- 27 Oct 22
16 years ago today, Amy Winehouse released her iconic second and final studio album, Back to Black. Produced by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, the LP has since been regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time, earning numerous awards and selling millions of copies worldwide. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Winehouse's classic interview with Stuart Clark – originally published in Hot Press in 2007.
There are old interviews that feel like a window into another world. They can be insightful, informative and nostalgic all at once. Reading them can be a real buzz. And then there are those that have a different impact entirely.
Interviewers can have all sorts of diverse reactions to the artists and celebrities they meet. Sometimes, you know that you are dealing with a facade, and the implicit challenge is: 'Go on, break it down if you can'. On occasion, the character that's wheeled out proves to be far less interesting than you might have imagined, and you're left with the feeling that you might as well have been talking to a robot – and not always a very intelligent robot either.
But there are other occasions where the opposite is the case. The person you are talking to is natural, open and vulnerable. They rise in your estimation. That's how it was with Amy Winehouse when she was interviewed by Stuart Clark for Hot Press. Which makes reading this old Hot Press cover story again all the more heart-breaking. She seemed to be in a good place at the time. It is, definitively, the best way to remember Amy Winehouse...
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What a difference two months makes. When Hot Press last met Amy Winehouse in December, she was drinking neat vodka like Smirnoff, Absolut and Vladivar were going out of fashion and slurring her way through – oh, delicious irony – ‘Rehab’ on Tubridy Tonight.
“It wasn’t great, was it,” she winces.
“Do you know if it’s on YouTube?”
I had a look-see the other day and it wasn’t.
“Thank God for that! I’ve knocked the drink on the head a bit ‘cause I was starting to feel like a freak show – y’know, ‘Let’s stick the telly on and see how pissed Amy Winehouse is’.”
Did the record company have a word in her shell-like?
“Nah, it’s something I worked out for myself,” she insists. “‘What do you want to be known for, girl, singing good songs or being pissed all the time?’ I’ve not turned into Sting or anything, but it’s nice to be taken a little bit seriously.”
It’s two hours before she’s due to perform at the Meteor Awards and the 23-year-old is soberer than the one judge I’ve met (remind me to tell you the story sometime). Given the freedom of the Four Seasons bar, she’s opted for a pot of tea and a glass of finest Dublin tap water.
Believe what you read in the tabloids, and Winehouse is not only a lush but also a stroppy mare. The latter of those myths is exploded when a little girl in a bridesmaid’s dress walks over and asks if her mummy can take a photo of them together.
“Of course sweetheart. Ain’t you pretty!”
It’s a rare light-hearted moment in what’s becoming an increasingly manic schedule for the Londoner. To make the Meteors happen, Amy had to cancel a day of press in Holland. France wants her over yesterday, and following an ecstatically-received New York showcase, America would like to have her there ‘til Christmas. Literally. Her P.R. man, a veteran of Metallica’s Black Album and U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb campaigns, is genuinely gobsmacked by how quickly things are taking off.
“It has been a bit mental recently,” Amy agrees, “but in a good way. I got to do the Norwegian equivalent of Parkinson the other day, which was like a surreal dinner party. There was the host, a comedienne, the world’s most famous diamond cutter and me. How the fuck did that happen? I’ve got very good at not knowing what’s being said, but nodding and smiling in the right places!
“Another fun one ‘cause I got to meet Ronnie Wood at ‘em was The South Bank Awards,” she continues warming to the theme. “I was sitting on a table with Gilbert and George – I know fuck all about art but they were cool.”
Somebody described them to me once as being like Neil Tennant’s gay parents.
“There’s a bit of that, yeah. They’re sat there all reserved, and then Jarvis Cocker comes on and they’re like a couple of kids. I was at the awards with my dad who’s become a bit of a celebrity in his own right recently. (Former editor of The Face) Robert Elms has a radio show called Listed Londoner, which my dad being a cab-driver and knowing everything there is to know about the city did with me.”
I seem to remember Mr. Winehouse being Amy’s +1 at the Q Awards when she (in)famously shouted, “Shut up, I don’t give a fuck!” during Bono’s acceptance speech.
“Don’t start me off again!” she laughs mischievously. “I love having him with me at things like that, though he was a bit cheeky with the guest arrangements for The South Bank Awards.”
