I still have a little giggle when I recall the circumstances I bought Amy Winehouse’s Frank back in October 2003…it was in Tesco’s Morden branch at 12.30 am…bought on a whim as it was in the new releases section priced at £6. Still remember going home and listening to it and being blown away by the voice that was coming out of a shy looking girl next door chanteuse. A voice that seemed mannered but actually came through with a contralto vibrancy that instantly captivated me. I read every single credit trying to figure out the make up of this unknown quantity. It seemed that Island/Universal had spent a lot of dosh on the producers but this girl had co-writing credits for all songs…so not just a young diva with no talent for writing, quite the opposite. It is intriguing that her first single Stronger than Me only made it to number 71 in the top 100 and stayed there for a week and just sank without a trace. A song strong in both melody, performance and cheeky references. I kept listening to the cd for the next couple of months and telling everyone that would listen how great it was. So much so that my friend Gary alerted me to the fact that Amy was giving a promotional gig at HMV Oxford Circus on 15 January 2004 to promote her second single Take the Box, which actually made it to number 50 in the charts.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this gig and when we arrived at HMV we were faced with maybe a crowd of 50-80 people and this lively girl with her glossy black hair and cheeky, awkward grin, that was six years younger than me. She played her bass guitar all way through every single song of her first album. The voice was even better than in the recorded tracks, she had definite star quality and a voice that not just ornamented the music she was singing but actually seemed to inhabit every turn of phrase and lyric quirk. When she sang Stronger than Me she gave a overemphasised cartoonish colour to the words are you gay? , which made it sound adorable. After playing all the album tracks she asked if we wanted to hear more and at our approving yelps she offered with a beaming smile the remixes for Take the Box.
She and her two musicians managed to bring to life the intricate, Caribbean Technicolor sound-world of Frank and to prove to all of us present she was the real deal. After her set she signed autographs for everyone present and sure she did ornament her patter with naughty comments. When my time arrived I was terribly excited and told her that she was wonderful and if she would mind signing the album for me and the single for my friend Dani, she asked me how to spell the name ‘is it a boy or like Kylie’s slutty sister’ she asked, I just said like Kylie’s sis but with one n. She duly signed and I made a mental note that I would see her in concert very soon. Doing my date checking for this post found some pictures from the gig on the Getty Images, have a look for yourselves at the adorable young lady that sounded like Billie Holiday but was indeed a Jewish North London girl.
Next time I saw her she already had two singles charting at number 57 and 60 and the album had reached number 13 in the UK Top 100. She was playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire! I nabbed two tickets for the standing room in front of the stage upon release. She gave us a fantastic show with strong vocals and a very supportive crowd that hummed along all her songs. It was a perfect evening and we left the venue buzzing and me asking my other half for his impressions and if he thought she was the real deal. Those two gigs are the only way I want to remember Amy Winehouse, a brilliant performer that wrote some touching, intricate autobiographical songs and that I regret not to have around for the next thirty years. She touched me and my generation deeply. Her honest heart on the sleeve music making was a gold standard that very few can live up to. I will treasure my autographed CD cover as a reminder of those two precious memories and an antidote to her chaotic, beehived later years that made her a sad presence in the red tops. She was the real deal that unfortunately stopped being that adorable London girl back in 2007. Hope she has found the peace and solace she needed.