can feel that on this album...
Adam Beattie - The Road Not Taken
I travelled alongside Adam all around France and Italy when he was making this album. In his revelations, intrigues and understandings; there’s nothing more valuable to listen to his creations from the events we lived together.
Geoff Sharkey (Demos never-released and a lost tape)
The third is this - surprisingly, it was never released officially. It was a bunch of demos, of which I had the tape, and then lost at some point in my teenage years. I remember how much they marked me and sometimes his lyrics crop up in my songs - and I say ‘hi’.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Keep doing what you do - and trust and marvel in your personal journey.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Fleetwood Mac - Dreams
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