This photo, taken by Roger Sargent, shows Amy Winehouse on Brighton Beach in July 2004, before that night’s show at Concorde 2. She was 20 years old, promoting her debut album, Frank, and wowing the locals. When she returned two years later, her ‘Rehab’ single was a runaway hit and her second album, Back to Black, would become one of the 21st century’s essential records.
“I’m the kind of person that will be pissed off about something, stew on it and then I’ll be fine in two minutes,” she told The Argus. “When you write songs about the way you feel, you get over it straight away. My life is not one long opera – it’s all right.” But the ‘long opera’ was just beginning, and by the time she played the Brighton Centre in 2007, Amy’s personal life was in disarray.
When she died on July 23, 2011 – ten years ago today – I shared my thoughts here.
She so very nearly made it through. Her dream was to be a housewife at thirty, cooking for her seven kids. If she never had another hit, she would still be happy.
‘Lioness’ was the apt name of her record label, not a cash-in but a way to help other artists.
Now we have lost our diva, but her music lives on. For the family, lovers, and band-mates who tried to shelter her from the storm, that is little comfort.
But to all the naysayers, Amy’s fate was not inevitable and she certainly didn’t waste her gifts. Her life was a triumph. We were the lucky ones, who hung on for the ride.
This poem by Clare Pollard takes me back to that day…
Then, as now, certain media pundits have exalted Amy more than they ever did when she was alive, and no doubt some of today’s tributes will ring hollow. The feverish speculation over her death culminated in Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary, AMY, which I reviewed for Art Decades. (It’s generally agreed that the Noughties were particularly cruel to young women in the spotlight. Now we at least pay lip service to mental health, though the online scrutiny they face is more intense than ever before.)
In terms of her music, other than Lioness: Hidden Treasures – a compilation of rare demos and covers – little of note has emerged from the vault, although it’s believed she had written most of her third album before she died. Amy didn’t spend all her time in studios, and would usually ace a recording on the first take.
Ten years later, Amy’s legacy seems assured – a statue of her even stands in the Stables Market in Camden. In June, her friend Tyler James released his memoir, My Amy; and in September, stylist Naomi Parry will unveil her monograph, Beyond Black. Tonight at 9 pm, Reclaiming Amy – an hour-long documentary, narrated by her mother Janis, will air on BBC2, and goddaughter Dionne Bromfield will have her say with Amy Winehouse and Me on MTV next week.
In 2011, Lana Del Rey was living in London and preparing her first album, Born to Die. “I lived in a shitty flat with no heat, it was awful,” she recalled to MOJO, “but they told me it was on Camden Road near where Amy Winehouse used to play at the Roundhouse, and I loved Amy.” Del Rey was on a train to Glasgow, reading her first review for ‘Video Games’, when the news of Amy’s death broke. “I had ten seconds of the most elated feeling, and then the news everywhere, on all of the televisions, was that Amy had died … and I was like no. NO. Everyone was watching, like, mesmerised, but I personally felt like I didn’t even want to sing anymore.”
Today, that awful finality – remembering the day the music died, for Amy at least – seems only a little more real than it did in those early days. In the pop firmament she stood alone, a raw talent unwilling to follow anyone’s path but her own. Her full humanity still lies in her music, so let’s consider this parting shot from ‘You Know I’m No Good‘: “I cheated myself, like I knew I would/I told you I was trouble …”