A Family Portrait

It was fantastic news when it was announced that the Jewish Museum in Camden was to exhibit a number of personal items belonging to Amy Winehouse. The family had given unprecedented access and promises of her first guitar, albums and clothing ensued.

The Mayor of Camden hosted a private reception and viewing of the exhibition, and in doing so raised money for the Foundation Amy’s father set up following her demise.

“The Amy Winehouse Foundation works to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on youngpeople. We also aim to support, inform and inspire vulnerable and disadvantaged young people to help them reach their full potential.” Amy’s Dad, Mitch

Tickets were obtained for the event.

Now as regular readers will know I plan with precision each outfit for every event. The Crouch End Boulevardier did not let standards slip especially when there was a chance to pay respects to one of the most contemporary influences in his life.

The difficultly was the temperature. It was so beautifully hot and I refuse to be one of the Brits who bemoan the cold and the heat! The only difficulty was in deciding what to wear. Cool clothes are not always loose and summery. The temperature gauge hit 30 degrees and I decided upon the leatherette trousers (again as always grateful they were not real leather), Paul Smith inspired Papillo Birkenstocks and a Kurt Cobain T shirt. A friend asked on Twitter whether the tee decision was wise. I wanted to reflect those who died too young, without wearing an actual Amy t shirt. Kurt is also a member of the awful 27 club.

I met Ange for a swift gossip and glass of red at the Bucks Head. We fortunately managed to drown out an unskilled busker as he murdered Creep by Radiohead.

Once inside the museum we were met by 8 foot display screens rotating images of Amy from school days to Back to Black performances. Part of Back to Black was playing. The song still sounds so fresh, and the emotion emanating from Amy still devastating.

Up a few steps, and a glass display cased the gingham dress immortalised by Amy in the Tears Dry On Their Own video. At its base were a pair of pink ballet pumps, another of Amy’s signature looks.

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The main reception was being held in a function room, and we were greeted by the Mayor dressed in a smart suit and adorned by his livery collar. We chatted to a few other patrons over a glass of wine and canapés. In typical British reserved fashion we danced around the canapés and watched for someone to breach the artificial barrier and grab a morsel, thus signifying it was in order to dive in!

The Mayor officially opened the semi formal part of the reception with a short speech of thanks and expressed his support and passion for the Foundation and invited Mitch Winehouse to speak.

Mitch warmed our hearts and brought a tear to our eyes as he spoke proudly of Alex and Riva, co-curators of the exhibition, and of Amy. He spoke of the last time he saw Amy alive, and how they had enjoyed moments pouring over old photos of the family. Amy had previously lost a suitcase full of photos in her various moves and found them shortly before her death. Mitch cited that the suitcase was part of the exhibition. Had Amy not insisted her Dad come to her home on the way to the airport and look at the photos, he would have been off to New York and missed this precious last time with his daughter.

Entering the actual exhibition was like entering Amy’s world. Quotes taken from her application and audition to the Sylvia Young School were printed in her handwriting on the wall. Her school uniform hung ‘pieced together from various members of the family’ Mitch informed.

Videos of early performances at school led toward one of her Grammy’s.

The open suitcase of photos provided a visual feast of Amy’s family. ‘Amy lived for her friends and family’ Mitch’s words rang in my ears.

The key exhibition picture printed to 6 feet shows a posed Amy, pre beehive, in front of a fireplace, one elbow resting on the mantle and the other arm over her head pulling her hair off her face. The chimney breast adorned with framed pictures of legends and Vogue covers, martini and khalua bottles in the grate, their usual purpose changed to candle holders.

And then the fridge magnets….  I am not sure why this part of the exhibition moved me so. I think it’s because it’s so simple and normal. I love a good fridge magnet and own around 20, which are functionally displayed on my own fridge . Amy’s were funny with ‘It’s better to have loved and lost rather than to live with this psycho for the rest of your life’ down to the poignant ‘It’s Sinatra’s World, we just live in it’. I stood and imagined Amy opening her fridge door and smiling at the quips and puns before her.

After having a look around the gift shop (I think there should be a law necessitating visits to any gift shops where available), and purchased a notepad with the lyrics to Tears Dry on Their Own printed in Amy’s hand on the inside cover, we went back into the reception and had an opportunity to speak with Mitch Winehouse, who graciously allowed us to have our photo taken with him.

After thanking him for sharing so many of the family’s private memories with the public he proudly asserted that Alex (his son and Amy’s brother) was responsible for the exhibition along with his wife.

