Easter Escapades

Lil was on her own as I entered the café the week after Easter. I hoped that all was well as Bill should have been back from an Easter visit to his family. Armando was not in sight.

I greeted Lil with a kiss on her rosy cheek. She was wearing a rather glamorous sparkling grey sweater. The pink of her hair was fading.

‘How was your Easter Lil?’ I asked.

‘It was satisfactory,’ Lil said without emotion.

‘How’s Bill?’

‘Still at his daughters. He decided to extend the visit. I don’t mind. I’ve quite enjoyed the peace and quiet. If you don’t expect anything from anyone then they can’t disappoint you.’ Lil pursed her lips and I knew it would not be wise to pursue this topic of conversation.

Armando appeared and explained that he wouldn’t be able to join us today as the main oven was on the blink, or rather ‘in the blink’ as he said. Don’t you just love it when those who don’t have English as their first language pick up little phrases and then get a word or two wrong?

‘Did you enjoy your chocolate Easter Bunny Lil that Armando and I got you?’

‘Ooooo yes thanks, I ate it on Sunday. In fact I ate it all. It left me feeling queasy. I forgot to ask whether you and Michael have a good time in Hastings? Did you go and see that author friend of yours again?’

‘Yes it was great. Shall we order breakfast and then I’ll tell you all about it?’

‘I suppose so,’ Lil answered. I was starting to get the impression that she hadn’t had a good Easter, but there was no real reason why. Armando had invited her to eat at the café which she declined, and her Age Group also had lots of pre-arranged Easter activities.

With breakfast ordered – a full English for Lil and porridge with blackberries for me – we settled.

‘We arrived mid-afternoon Friday and went straight to the front to get a late lunch. We were desperate for fish and chips. What is it about arriving at the seaside, hearing the rush of the tide and the vile gulls and needing to satisfy a need for fish and chips irrespective of the time of day?’

I laughed at my comment, which I thought was quite funny. Lil looked down and stirred her tea. I wasn’t being silenced that easily.

‘I think it’s because you hope the fish was caught minutes before it’s fried. It’s almost an involuntary action. Although it was quite funny when I visited my aunt in Norfolk a couple of years back and we went for fish and chips on the front to find a sign informing us that the ‘fresh sustainable fish’ was ‘from Iceland.’’

‘They only sell frozen fish in Iceland,’ said Lil with a smirk. She was toying with me and I’d play along.

‘The country not the shop you ninny.’

Lil cackled.

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‘We then drove up to the West Hill and went for a lovely walk across its expanse and the neighbouring streets.’

Lil made a ‘hmmm’ sound, and while she wasn’t encouraging me to continue she was at least listening and so on I went.

‘The people are so friendly and everyone says “hello” and shares a little story – ’

‘What do you mean?’ interrupted Lil.

‘Well for instance there was an unusual display in a big bay window along St Mary’s Terrace and Michael and I were pondering whether it was a shop, a home or something else. A lady appeared from next door and explained that the residents liked to have a big display window at the front of the house for passers-by to appreciate. She also said that it used to be a pub, hence the large display window at the front. We wished each other a happy Easter and carried on our walk.’

‘Hmmmm. I see,’ said Li. I’m not sure Lil was enjoying my story much as it didn’t involve her. Her face changed and she looked happier as her breakfast arrived.

‘Shall I continue?’ I asked. Lil nodded, head down as she salted her steaming plate.

‘We then went to Val’s house.’

‘Is she the author?’ asked Lil.

‘Yes, and she lives on the West Hill. We enjoyed drinks and a vegetarian feast.’

‘With a sausage?’ Lil asked and let out an enormous cackle.

‘No sausages Lil thank you very much. After a fine night’s sleep we left Val and took the West Hill Funicular down to the Old Town and walked along the seafront to St Leonards. There is a massive block of flats on the front called Marine Court which is built to look like a ship from the beach. We walked onto the beach and I asked Michael if he thought it looked like a ship and he said “no” and that was that.

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St Leonards has a very upandcoming young artist vibe, perhaps akin to Dalston about ten years ago. We had coffee in a delightful small gallery.

“Two Americanos please. Do you have skimmed milk?” I’d asked.

“No we don’t, sorry,” the young server dressed like a Hackney boy with a chequered quilted jacket and floppy hair had answered.

