There’s lots of stuff happening in the world. People are starving, economies are collapsing, my brother’s writing about Kelly Clarkson but when you’re in London, there’s only one thing they care about and her name is Amy Winehouse. Though the singer passed away over a week ago now, which makes her death positively ancient by news standards (particularly in Generation Twitter), you literally cannot get away from her. It seems that the performer who was larger than life has become even bigger in death, filling the pages of every newspaper from The Financial Times to the Evening Standard with that wicked smile and those fluttering fake eyelashes.
For a fan, that makes this whole thing even worse. Winehouse’s two solo records have suddenly gone front and centre in every store. And sitting here drinking coffee in Camden Market, the jazzy belle’s former stomping ground where every second stall has become a makeshift shrine and she’s spoken about in reverential tones, the truth becomes frighteningly clear: Amy Winehouse isn’t coming back.
I’ve been attracted to Winehouse’s voice for as long as I can remember, and always used to argue with people who said she was more of a showpony than a legitimate talent. George Michael was right when he said we’ve lost the songwriter of a generation, and ‘Stronger Than Me’, the first song on Amy’s first album, should put any doubts to rest in that regard. For a start, there’s absolutely no mistaking how much the very young artist understood her pipes and how to use them. There’s more interesting intonation in this track than most retro-pop starlets entire back catalogue, and that includes current world-dominator and Winehouse fan, Adele. If you listen, and I mean really listen, you’ll hear all the phrasing and jazzy inflections that earned her accolades before she started making headlines. It’s astonishing and gives even more weight to the songwriting, which cleverly blends hip hop with soul. That beat comes from Salaam Remi, who you may have noticed OAD believe is one of the most massively underrated producers in modern music. It sits beneath Winehouse as she swoops up to those gorgeously nasal high notes that I previously only associated with Fran Drescher on ‘The Nanny’. It’s all happening in these three minutes.
As previously mentioned, when I discovered Frank two years after Back To Black, it became an instant favourite, and god knows it doesn’t resonate more now. On the advice of a local shopkeeper, I trudge through the rain past The World’s End pub to Camden Square, where Winehouse lived out her final days. The fans have taken over the area, scrawling messages of love across trees, footpaths, rubbish bins and council signs. Most of it quotes lyrics from her debut and it’s actually stunning how much of it there is, in multiple languages from all over the world creeping out of cracks, snaking around bark, laminated against the rain and the elements. A lot of it is in permanent marker, etched in with knives or spray-painted. The council will never be able to clean it all up. But then I think maybe that’s the point.
Sent from J’s iPhone at Camden Markets, London.
Amy Winehouse – ‘Stronger Than Me’