We spoke about the Foundation and Mitch explained that he really had to do this in Amy’s memory, and she would have wanted him to do so. She was always helping people, even when they were undeserving. Mitch went on to detail the amount of help they have managed to provide already, and supply almost 100 ‘down on their luck’ youngsters a meal every day, which is a fantastic achievement.

We spoke somewhat about Amy, and I talked to Mitch about the Hammersmith concert I wrote about last week and explained my perspective as an audience member. Mitch talked about the difficulties they had with that tour, and how Amy would perform divinely one evening and then struggle the next. That very evening in Hammersmith Mitch had found Amy with Pete Doherty and had to remove him from the room.

Mitch told us of the birth of the beehive credited to Amy’s great friend and stylist Naomi.

Amy loved shopping, Mitch told us, and had an account with Selfridges and would come home laden, really laden with so much, too much, that he would have to take most of it back the next day!

We spoke about his book and I thanked him for providing a frank insight into struggling and living alongside an addict daughter who also happened to be a phenomenal worldwide talent. For anyone who reads who hasn’t read it I would highly recommend it.

I could go on, as there were so many little tales he shared with us, as he generously spent time talking. Mitch doesn’t always get the best coverage by the press but I can tell you all now, that he is an articulate and passionate man, who is also very earnest in his storytelling, which is why he probably gets a rough deal from the press sometimes.  I was so moved I offered to help with all the sales, marketing and fundraising for the foundation!

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Ange and I left the building full of emotion and gratitude to all involved in this event and for giving a glimpse into the world of Amy Winehouse.

TNW

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Beehive Fanatic

Amy Winehouse would have been 30 years old this year, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost 2 years since her untimely death. This week your Boulevardier wants to talk about his relationship with Amy and her music.

Starting right back in 2006 I hadn’t consciously listened to any off Amy’s music until I started to hear Rehab everywhere. It seemed to be on the radio, on the television, and tickling your ears wherever you went. Who were Ray and Mr Hathaway she sung of? Mr Hathaway would unfortunately be a harbinger. Amy was referencing the late great Donny Hathaway who had also left this mortal coil too early in life, albeit for different reasons.

This was 2006 and iTunes was starting to gather momentum, and as a relatively new user I enjoyed the instant response it provided. If I wanted an album I could download and be listening to it within a few minutes. I could also just select a few tracks. (Remember when Amazon felt so modern where you were able to order album online and get it within a couple of days!) I took the plunge and downloaded the entire Back to Black album and started listening.  I didn’t love it on first listen, but it was good enough and different enough to keep going. I was drawn to the 60s sound next to modern arrangements and beats. Amy’s voice was breathtaking. The tracks Back to Black and Addicted started to stand out, and I couldn’t get Back to Black out of my head.

From there a complete immersion into Amy’s sound occurred, and I don’t think I listened to any other music, or rather no other music meant so much to me until at least 2008. Someone who is no longer a friend, but who I reasonable amount of time with in 2007 often remarked that ‘I listened to Amy Winehouse on a constant loop’. English was not his primary language, but he accurately summed it up.

With the growing success of Back to Black Amy’s personal life, which didn’t appear to be in a similar ascendency, was plastered all over the tabloids and internet.

I loved her look. I loved that she had taken 60s hair and makeup and turned them into something very modern, punk even. She was a punk to me. She found a way to rebel lyrically against the outward sugar of most of the 60s girl groups she emulated, The Crystals aside.

The beehive was iconic and I loved it. I really wished there had been a male alternative.

Her tattoos also added to her urban raw look. She worked effortlessly to bring a real urban cool back to Camden. Reports of wild nights at the Hawley Arms only added to the urban myth.

I have to confess heading to the Hawley Arms a couple of times in the vain hope of bumping into Amy, maybe getting a photo, and if I was really lucky having a chat. The best I got was seeing the Amy doll which stands 5 inches tall standing at the back of the downstairs bar.

Concerts were announced in 2007, and I got 2 tickets to see Amy at Hammersmith Apollo for Saturday 24th November 2007. I was really excited and my good friend Jane agreed to go with me. She knew I was obsessed with Amy’s music and loved live concerts where artists provide their face to face interpretation of their tracks.

However, Amy’s press coverage was getting worse and I was avidly following, but really couldn’t ignore it with regards to the concert. Her benders seemed to be getting worse, along with continuous allegations of drug taking. A lot of press put blame on her then husband.