“Semi-skimmed then.”

“We don’t have that either.”

After I’d said that full milk would have to do the server had exclaimed “Oh no.” and had clutched his hands over his mouth.

“Please don’t tell me you’ve no milk,” I’d asked.

“I’ve got milk, but I just realised the guy I just served asked for soya milk and I gave him normal milk. What if he’s allergic?” the server continued.

“Well at least you have some milk,” I’d said. The server hadn’t looked best pleased at my lack of compassion for the poor man who was probably lying in the street clutching his throat.’

‘Well you could have shown a little more empathy Boulevardier,’ said Lil and chortled with a subterranean tone.

‘Hmmmm.’ I moved on with my story. ‘The curiosity and antique shops are amazing Lil. Think of Camden Lock Market 15 years ago. I actually said so to one of the owners and she’d said it was what they were going for. Despite this she didn’t have a decent antique gravy boat and my hunt continues.

We checked into the Swan House, a beautiful Bed and Breakfast in the Old Town and after resting, and looking in more Curiosity Shops, despite Michael suggesting that I’d looked in plenty, we went to Webbes, a fish restaurant on the front with Val for dinner –‘

‘Why did you meet her again? I thought you’d seen her the previous day,’ Lil said as she put down her cutlery with a clank.

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‘We did but we were also having dinner on the Saturday evening too. The restaurant is lovely – ’

‘How old is she again?’ interrupted Lil.

‘Early sixties I think. Why?’

‘I don’t understand why you had to go away at Easter…’ Lil faded away.

I’d pushed my stories too far. I did have something for Lil and I’d left it too long in presenting her with it. I reached into my manbag and pulled out a copy of VG Lee’s Always You Edina and pushed it across the table.

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‘Val asked me to give you a copy of her latest novel Lil.’

Lil picked up the book and looked at the cover. She looked up at me and asked ‘How does she know who I am?’

‘She reads my blog Lil.’

‘Then she doesn’t really know as you have a tendency to extend the truth.’

‘Michael always says I exaggerate stories,’ I said.

‘He sounds sensible. Perhaps I’ll meet him,’ said Lil.

Lil pursed her lips, put the book down and took out her reading glasses. She opened the first couple of pages and read a few lines and smiled. She then immediately put the book down again, but carefully, by the side of her bag and looked at me.

‘What is that silly flouncy item around your neck?’

‘It’s a spring scarf,’ I said.

‘Is it new?’

‘Yes, I got it in Hastings. Don’t you like it?’

‘Humph! Did VG help you choose it?’

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Arty Farty Lovey!

A good Boulevardier, however displaced, still views the arts as the air he breaths, and as such, I’m pleased to report a recent few days full of such activity.

I attended Boy George’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre earlier in the year when he trialled some new music. He mentioned that he would be doing some more concerts later in the year once the new album was released, and that is how I found myself at Koko, formally Camden Palace.

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It was a rather cold evening which is expected in November, but still a little disappointing. Dressing for a concert is never easy as there will invariably be queuing outside, but you want to be able to remove outer layers as the auditorium heats up, without either resembling the Michelin man, queuing for the cloakroom or having them all draped over your arm. I settled on punk zip black and white trousers with a half denim half jersey jacket (sleeves are jersey), desert boots and a long woolly scarf. The scarf kept me warm when queuing and could be tied around my midriff once inside the venue. I hope you are impressed with my foresight and practicality! I bumped into a few people I knew in the queue and was able to gossip the wait to enter away.

Once inside I purchased a warming and revitalising large red wine and looked for my friend Tony who was there with his brother. Camden Palace really is an amazing building. It was originally a theatre built in the early 20th century and became a music venue in the late 1970s. It hosted legendary nights by Steve Strange, and Madonna’s first UK gig. My first visit was in the late 1980s when it was a busy and innovative nightclub. We went for a friend’s birthday. The main area which had previously accommodated the theatre stalls was now a vast dance floor. The upper levels containing all the boxes were areas to sit, dance and drink. I am pretty sure there was also a massive inflatable pink pig which hung from the ceiling but this could have been the effects of the large quantities of sherry consumed.

The venue has been overhauled since my first visit but still retains a lot of charm, character and the essence of a theatre. The warm-up band came on and other friends of Tony arrived and I had the chance to meet the lovely, gorgeous and fun Fiona, Monique and Emma. We stayed together for the entire concert and danced, laughed, clapped and whooped at all the appropriate moments.

