With the release of 2016’s I Fought Lovers EP, the up-and-coming, Bristol, UK-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Katey Brooks quickly amassed both a national and international profile for a sound and songwriting approach that has been compared to Jeff Buckley with material off her debut EP receiving enthusiastic airplay on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 6 and the CBC, as well as praise from Billboard, Pride and The Advocate. Adding to a growing profile, Brooks has shared bills with an eclectic yet impressive list of artists that includes Newton Faulkner, Ghostpoet, Martin Simpson, Deaf Havana, Lamb‘s Lou Rhodes, Mike and the Mechanics, and Mystery Jets, and has played at some of the world’s biggest festivals including Glastonbury, WOMAD, the 2012 Paralympics and Australia’s National Folk Festival. She also has appeared on a compilation with Anais Mitchell, Ane Brun and Marissa Nadler and recorded a track with The Rolling Stones‘ Bill Wyman and Paloma Faith. Along with that Joss Stone and renowned recording engineer Stuart Bruce have considered themselves fans.
Brooks grew up inside a cult, and as child, she found refuge in music. “It was a very chaotic upbringing, full of some pretty colourful and sometimes unsavoury, characters. But when I sang, I felt free and connected. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my way of getting what I need to say out,” she reveals in press notes. She began singing gospel, old spirituals and the songs from the likes of John Lennon and Elvis Presley — but by the time sh was a teenager, she entertained her peers with soul renditions.
Interestingly, when she was 16, she turned down a spot at the renowned BRIT School. “It would be interesting to know what would have happened if I had gone there, but I try not to dwell on that,” the Bristol-based singer/songwriter and guitarist says in press notes. “I always think that you’re where you’re meant to be. And if I had gone, I probably would have ended up writing slightly less authentically to myself. But who knows, because if all the things that have happened in my life nevertheless happened, maybe I still would have written the way I do.”
When Brooks turned 20, she became extremely ill and her life was on pause as she was convalescing; but as she was convalescing she joined a songwriters group led by her friend, Strangelove‘s Patrick Duff. “We would get together and play our songs to each other. It was really therapeutic.” Around this time Brooks was convinced that she had to devote her time to music. “So one day I just put on my own gig at the (Bristol) Folk House,” she laughs. “I sort of became an artist and promoter overnight,” Brooks recalls.
Sadly, shortly after making the decision to focus on her music, the Bristol-based singer/songwriter experienced a turbulent period of heartbreak and tragedy: the year she turned 22, her mother became ill and died — and shortly after that, one of her best friends went missing and died. “That’s definitely had an effect on the course of my life, and my writing,” Brooks says in press notes. “People have come up to me after gigs, particularly after songs I wrote during that time, saying /there’s a lot of sadness in your songs’ and it’s like ‘well, yeah.’ But I guess I’m lucky that I have songs that I can write, as a means to deal with things.”
Along with those hardships, Brooks has struggled to come to terms with her own sexuality. “In my most recent work I’ve finally been able to sing directly about women instead of using the mysterious ‘you,'” Brooks mentions in press notes. “I’m a private person in a lot of ways and I never wanted to be a poster girl for anything. But a few years ago I just thought screw it; I want to sing completely honestly. It felt like a weight lifted.”
Brooks’ latest single is the soulful “Never Gonna Let Her Go.” Centered around an almost gospel-like backing vocals, Brooks effortlessly soulful vocal performance and an atmospheric arrangement of a looping 12 bar blues guitar and a propulsive rhythm section, the song nods at classic soul and The Veils “The Pearl” as it’s a thoughtful mesh of craft, earnestness and ambitious songwriting. But at its core the song is an uplifting and powerful plea to the listener that being your true self is a revolutionary act. “We’re all going to walk this planet with different scripts in our heads, different upbringings, experiences and beliefs, and if we want to get along and be peaceful we need to accept that. Hate isn’t the answer in any situation – so I believe anyway,” Brooks said. She adds, “Judge me for my true failings, ask me to change those things that actually effect you, and I’ll hear that. But one thing I’ll never change, and one thing that is definitely not wrong with me, is my love for women”.