The DVD release of one of her concerts ‘I Told You I was Trouble: Live in London’ perked me up as the performance was breathtaking. So all Amy needed to do was to stay away from the demons in her life and give a fantastic performance at Hammersmith.

Blake, her husband, was on remand at the time, and not only was the case not looking good but bail had been refused, and this seemed to affect Amy so much.

Jane and I met at Hammersmith underground station expectant of a great concert. We had a couple of drinks in a grotty pub near the tube station to get our buzz started, and headed across to the venue. The bar queues were extensive and several people deep. Everyone seemed intent on having a party! Jane and I decided to double double up, and had our respective vodka and gin and slimline tonics in pint glasses to accommodate the quadruple measures.

We excitedly headed into the auditorium, following another ticket check. We later discovered that it was not official, and a tout had taken our tickets! Fortunately we did not need them again.

We finished our drinks, expecting Amy to be on, but she was running late, so Jane headed back out to the bar and refilled our mammoth portions. Still no Amy! The crowd was getting restless, particularly as her gigs had been rather hit or miss.

I said to Jane ‘This is ridiculous! How do you think I get out the back to see what’s going on and gee her up?’

Jane was amused, laughed and called me delusional.

She eventually came out onto stage. Mitch Winehouse reports in his book ‘Amy My Daughter’ that she was only ½ an hour late, but I think it was nearer to 1 ¼ hours. I guess it depends on perspective.

About a 1/3 of the songs sounded OK, but most of them seemed a little off, and the entire experience made me feel nervous. Amy was clearly distressed, and so ‘not there’ I felt like a voyeur. I could have cried. I have never seen so many people leave a mainstream gig before until the end. I was determined to stay to the end, willing Amy to snap out of it and perform as we knew she could. She kept on digging her hands into her beehive and scratching her head. The hive was swaying from side to side, and I thought it was going to topple her over.

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I was upset, which turned to angry and I set about posting on line the next day and looking for a refund, as did so many others. Mitch countered in the press and asked people to give her a chance. At the time I was dismissive of his reaction and thought of my invested money to see a great concert, and that I was not there to support a charity. However, after reading his heartbreaking book, he was a father trying to keep his daughter alive and happy, and desperate for support. I completely get that and respect him. On reflection, I am glad I got to see Amy live, even if not at her best.

Months and years started to pass, Amy was no longer with Blake, and seemed to be getting her life on track and I longed for new music.

The news of her death on 23rd July 2011 hit hard. I remember watching the live news, and hoped so much it was not Amy. It was.

I visited her home, a beautifully restored Victorian Villa on a residential square in Camden. The tributes and flood of support was amazing.

Most of my friends recognised how much Amy and her music had meant to me, and lots posted on my Facebook wall to commiserate her death, knowing how upset I would be.

I have got to know and love all of her music, including the posthumous album. Even the music Amy had ‘thrown away’ or not completed was amazing.

I this week attended a private view of a new exhibition ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ co-curated by her brother and sister in law.  Her legacy lives on. Next week’s blog will provide more detail.

To me she is one of the greatest musical talents of our age, and her voice will live forever. It’s a shame she is not here to live life and enjoy it.

TNW       

Trampling on Blankets

Saturday 6th July and it was time to start the day which would end with 70s and 80s legends aplenty. More on that later, as there was the morning to deal with first.

I was woken abruptly by the postman buzzing at 8.45am, but at least the Richard Ward shampoo and conditioner had finally arrived! (read Celeb Hair Blog for further information).

To spin or not to spin? A quick check in the mirror and last night’s hair had almost survived. Some rearranging and lots of hairspray and I would not need to redo it! Spinning was more likely in this eventuality.

My iPhone told me that the temperature was going to hit 28 degrees! Fabulous!

Spin was tough as usual but as always peppered with the instructor, Kathy’s wit and insults making it fun, funny and  good! And it was her last class for a couple of weeks with imminent holidays, so  very glad I went!

Home, Daft Punk on, and time to start getting ready. Shower completed, but outfit not yet defined. Hmmm I might be delayed. After streaming through the racks in my wardrobes several times I settled upon an All Saints white T shirt with explosive clouds on the front and denim shorts.

Facebook was starting to warm up and various other old friends and school friends were coming out of the woodwork to confirm they were attending the festival. This could be a mini school reunion.