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Boy George was excellent. His voice has matured and sounds very different to the earlier Culture Club records. I like both. He looked great and oozed style from the stage and peppered his performance with witty (and sometimes slightly bitchy) quips. This is Boy George after all. The new tracks sounded great among the classics such as Church of the Poison Mind, Karma Chameleon, and Bow Down Mister.

The concert was all too soon over and we were on a high. It was a great time for further chat and to catch up with other friends I had seen in the queue earlier.

The following evening I was due to meet Tony again as we had purchased tickets to see Ferret Up The Arts starring Miss Eve Ferret with Hazel O’Connor and a couple of other performance artists. This was held at The Arts Theatre in the West End. After a day’s work I quickly preened and re-quiffed my hair and journeyed to central London to meet Tony for a drink before the show. We tripped down the outside steps to the basement which houses the private members’ Covent Garden Cocktail Club. After being validated at the entrance as worthy patrons we entered the dimly lit, atmospheric bar full with West End trendsetters and Boulevardiers. These however, didn’t look displaced.

Cocktails were two for one on a Monday evening and it would have been rude not to partake. We enjoyed several ‘London Calling’ which were gin, Fino Sherry, bitters with a strip of orange zest for garnish soaked glasses, at a high bistro style table. Even the route to the conveniences was signed by Old Gin Street. It is a secret haven and a great modern speakeasy hidden from tourists in the West End.

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The show was a powerhouse of Eve Ferret’s quirky brilliance. Eve called it a Fabaret and it certainly had her stamp all over it. A mixture of song, dance and anecdote where peignoirs are once again the height of fashion (as long as they’re nylon according to Eve), mange tout are scattered at the audience like confetti, as a life size child doll is passed by Eve to crowd surf. Hazel O’Connor joined Eve on stage for several numbers, which was a real treat. Hazel finished with Will You. Her voice still holds the melancholy tune and it was inspirational to hear her sing it in a smaller venue, having already enjoyed her at Chillfest in the summer. Crazy Horses with Hobby-horses as props was genius.

This is what theatre really should be about – live cabaret steeped in tradition and talent, brought up-to-date. It hits you between the eyes and makes you sing along, laugh out loud and jump from your seat to applaud louder at the end of each number.

We had bumped into a couple of other friends; Jon and Paul, who seemed to have consumed a few more cocktails than Tony and I and we chatted with them in the upstairs bar after the show when all the performers (aside from Hazel who had an early recording session the following day) came to say hello. Eve is as engaging and witty in person as she is on stage a true West End diva. High on the evening, and after another drink, we said our goodbyes and travelled back to our various corners of London totally sated.

So the next day, fortunately not working, I awoke in my cold bedroom, lit a fire and climbed back into bed with a warming, revitalising cup of Assam tea and decadently watched the flames jump as they warmed the room. All Tuesdays should be days for just staying in bed, don’t you think?

TNW

Phone box of my youth

Change is always in the air, and as we mature there are more layers of transformation to observe.

When I lived in Hackney in the mid to late 1990s regeneration was in the early stages of gestation. I lived on Richmond Road, overlooking London Fields. As I walked along Richmond Road to Mare Street I would pass Flowers East Gallery, and an old factory, which became derelict while I lived there.

There was a group of shops at the Mare Street/Richmond Road junction among which was a newspaper shop, Hair By Byron (Greek barber called Vic), a rundown off licence (selling more special brew than anything), and a builders’ café.

Now the area is unrecognisable with high blocks of offices and flats with beautiful cafes and shops below. The factory and Byron are long gone.

Sometimes however, it’s not just areas that disappear and alter beyond recognition, but parts of our heritage. The change is slow and sometimes we don’t notice until something is gone. Perhaps even several years later we ponder ‘What happened to…?’

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Libraries for one are reducing in number and a recent report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport tells us that the proportion of adults using them has fallen from 48% to 36%. How long before they become defunct, empty and destitute?

How about the humble British telephone box?

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The iconic red boxes started to disappear from our streets as far back as 1985 when BT announced modernisation and redesign. They are no longer being modernised or iconic but disappearing. The availability of mobile telephones has rendered them more redundant. Many sit derelict, vandalised and unused.

