Obituary: Amy Winehouse, singer-songwriter
Amy Winehouse, Singer-songwriter.
Born: 14 September, 1983, in Southgate, London.
Died 23 July, 2011, in London, aged 27.
FROM the moment Amy Winehouse came on stage, there was a sense of risk and excitement. Her waif-like frame and obvious vulnerability was balanced by the voice: strong, compassionate, soulful and always deeply emotional. Her voice had a charisma allied with a vocal danger that made her an instant star. But it was the lifestyle she pursued that got her even more headlines.
The drugs, the drink, the questionable friends, her provocative appearance (garish tattoos, the exotic bee-hive hair-do etc) all combined to make Winehouse an in-your-face, challenging star. She was never going to be conventional: and delighted in just that. Indeed a lyric on one of her first songs included the significant line, "My destructive side has grown a mile wide."
Amy Jade Winehouse attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School, but was expelled at 14, allegedly, for "not applying herself". After further stage tuition, she sent a demo A&R tape to Simon Fuller and she also submitted some of her own songs. Winehouse was contracted to cut a disc on the spot and signed a publishing deal with EMI.
Her first album Frank, issued in 2003, had an up-tempo, almost jazzy, feel to it. All but two numbers were written by Winehouse and comparisons were made with Sarah Vaughan on her vocal technique and delivery. It was a huge success and went platinum. The album won an Ivor Novello award, two Brit nominations and was shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize. It was an amazing debut for a totally unknown artist.
That year Winehouse followed up with appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and the Montral Jazz Festival: both confirmed her emergence as a major star. Her second album catapulted Winehouse to international stardom.
Back to Black, which contained both You Know I'm No Good and Rehab, was the UK's best-selling album in 2007, selling almost two million copies.
Time magazine named Rehab the Best Song of 2007 and one American critic commented that Winehouse was "mouthy, funny, sultry, and quite possibly crazy".
Back to Black was feted as one of the most original albums by a British singer in years: it won five Grammy Awards, but there was a somewhat sinister side to the album - it chronicled her troubled love affair with her husband Blake Fielder-Civil.
They married in Miami in May 2007, but divorced two years later after they both battled drink and drug addictions. The marriage tipped her into a downward spiral of drug abuse and Winehouse's startling decline was as meteoric as had been her rise. Worse was to follow when Fielder-Civil got into a pub brawl, was sent to prison for burglary and the hoped-for Winehouse rehabilitation petered out.
In 2009, Winehouse went to St Lucia in the Caribbean to go through cold turkey and record some numbers. None of the music recorded impressed the record executives and the album was never released. Winehouse took refuge in the bottle.
Veteran crooner Tony Bennett got in touch with her and offered her a duet on his Duets 11 Album, which is to be released soon. They got on, and worked, well together. "She was," Bennett claimed, "my favourite to perform with in the whole album."
The devils within her reappeared and sapped her confidence. Winehouse's ability to cope with everyday life, let alone stardom, evaporated.
In 2007, she was booed off the stage in Birmingham and at the Apollo, Hammersmith, but despite other such difficult evenings Winehouse remained a much-loved performer and when on form had a mesmerising stage presence.
She entered the Priory Clinic in May that year, but stayed only one week. Then last month she was forced to abandon a European tour in Belgrade when she appeared, it was reported, "too drunk to perform" - not helped by not being able to remember in which city she was performing or the band or some of the lyrics.
Just last week, on Thursday, she made a surprise appearance at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, when she joined god-daughter Dionne Bromfield in an iTunes Festival concert.
Winehouse's tragic life should not detract from her undoubted talents as a musician and performer. There was a sultry, bluesy quality to her singing that was gripping. She could hold a melody and project the words with a poignant sensitivity. She had a mercurial quality that upped a number to being something special. But Winehouse, from her youth, was an independent lady with a tormented and bedevilled personality. "By the time I was 15, my parents realised I would do whatever I wanted, and that was it really," she recalled years later.
But this fragile, superbly talented woman gave British pop music a zest and vivacity it so needed. She inspired a new generation of female performers, from Lady Gaga to Adele, to be forthright, determined and independent.