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