Recently while I waited for a friend outside Camden underground station I noticed two telephone boxes, side by side, keeping each other company as everyone walked by them, and didn’t even notice they were there.

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I kept focussed on the phone boxes to see if any of the multitudes of brightly coloured pedestrians even noticed or acknowledged their existence. After a few minutes a solitary, rather desperate looking, middle-aged woman went into one and attempted to make a call but was soon out to try the other. She left that swiftly too and I had to deduce that both were ‘out of service’.

These phone boxes, booths, kiosks or whatever you prefer to call them were once the centre of society. Everyone knew where their nearest was. They played a key role in social planning and events. People planned to call or to be called at a public telephone at set times so as not to miss each other. There was not the modern convenience of being able to call, and reach your friends, family and business acquaintances at will.

The mind is an odd contraption and it’s bizarre how memories are triggered. Thinking of telephone boxes in Camden took me right back to my youth…

In the Hertfordshire village, Flamstead, where I grew up there were two phone boxes. One was adjacent to the combined Post Office/grocer’s store and the second was directly outside my childhood home.

Our boundary was a privet hedge and gates across the driveway. Beyond that was a grass verge with a phone box situated on the corner. The grass verge wasn’t part of our property but Dad always mowed the grass when he cut our own. He reasoned that he didn’t want the verge to look unkempt as it affected the street side vista of our home. He would also park his van on the grass verge to keep a vehicle off the street, particularly as we lived on a sharp corner.

The phone box presented a challenge. It had been there for a significant number of years and long before the roads were so full of cars. Vehicles would frequently park directly outside the box creating a hazard, or worse, blocking our driveway. Mum acted as a great sentry and would charge out when she spotted the vehicle and demand that the vehicle be moved immediately. On a few occasions several callers actually pulled into the drive which generated a similar, if not even more, strident response.

Eventually my parents made representations to the local Council to have it removed. The response was disappointing and the letter confirmed that Trowley Hill was a public highway and unless there were yellow lines present vehicles may park at will. Our corner was not considered in need of yellow lines. Further representations concerning common courtesy and blocking points of access fell on deaf ears.

That said, Mum would also go out armed with a dustpan, brush, dishcloth (as long as it could go straight in the bin after as it wasn’t welcome back in the home after servicing the box), polish and duster to ensure that the phone box had the same level of sheen as our home.

I asked her why she would expend energy cleaning a public telephone box. She replied

‘I am not having that filthy thing outside our house!’

She would also collect stray one and two pence coins and deposit them in the charity box in the aforementioned village Post Office.

I guess it was a love-hate relationship.

Many of the village inhabitants also used the phone box and quite often there would be groups of my friends making calls to whomever. I even received a phone call once from an admirer asking if I was at home. I had no idea she was calling from the telephone box outside my house!

Do you remember your own phone box experiences? Ask anyone under 35 when they last used a phone box, and if they even know where their nearest is. I sadly now don’t know where my nearest is, or when last I used it. They are indeed confined to the past, but that doesn’t mean we should forget them and this blog shall serve as my homage to a disappearing but vital part of our social and communications past.

TNW

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

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       

Markets of my youth

With the sun comes nostalgia. That’s seems to be the natural order of things in my world anyway…

I spent last Sunday afternoon in Camden, and had a fantastic time catching up with a good, longstanding friend. We shopped some, and I got a jacket, I had coveted for a long time. Losing weight last year meant I felt I could wear this style of jacket which is a fantastic feeling. But Camden itself has changed, and it got me thinking about the Camden of my youth and the cremated Kensington Market affectionately called Kenny Market and I wanted to share my ode to wonderful inspiring unique places, which are unfortunately long gone.

I first found Kensington Market in the mid 1980s. I was a teenage gothic punk and Kenny Market was a Mecca for those searching for punk central. The market was contained within a 3 storey terraced building along Kensington High Street between the underground station and Kensington Gardens. All the stalls were within individual cubical like structures, with walkways in between. Once inside it felt cavernous, magical and mystical. It was impossible to navigate your way systematically, and so it was better to drift and breathe deep the treasures on offer. The treasures were a combination of shoes, belts, jackets, trousers, t shirts, tops, chains and whips, which were sandwiched between record, poster and accessory stalls. There was also a splattering of tattoo, piercing and hairdressers. There were from memory a couple of random cowboy shops selling cowboy boots, jackets and shirts. It was a labyrinth, but wherever you were there was a waft of patchouli, and loud thumping punk music. It was divine, and a vast difference from the sleepy Hertfordshire village I grew up in.