“Originally I invited my Dad who went, ‘Yeah, but only if I can bring my wife, Jane’, which was totally cool. Then I got to thinking, ‘Hang on, I haven’t seen my boyfriend, Alex, for ages’, so I rang him back up and said, ‘Dad, doing promotion and answering the same questions all the time is doing my nut in, so can I take my boy instead?’ I was hoping for a bit of fatherly understanding, but instead I got this rant about how they’ve got to come ‘cause Jane’s bought a new dress for it. She did look lovely though.”
Less there be any confusion, there’s a Cheshire cat grin on Amy’s face while the story is recounted.
“Him, me and the rest of the family, we’re very close,” she confirms.
According to that paragon of journalistic accuracy The Sun, the après-South Bank celebrations turned sour when Amy and a gang of friends that included Jamie Cullum and Michael Ball were ejected from The Savoy Hotel’s American Bar for singing too loudly.
“It wasn’t Jamie Cullum, but there was some guy playing jazz piano who the management asked us, very politely as it happens, to stop singing along with out of respect to the soberer clientele. There was no ‘booting out’ or being sent to my room like a naughty girl like was reported in the papers though. I felt bad ‘cause there were people trying to drink their drinks and talk to each other, and there’s me doing a crap version of I dunno what. I’m loud, but not in a showy-off sort of way.”
The next time Winehouse will be getting ballgowned-up is for the Brit Awards, which happen to fall this year on Valentine’s Day. Would she consider herself a romantic?
And she’s not shy about discussing this facet of her personality?
Excellent. Does she remember her first kiss?
“Ever? I was about 11 or 12 and it was with a Greek boy called Chris *¡+&*£&^%©¡ who’s gay now – I’m not sure if his mum knows, so only use his Christian name! My best friend Juliette thought I was making it up, so when my Mum picked us up from his house and we got in the car, she said, ‘Let me smell your breath.’ I went ‘haaaaah’ and she goes, ‘Oh my God, boy breath, I believe you!’
“My first kiss with Alex was lovely as well. I was in my pub playing pool and noticed him from the off when he walked in. I made him go and buy me a shot ‘cause the bar staff, who are my friends, were refusing to serve me on account of the golf ball-sized lump I had on my head from the previous night’s bad behaviour! I said to him, ‘I know you don’t know me, but will you take this two quid and get me a tequila,’ and he goes, ‘No, save your money.’ A few drinks later I was sitting on his lap and went, ‘Come outside, I want to tell you something.’ He was totally clueless as to what I had in mind, but eventually I got him outside and that’s where it happened.”
Barbara Cartland – if you weren’t dead – eat your heart out! What would Amy Winehouse’s perfect romantic day comprise of?
“The boy doesn’t get up ‘til late, so I’d start by going to the gym early on my own and raising my energy levels for what’s to come later.
“What do I work out to? The Rocky theme. No, sometimes when I’m on the treadmill I think of that music in my head, but what I actually listen to is hip-hop like Missy, Nas and Mos Def. Adrenalin pumping, it’s back to the house where I cook him breakfast, we eat and read the newspapers in bed and then have a nice, soapy bath together. Next we’d go for a walk in London, pick somewhere nice in Soho for dinner and, not too drunk, head home for some lovin’. You’re making me all tingly!”
Which is a sentence I shall cherish for the rest of my life. And would the soundtrack to all that lovin’ include one of her own songs?
“Eeeeeurrrrgh, that’s wrong on so many different levels,” she grimaces. “?uestlove did a compilation called Babies Making Babies, which is the ultimate Sunday afternoon sex album. Well, anytime sex album!”
For those who aren’t in the hip-hop know – e.g. me – ?uestlove is the nom de studio of The Roots’ Afro-sporting drummer Ahmir Khalib Thompson. He’s produced two volumes of Babies Making Babies, both of which are guaranteed to have you banging like a rattlesnake. Talking of rap royalty, what’s this I hear about Amy hobnobbing in New York with Jay-Z?
“I did two shows in New York recently – Mos Def who’s one of my all-time heroes was at the first and Jay-Z was at the second. It’s always nice to be supported by people you admire. I don’t know if it’s because of the version of ‘You Know I’m No Good’ that’s come out with Ghostface Killah on it, but a lot of the hip-hop community in America seem to know who I am.”