Finally ready, and time to head to Wisteria Lane in Berkhamsted (aptly nicknamed as two good friends live next door to each other) for a pre Chilfest chill, where my good friends were waiting and preparing a sumptuous mid afternoon buffet and endless jugs of Pimms. The sun beat down upon us as we listened to oodles of 80s music.

It was almost disappointing to leave this perfect England garden afternoon and haul our sunkissed bodies to Pendley Meadow. We were not allowed picnics or to bring in alcohol, so reliving our naughty school days, we entered with our Evian bottles emptied of their intended contents and filled to the brim with vodka. This foresight would indeed serve us well, but more on that later.

We arrived at 6.30pm for a 7pm start and there was a buzz in the air. I had my small green manbag which was dutifully searched. The attendant asked if I had alcohol in there and when I answered in the negative, he said ‘Why not!’ and laughed. We found a good spot just over halfway back and laid out our non matching picnic blankets to create a patchwork effect. Diet coke was purchased from the ice cream van with the purpose of mixing with the vodka, but there was a problem. The queues for the actual bars for those wanting beer and wine were humungous. People were reporting having to queue for 30 minutes plus. The situation worsened and patrons were queuing for upwards of an hour and a half! Several members of our party headed to the pub, and others to Tesco to get some drink. That was disappointing but the show must go on, and we had flowing vodka to keep us sated.

A good friend Luisa was there with her husband and brother and I headed down for a ‘hello’ and catch up. She was quite near the front. I had a wry smile as this was no Glastonbury, and picnic blankets were set out with deck chairs aplenty. Territories marked out with side glances at anyone who came close to the corners, but it was all good spirited. I think it was indicative of the average  attendees age!

We then saw another good school friend Jo, who despite having tremendous health problems was there in her deck chair enjoying the sun with her friend Lu. Irrespective of the weather Jo has a very enviable sunny disposition.

First on stage (although I had been performing since arriving) was Hazel O’Connor who looked great in a coral dress, and treated us to her yet strong voice and blasted her old hits, the highlight of which was Will You.

Next came Carol Decker . We headed down towards the front for a close up and sing along once the first few chords of Heart and Soul hit our ears. This was followed by a beautiful rendition of China in Your Hand.

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We were getting more and more into the spirit as the vodka also took greater hold over us.

We headed back out of the crowd. I hunted down another friend Chele (pronounced Che (as in the South American dictator) and lay), who had been without her husband for over an hour while he queued for a drink! We found him and chatted for 15 minutes or so during which time Midge Ure started his set but the queue only progressed about 4 feet! We took a couple of photos and one massive plus was that one of Che’s friend’s mistook me for ‘someone from the telly’. I guess I have that star appeal!  I then left my hopeful friends in the queue, again grateful for the foresight of the vodka stash, and went back to the picnic blankets. Midge Ure was singing Dancing with Tears in their Eyes, and I had a flashback to the haunting video of a nuclear holocaust, as families headed home to die together. Nostalgia filled the fields.

Howard Jones was next on stage. Another friend Iain and I headed down towards the front again as Howard churned out the old hits, putting a new dance spin on a couple and demonstrating his ability with electronic music. Iain and I agreed, in an older kind of way ‘Modern electronic doesn’t have a patch on this!’. Howard’s voice was pretty unchanged but he did look like a little old man, maybe even hobbit-esque as he moved around the stage, with hair nowhere near as impressive as his 80s heights.

We reassembled as a group and headed into the crowds for some Rick Astley and Tony Hadley, the vodka taking its hold on pretty much all of us.

The party didn’t end there, and we walked to local friend’s home for an after party. The bar flowed freer, we pumped up our jam and danced until a little after 2am.

Suffice to say Sunday was a much quieter affair!

TNW

Writing and Living

2011 and 2012 were incredibly busy years in work, and I was happy to set a lot aside to focus on my day job. However, mid way through 2012 the pressure was starting to take its toll, and I knew I was and remain my own worst enemy in just pushing on and pushing out my stiff upper lip. I knew change was necessary.

That said I was not expecting change to be forced upon me. On 7th January 2013 after feeling under the weather I was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli. So spending less time working came instantly true but not for the right reasons. I was too ill to work for several weeks, and have been gradually building back up ever since. In May I decided to go part time for a year, with the full support of my company, and work 4 days a week. This in essence gives me the opportunity to catch up on rest and life.