My parents took the stance of buying clothing staples and a little more, and expected me buy any additional items myself from Saturday job savings. They also assessed that ‘fashion’ items were more expense and of a lower quality! Blah blah blah! I am sure we all heard that at some point. There was, however, an advantage to buying from my own resources, as neither parent particularly liked my punk stage, and really couldn’t object too strongly when I was buying the items from my own, hard earned cash reserves.

I bought so many items from Kenny Market over the years, and fondly remember two in particular. I had coveted a black suede jacket with tassels and silver buckles for quite some time. They were £65 which was a lot of money in 1985! I looked at them on every visit to the market, flicked the tassels lovingly, and had tried several on. I would stare at myself in the mirrors longing for the time when the jacket would be mine to take home. I saved and saved and eventually had enough spare cash to splash out. I was so excited, and would have easily bought the first one I saw, but instead savoured the moment and tried them on in several stalls. They were in essence all the same, but that didn’t matter, as I knew that was the day when I would be taking one home, and it filled me with ecstasy. I buckled relatively quickly and handed over the cash and kept the jacket on. I walked around the market for the rest of the day with my head very high, and trying to look, and act cool. This was easier said than done as I really longed to shimmy my tassels at anyone who walked past me, whereas I needed to look as if I had thrown ‘this old thing on’! I never felt so ‘part of the crowd’ as a gothic punk more than that day at Kenny Market.

The second item was a little discovery. It was a black suit style jacket which had been shortened in length so it fell to the waist rather than the thighs. The sleeves were also rolled back to the mid forearm which allowed for a brilliant display of bangles and bracelets (also the necessary attire of any goth). What was so brilliant about this second jacket was that no one else in my small part of Hertfordshire had one and it made me feel very original. I wore it to the village pub where I where it was not received quite as well. My excitement waned, but I had to remember, I was the only punk in the village!

Kenny Market was demolished in the early naughties and I still can’t believe it’s gone. It only exists now in the memories of its sellers and patrons. I look back so fondly on the many weekends and school holidays I spent there immersing in a true London scene.

Camden Market still exists fortunately. Well I say fortunately as in it still physically exists despite its enormous metamorphosis. I started going to Camden Market at the same time as Kenny Market, and for the same reasons. Camden Market was much smaller in the 1980s and mainly consisted of the structured market area near to the tube station. The lock and all its offshoots were not yet conceived. Each stall within the market had very different and unique items, yet affordable. Many new designers had stalls to try and sell, and market their upcoming collections. It was really exciting and a psychedelic colour splash. The market gathered in popularity and unfortunately seemed to implode within its own commercial development. Gone were the new designers, and in their stead were rows and rows of endless, copy, uniform leather jackets. I actually stopped going to Camden Market in the 1990s as to me it had lost its way, and I could get the same leather jackets at any market, and didn’t need to go to Camden. Not that I wanted one you have to understand.

Fortunately, over time, it found its way back to its roots, and as the market areas sprawled then the original sellers reappeared with their unique brand of London in the newer areas. It birthed Proud Galleries as a magnificent music and arts venue. By 2000 Camden had found it’s cool again, while remaining exceptionally busy.

As I stated at the start of this entry I went to Camden Market last weekend. This was the first time in a year, and was really overall really disappointed. It seems to have evolved, or should I devolved again! There is so much, to be frank, tat suffocating the real roots and creativity of Camden! A lot of the designers seem to have moved to Hoxton and trebled their prices in the process. The few original and inspiring sellers left are being suffocated out by cheap copies and real tourist trap rubbish. Come on Camden! Get your act together!

My one purchase of pride, however, is a military parade drummer jacket in black and silver which I have wanted for years. I did not feel the same sense of excitement as when I got the tassel jacket years earlier in Kenny Market, but I am older, wiser, and less prone to sudden dramatic outpourings! I also enjoyed a jug of Pimms with a good friend so all was not lost.

Where are the new and up and coming markets where you can still buy new, innovative and unique items? If you know please share with me… I promise to keep your secret!

TNW