Although Winehouse has yet to meet Ghostface – “We were on opposite sides of the Atlantic when it was being put together” – it’s made her eager to do other collaborations.
“My ultimate would be to sing with Tony Bennett. When I was making my first record, I went to his studio ‘cause the guy I was doing some of it with, Commissioner Gordon, knew his son. He wasn’t there, but just being in his gaff made me cry – it was so embarrassing!”
53-years Bennett’s junior is Pete Doherty who’s been after Amy for the past three years.
“But only in the artistic sense,” she cackles. “He was up for doing a Billie Holiday cover, but I said, ‘Nah, that’s too obvious, let’s write something.’ We’re both as crap as each other when it comes to making plans and sticking to ‘em, but I would like to do it ‘cause he’s a very talented boy.”
What about Mr. Doherty’s darker side?
“Show me a person who hasn’t got a darker side, and I’ll call them ‘boring!’ Everyone knows he’s got his problems, but there are a lot of positives in his life as well.”
If ever I’m in need of a spin-doctor to justify my bad behaviour, the job’s hers. Part of what makes Amy Winehouse a marketing man’s dream is that she’s equally beloved of spotty indie urchins as she is noodly, beard-stroking jazz heads. Indeed, when I informed The View last week that I was interviewing her, the one who looks like a refugee from the Bay City Rollers said: “Tell Amy she’s lovely and sorry for nicking the number one album off her.” They also attempted a few bars of ‘Rehab’ at their Ambassador gig, and made a decent fist of it.
“Ah, that’s really sweet of ‘em,” she says looking genuinely touched. “Is their record good?”
“I must get it. I had a phase when I was nine when I was into all the hip indie bands like Therapy? and Sonic Youth, but now it’s old Motown, The Shangri-Las, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles… I’m an old Jewish man in my listening habits.”
Give her a Google and you’ll find that Amy is a big hit with the likes of Jewtastic, Something Jewish and Totally Jewish. Does she feel like she’s been made a poster girl for her religion?
“I’m not very Jewish in a going-to-synagogue-regularly sort of a way, but I am what’s known in Hebrew as a ba’alabusta – somebody who can’t stopping fussing over other people,” Winehouse reflects. “I’m like my Nan in that anyone coming into my house has to be fed whether they’re hungry or not. I had my first day off yesterday in I don’t know how long, and ended up cooking breakfast for the boy, lunch for my dad and early dinner for my friends. In between that, I did the cleaning.”
Winehouse stops for a second and adds wistfully: “I’ve learned more from my Mum and my Nan who passed last year, God rest her soul, than anyone else.”
How strong are her own maternal instincts?
“I definitely want to have a family, which I have this notional idea of happening when I’ve done another three albums and can take time out to be with them when they’re young. There are a lot of good working musician mums who’ll disagree with me, but I don’t necessarily think you can do both.”
Winehouse may get applauded for her honesty on this side of the Atlantic, but you fear that in the States it could be something of a liability. Take for instance her latest dissing of Bono on America Online’s Interface show, which resulted in hundreds of complaints from irate fans.
“This narcissistic, egomaniacal, self-absorbed prima donna needs to go home – we don’t need mouthy Brits here,” reads one of the less hysterical tirades.
“They’ve every right to have a go at me, as I’ve every right to have a go at Bono,” the object of their ire reasons. “I’ve never understood though why people get so upset about things that don’t really matter.”
There was another example of Amy’s willingness to put her head above the parapet last month when, asked for her thoughts on the Goody girl, she maintained: “Jade’s a scapegoat. The other two are worse. Jade is someone who will walk down the street and people will either boo or give her a hug. If I was in the house, I’d kick their heads in.”
If that’s not asking for a media mauling, nothing is.
“Of all the mad things that have happened recently, the most mental is my Dad ringing up and saying, ‘You know your cousin Meryl? Her family lives next-door to Jade Goody and Jade wants to thank you for defending her.’ I was having a right miserable day and that really cheered me up!”
Somehow you reckon that whatever life throws at her, Amy Winehouse will be able for it.