- 23 Jul 21
10 years ago today, Amy Winehouse died, aged 27. To mark her anniversary, we're revisiting her classic interview with Phil Udell – originally published in Hot Press in 2004, following the release of her debut album, Frank.
Meeting Amy Winehouse in person is quite an experience. She’s very different to what you imagine, much smaller and with a broad London accent that bears no relation to her smoky jazz singing voice.
With her hair piled up on her head and decked out in a hip-hop style tracksuit, she also cuts a very different figure to the one that will appear that evening on the Late Late Show in a barely there dress that will send the RTE cameramen into a spin and even cause fellow guest Juliet Turner to raise an eyebrow.
In the past, Winehouse has been a little reticent as to the merits of debut album Frank, although today she is a touch more positive.
“I was trying to make a straight beat driven jazz album, which I achieved on certain songs, but I think it got mixed up and blended a bit….” she pauses for a second, “…I learnt a lot from making the first album."
Would she have liked it to have been less varied and more focused? She nods.
“That’s why I hope I’ll get the chance to make more albums in my life. I’m proud of Frank, I’m so proud of the time in my life that it represented but for now, I want to do something amazing. I really want to challenge and push myself."
Was there a point in her life when she realised she had a talent?
“I thought that everyone could sing. I never thought it was an odd thing, just that everybody in the world could sing and my mum was just unlucky. I didn’t realise that I had anything special, even when I was at stage school. I realised that I was a good singer but I thought I’d be a comedienne or an actress. I never thought I would make money out of music even though I knew it would always be the main focus of my life and the greatest joy. I still don’t think I have anything special, there’s a million girls like me – it’s just that I’ve been given a massive opportunity."
That opportunity came in the form of Brilliant Management, who spied her singing for a jazz band at the age of sixteen and approached her – not that she was swept away by it all.
“I didn’t trust them. They’d looked after Billie [Piper] and I thought they were going to make me sing shit. I think Billie was lucky with the songs she got to sing; ‘Honey To The B’ was cool. She’s a lovely girl; if I didn’t know her I’d probably hate her. She’s a smart girl; she’s a great actress and a wicked dancer."
Having headed off on that particular tangent, she returns to the matter in hand.
“They told me that they’d help me make entirely the record that I wanted to make. I thought they’d get the pop writers in and change it, put on some cheesy beats and then I would have killed myself. A year and a half in I finally believed them and signed the management deal."
Winehouse remained similarly unfazed while the whole record company negotiations were going on.
“I was just writing songs from my heart like I always have and always will. I didn’t think about people hearing them, I just wrote what I would like to hear a girl singer sing. I’m a real girly girl but when it comes to music I’m a real serious person, it’s the most important thing in my life. I’m proud and strong willed. There is no point in compromising yourself."
The writing side of her work is obviously hugely important to her, and mention of her Ivor Novello Award nomination brings forth a huge grin.
“I love lyrics that twist things. When I write a song it’s usually because I’ve got to a point where I go ‘what am I going to do, I’m fucked, I got to write a song’. I always try and put a kick into them because when I listen back to those songs when I’m sixty I don’t ever want to think that I was a depressed and fucked up seventeen year old. I want to think I handled it well, didn’t create too much of a drama. The songs that I love are when you expect one thing and they say the other. I love being surprised and I try and do that myself, flip things at the end."
It’s something that marks her out from the rest of the young jazz pack, most of whom seem to happy to bash out ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ and the like.
“I still do jazz standards but one thing I never do is stick with the same arrangements. You don’t do a Frank Sinatra thing exactly the same as Nelson Riddle did it, that’s boring. No offence to people, I don’t have the musicianship that Jamie Cullum has, but I could have made his album in a week."
She recoils in horror at what she’s just said.
“Actually, Jamie’s cool, it’s more other people. I’m not trying to represent jazz because I’m not a good enough musician. With this album, it was just all the jazz I’d ever heard coming out of me my way. I’m not an old woman, I’m a young girl and it’s important to me to be of my time. I wouldn’t say I’m a great singer but I would pride myself that I’m different."
Different she certainly is. Frank is a striking record, one that is sexy, funny and incredibly personal, something that Amy is keenly aware of.
“It’s a very brave thing to expose yourself with your music. There are certain songs that I do in the gigs and I want to die afterwards. I can’t sing a song unless I put myself in that frame of mind, unless I’m thinking about that man, about what he did to me, how I made it hard for him and how young and naive I was. They make me sad those songs. ‘You Sent Me Flying’ in particular really gets to me. It’s important for me to be emotionally connected to my music but it’s draining, it really is, but in a good way."
Then it’s time to go, but not before Amy leans forward to impart one more insight into her life.
“This is going to sound like a right wank thing to say, but when you’re in a job when people," she pauses and glances across the lobby, “want something from you every minute of the day – not something, they want you – you have to make your time, you have to make your space."
Somehow the concept of anyone taking Amy Winehouse’s space seems unlikely.
Revisit our 2007 interview with Amy Winehouse here.