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Winehouse, Women And Song (2003)

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Posted 10 January 2019 - 08:17 AM

This was one of Amy's first promo interviews for her upcoming release of 'Frank' ...

Winehouse, women and song
The Times
October 5, 2003

She talks a great game and sings even better - but nobody escapes the rough side of Amy Winehouse's tongue. DAN CAIRNS approaches with care.

When Amy Winehouse's beloved canary died, the 20-year-old singer-songwriter from north London buried the bird in her local park, placing it in a Chanel sunglasses box. "She had to go in style," says Winehouse, who duly wrote an ode to the dead chirper (October Song), which is just one of many unusual touches on her debut album, Frank.

Winehouse insists that the bird, which she would fasten with her fierce, dark eyes while singing old standards "very slow and loud" in the bedroom they shared, died of natural causes. But after listening to Frank and its stripped-down, jazzy dissections of relationships, sexual betrayal and romantic jealousy, it is tempting to conclude that the poor thing one day saw Winehouse bearing down on her yet again and simply opted for the easy way out.

In person, as on her songs, the singer is refreshingly -indeed, recklessly - outspoken. Not for her the bland, formulaic lexicon of PR-speak. Instead, she splatters her speech with an almost heroic amount of profanities, calling the pupils who dissed her at her former school "haters", and raging against the "f***ing morons" at her label for making her include two songs on the album against her will. Like The Office's David Brent, she will let slip an outrageous remark and, seconds later, attempt to cancel it out, as if the damage done will be undone. She is not only looking her gift horse in the mouth, she is squaring up to plant a fist in its gob.

Winehouse's gift horses are, for their sins, Island Records, which snapped up the then teenager on the strength of a first demo of cover versions, and a management company that is part-owned by everyone's favourite bugbear, Simon Fuller, the svengali behind the Spice Girls. Understandably, both think Winehouse is a startling new talent, which probably explains their ability to deal with the more wayward aspects of her personality.

"All the teachers at school hated me," she says, beaming. (She was expelled from the Sylvia Young Theatre School at 15.) "And every school I've ever been to has put me on report. They'd write how you were in a lesson -with me, it was like, 'Came into the classroom with a safety pin in her ear. Didn't want to remove it.

And then cried in front of everyone.'" She would look round at her fellow pupils, she says, and think: "'Everyone's working, they're not trying to talk on the phone or anything. What's wrong with them?'"

Talking is, of course, what Winehouse does from dawn to dusk, and probably beyond.

It is her means of expressing things, for sure, but it's also how she works out the stuff in her head. There is no edit button. She speaks as she finds.

At school, this resulted, predictably, in mayhem. After Sylvia Young, she went to an all-girls secondary in north London, where the uniform was brown. She likens the massing of girls at the school gates each morning to "300 brown turds" arriving at once.

On record, Winehouse's verbal scatter gun finds its targets with deadly

More often than not, they are feckless former beaux -on Stronger Than Me, she queries bitchily of a passive boyfriend, "Are you gay?" -or women behaving in ways of which Winehouse despairs. The latter are picked off mercilessly on F*** Me Pumps, a song about women of a certain age hitting the town in their no mistake shoes.

"Some women think they're validated by a wedding ring, or having a rich boyfriend," she says. "But they're not things you should strive for. So it's about those kinds of girls. But there's so many bitches out there, I can't take it." A pause. "No, I'm all for girls being together. But I'm a bitch, what can I say?" Another pause. "No, I'm not a bitch. Not all the time."

She is, in case you hadn't guessed, a mass of contradictions, of unruly emotions at war with one another. So far, so singer - songwriter, you might say. Except that there is the small matter of her singing.

It is no exaggeration to state that the voice with which Winehouse articulates this mental warfare is one of the most extraordinary to be heard in pop music for years. A cracked, racked husk that will one moment coo at the object of her affection, the next emit a caustic rasp at the target of her scorn, it harks back to Billie Holiday in its emotional vulnerability, to Joni Mitchell when it eases through the octaves, and to Macy Gray as it lays bare its owner's feelings.

Yet the songs this voice sings are up to the minute. In partnership with Salaam Remi, the former Fugees, Nas and Ms Dynamite collaborator, Winehouse has channelled an adolescence immersed in jazz, soul and hip-hop into a beguiling hybrid that, in the debts it owes, drops all the right musical names of yesteryear, but simultaneously manages to sound thrillingly new. No wonder Island pricked up its ears. But Fuller?

"I don't know him," Winehouse says, and then backtracks: "I've met him twice. But I wouldn't sign for a year because I was convinced they would say something like, 'You can completely make the album you want to make,' and then, as soon as I'd signed, go, 'Right, this is Simon, he's going to style you, he's going to give you a permatan and hair like his.'" She can't stop herself. "He looks," she adds, "like a Ken doll. He's practically shining, that's how plasticated he is. No, not really. Actually, I thought he was Paul Young when I met him."

If she talks like this about her allies and benefactors, then heaven help her enemies. One particular boyfriend is on the receiving end on Take the Box, in which Winehouse visits her former lover to collect her belongings and leave a few bittersweet mementos in a cardboard box.

"When I wrote that," she recalls, "I smashed up everything in my room. There was nail varnish down the walls. I gave him the box, then I came back and wrote the song. And I was fine."

She says this so convincingly, you hesitate to point out that her anger seems still very present in the room. "Being a musician and a singer," she says, "there is always going to be something in me that is completely twisted, f***ed up and sad. But I don't want to be stuck in a room where all I ever do is write: lie there and cry and then write a song. Mind you, I might have to do that for the next album."

It's not all point-scoring. On What Is It About Men?, she twists the statement and observes: "My destructive side has grown a mile wide." And on You Sent Me Flying, she lets rip with a burst of such unbridled optimism and romantic euphoria that you understand why her disappointment with its flipside is so severe.

Frank is about to send Amy Winehouse flying. It is a staggeringly assured, sit-up-and-listen debut, both commercial and eclectic, accessible and uncompromising, the kind of record that people will still be playing far into the future. Its creator is going to be a star. Watch her soar, like, well, a canary.

And watch her tear a strip off anyone fool enough to question her methods: her on-report days are well and truly over.

Frank is out on Island Records on October 20.

  • weloveyouamy likes this
Amy, if you are up there listening, thank you for sharing the incredible soundtracks of your life ...

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