Her third album isn’t due till 2011 but we're still fascinated
When the invitation to see Amy Winehouse at a very hush-hush location arrived last week, I wasn’t sure what to think. After all, this was not your average secret gig – even Winehouse’s management were unaware it was happening, and it was being described as an ‘album launch warmup’, although her label maintains there is no new material due until 2011. At first, I doubted she would even turn up, let alone perform, but my instincts told me it was a chance worth taking.
As I walked down the steps of City Burlesque in Farringdon into the small main space, there was singing in the air, but of an altogether burlier tone than I was expecting. Slightly disoriented, I turned around to see Amy’s father, Mitch, running through the soundcheck – it turned out that Winehouse Senior was officially topping tonight’s bill. I asked a nearby punter if Amy really was due to perform, but before he had a chance to reply, from across the room rang a familiar female voice. ‘I love your jacket,’ she said, ‘You’re lovely!’
And there she was. She was dressed more traditionally than normal, her hair piled into the classic Winehouse bouffant but her face less heavily made up than in photographs, and she seemed more self-composed than I’d expected. I still didn’t know if she’d be playing, but, hey, at least she was here. Winehouse was quick to break the ice, and asked my name. I thought it was only polite to ask hers. She rolled her eyes in mock petulance, saying ‘Oh God, everyone asks me that. My name is Amy.’
She then took my hand and dragged me off for a walk. There is a genuine warmth to Winehouse that confounds the popular image of her as a pressphobic bruiser. She’s clearly in her element getting to know new people, appearing to be both at ease and alert. How many pop stars, for instance, would insist on giving you a nickname within a few minutes of meeting you? (‘Can I call you Twos? ’Cos there’s two twos in your name, innit.’)
In time-honoured naughtyschoolgirl fashion we were soon out on the fire escape smoking cigarettes. As we sat side by side on the concrete steps, Winehouse spoke of her lifelong passion for jazz, which soundtracked her teenage years, and took the opportunity to fuel a friendly feud with her grandmother. ‘Me and my nan are always arguing about Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra,’ she said. ‘You see, I like Bennett, I think he’s the best ever. But my nan, she likes Sinatra. I was sat in my nan’s kitchen and said to her “Oh my God, nan, Tony Bennett was playing today and I’ve missed him!” My nan shrugged and said, “So what? It’s only Tony.”’
By this time, Winehouse had had a couple of beverages, and although there wasn’t a full-on stagger in evidence, I had my concerns about the performance she was about to give. But her dad was up first with an acceptable set of Rat Pack standards. Winehouse Junior eventually took to the stage in typically (in this case, literally) scene-stealing fashion, wrestling the mic out of her father’s hands. Father and daughter sang together briefly, before Amy struck out on her own. I wouldn’t say she blew me away, but as she sat on the edge of the drums and sang softly, she did remind the audience of what it was that made her a star.
Her confidence has grown and her delivery has definitely improved since those infamously troubled and much-YouTubed wilderness gigs. And, despite the odd flaky moment, this was recognisably Amy Winehouse the singer, rather than Amy Winehouse the tabloid soap. Of course, I may be biased, as Winehouse dedicated the last song of her set, a freewheeling version of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, to me.
As she left the stage, we spoke about her long-awaited third album. Amy was confident about being in a productive phase. ‘I’m actually writing some of the songs again,’ she said. ‘I’m going for quality over quantity. It’ll be heavily jazz-influenced again. I’m probably gonna have ten to 12 tracks maximum. I wrote four tracks the other day, but threw them all away in the end ’cos I didn’t like them.’
With that she leaned forward, gave me a hug and disappeared into the night. We’re still none the wiser about exactly when the new album will arrive, but one thing’s for sure: she’s all right, that Amy.