The silver lining of my illness is that my creative side started to assert itself, usually suppressed behind the all consuming cerebral life of a Client Development Director. I couldn’t go out too much and when I tried it was pretty unsuccessful. I had a dreadful appearance at a friend’s 50th, and lasted all of about 40 minutes before admitting defeat and heading for a black cab. But I didn’t want to just fester, so I started writing. There were no time pressures, and I have always wanted to write more. Whenever I have been on holiday and the grip of work lessens novel and story ideas start to flood my mind, and even when I had promised myself I would carry on, this invariably lasted a couple of weeks maximum, as the weeds of work choked and suffocated my creativity.

So when I was able and up to it I wrote. This might only have been 20 minutes a day, but I felt like I was achieving something, and my brain loved the freedom to think creatively. After a while I had a few short pieces, and got some feedback from a fantastic author I discovered and befriended this year. She said that I had a voice but lacked structure and recommended I went on a creative writing course. I love constructive feedback, and thought this was really positive. Years of writing corporate reports would change the way I style and structure pieces, and I needed to transport myself back to youth when I could write creatively and to the classroom.

The words of Raymond Carver which were kindly shared with me ringing in my ears…

‘It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and
unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.’

I was off to Ways into Creative Writing – An Introduction at City Lit, an adult learning centre squashed between Holborn and Covent Garden. The class was 2 hours a week for 6 weeks, and I thought this an achievable commitment. It was also on a Friday, i.e. a non working day, so I could rest in the day and then head to college.

The six weeks have passed really quickly and I want more! I of course had big decisions each week as to what to wear, especially after the second week when the teacher commented on my having great taste in T shirts! I had to perform! Hair was also always quiffed to perfection! However, for once I am not going to indulge too many words focussed on hair and outfit!

I was absolutely transported back to school, and was nervous about making friends, which of course I shouldn’t have been, and met some lovely people at various stages in the evolution of their writing. I connected with one student and we have linked on social media, and we text before each class to make sure we are saving seats for each other!

I relish the homework which has consisted of pieces of prose varying between 300 and 1000 words, and two pieces of reading each week, generally a poem and a short story or part thereof.

I also bumped into the tutor at a literary salon event which was not only great, but enabled me to indulge my need to impress the teacher! I often used to wonder why I was accused at school and college (of yesteryear) of sucking up to the teachers, but it flowed so easily this year I have to accept it! I would like to rebrand it as great networking!

We have developed new characters, written short stories, monologues, and learned lots of new tools to add structure and widen ability to create imagery.

Teachers comments on my monologue homework ‘Lovely, Wayne – really poignant. Terrific voice – consistent throughout, entirely believable and natural. Good flow and balance of longer and shorter lines. Nice rhythm through the whole piece, and a truly sympathetic character. Completely engaging’  (Monologue at the bottom of this entry if you are interested in reading it)

A successful Boulevardier should feel confident in his ability with the arts!

The advent of my writing, and attending the course have shown me:

1)      I want to learn more about the creative writing process

And

2)      The fragility of life is sometimes thrust in your face, and I would implore any reader with aspirations, dreams or longings to pursue them without delay!

We can not predict what is coming next or hidden in the shadows of life!

Love living life, and live to maximum capacity!

TNW

Monologue

Dotty visits Maurice’s grave for the first time

Hello love.

I never in a million years thought I would be visiting you here, and in fact once you were gone I didn’t think I would be able to come, but here we are three days after we said our goodbyes and I managed to come. I really don’t know what to say. I thought of so many things since the funeral but they escape me now.

Jackie Webber has been really good, and comes to see me every day since, you know.

I brought you some fresh flowers, as these have already wilted in the Spanish sun. I am not sure what they are, but they are small, yellow and beautiful. You know I always looked at colour rather than type. I got myself a bunch for home too.

Brian and Lisa set back off to England yesterday, and to be honest it’s a relief. I miss them love, but I need some space. I need to get back to work, but it’s hard enough getting up without you here, let alone thinking of anything else.

The Foundations came on the radio yesterday, and I wanted to dance and laugh as we always used to, but I couldn’t. Maybe one day, but it’s too soon.

Maurice, how can I do this alone? Spain was our plan. What on earth were you doing walking on the beach road in the dark? I can’t do this now.

Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to do now? How am I meant to go on living?

This afternoon I am supposed to meet Mrs Barker for tea, but I don’t think I will go.

I am going to try and come back tomorrow, God willing, and if I can bear to.