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Authors: Mitch Winehouse

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #music, #Personal Memoirs, #Composers & Musicians, #Individual Composer & Musician

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With more gigs, and promotional events linked to the imminent release of
Frank
, Amy wanted to start planning ahead. As the lease on her flat in East Finchley was about to expire, Janis and I sat down with her and asked her what she wanted to do. She said she'd like to buy a place rather than keep renting, and I agreed with her. A flat would be a great investment, particularly if her singing career ever went wrong. Remember those days before the recession? You could buy a flat for £250,000 one day and sell it the next for £275,000 – I exaggerate a bit, but the property market was booming.

Amy loved Camden Town and we soon found a flat there that she liked in Jeffrey's Place. It was small and needed some work, but that didn't matter because all of her favourite places were in walking distance. This was where she wanted to be and the flat had a good feel to it. To get to it, you had to be buzzed through a locked gate, which reassured Janis and me: Amy would be quite safe there. The flat cost £260,000. We put down £100,000 and took out a £160,000 mortgage, which left a good bit of money from the advances. I sat down with Amy and worked out a budget with her. All of the household bills and the mortgage would be paid out of her capital and she would have £250 a week spending money, which she was quite happy with. If she needed something in particular she could always buy it, but that didn't happen too often.

In those days Amy was quite sensible about money. She knew that she had a decent amount to live on and that we were looking after her interests. She also knew that if she developed lavish habits, her funds would soon run out. Although Amy was a signatory on her company's bank account, she wanted a safeguard put in place to ensure that she couldn't squander her money so we agreed that any cheque had to be signed by two of the signatories to the account. The signatories were Amy, Janis, our accountant and myself. It would be an effective brake, we hoped, because Amy was generous to a fault.

When it was time to put the credits together for
Frank
– who had done what on this song, who had written what on that song – in the spring of 2003, her generosity was evident again. Nick Godwyn, Nick Shymansky, Amy and I crowded round her kitchen table to sort it out – there had been a leak in the bathroom the night before and the lounge ceiling had fallen in. So much for the glamorous life. (Mind you, a year on, the place looked like a bomb had hit it.)

Nick Shymansky started off. ‘Right. How do you want to divide up the credits for “Stronger Than Me”?'

‘Twenty per cent to …' Amy began, and she'd name someone and Nick would ask her why on earth she'd want to give that person 20 per cent when all they'd done was come to the studio for an hour and suggest one word change. While it was certainly important to credit people for what they had done, and ensure that they were paid accordingly, she was giving away percentages to people for almost nothing. Amy was brilliant at maths, but I swear, if she'd had her way, she would have given away more than 100 per cent on a number of songs.

 

*   *   *

 

On 6 October 2003, three weeks prior to the release of
Frank
, the lead single, ‘Stronger Than Me', hit the shops and peaked, disappointingly, at number seventy-one in the UK charts – it turned out to be the lowest-charting single of Amy's career. When the album came out on 20 October 2003, it sold well, eventually making it to number thirteen in the UK charts in February 2004. It was also critically acclaimed, and sales were boosted later in 2004 when it was short-listed for a Mercury Music Prize, and Amy was nominated for the BRIT Awards for Best British Female Solo Artist and Best British Urban Act.

I devoured all of the reviews, and don't recall anything negative, although the hip-hop/jazz mix confused some at first. The
Guardian
wrote, ‘Sounds Afro-American: is British-Jewish. Looks sexy: won't play up to it. Is young: sounds old. Sings sophisticated: talks rough. Musically mellow: lyrically nasty.'

I thought that
Frank
, which is still my favourite Amy album, was fantastic. One of the reasons I love it is because it's about young love and innocence, and it's funny, comical and has brilliantly observed lyrics. It wasn't written out of the depths of despair. I still love listening to
Frank
and play it often. I was so proud of my little girl.

Unfortunately Amy didn't hear things quite as I did. She had mixed feelings about the final cut and complained that the record company had included some mixes that she had told them she didn't like. It was partly her fault: she'd missed a few of the editing sessions, in typical Amy fashion.

We were in the kitchen at her flat in Jeffrey's Place, having a cup of tea, and the window was open. The builders working next door turned their radio up loud and one of the songs from
Frank
was playing.

‘Shut the window, Dad, I don't want to hear that,' Amy said.

It had been on my mind for a while to ask her, so I said, ‘Were you thinking about anyone in particular when you wrote “Fuck Me Pumps”?' She shook her head. ‘There's the line … What is it? Hang on … Let me have a look at the CD. Where is it?'

‘I don't even know if I've got one, Dad.'

‘What? You haven't got a copy of your own album?'

‘No, I'm done with it. It was all about Chris, and that's in the past. I've forgotten about it, Dad. I'm writing other stuff now.'

This was news to me. I'd never seen this side of Amy, the way she could put something so deeply personal and important behind her, as if it didn't matter any more. Nevertheless, she continued to promote
Frank
, and later that year she performed at some very prestigious venues: the Glastonbury Festival, the V Festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. No matter what, her music and her family came first. But her other priorities then were like so many other girls of her age – clothes, boys, going out with her friends, her image and style – she was, after all, a woman in her early twenties.

She may have been dismissive about
Frank
but things happened with the album that made her realize it was special, like when ‘Stronger Than Me', which she'd written with Salaam Remi, won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song Musically and Lyrically. The Novellos mattered to Amy: her peers, other composers and writers voted to decide the winners. Amy went to the ceremony and rang me to tell me she'd won. I was halfway down Fulham Road, taking someone to Putney in my taxi, when she called.

‘Dad! Dad! I won an Ivor Novello!'

I was so excited but I still had to drive this chap home and finish my shift. By then it was late and I had no one to bother so I went and woke up my mum. ‘Amy's won an Ivor Novello!'

She was as pleased as I was.

One disappointment we all shared was that
Frank
wasn't initially released in America. 19 felt that Amy wasn't ready for the States. They said that you only get one shot at breaking the States and this wasn't the time, mostly because, in their view, her performance level wasn't strong enough.

Frustrating though it was, they were probably right. At this time Amy was still playing guitar onstage and 19 wanted to get the guitar out of her hands: she was always looking down at it instead of engaging with the audience. Sometimes it was as if they weren't there and she was singing and playing for her own amusement. Her voice was great, but she wasn't delivering a performance: she needed coaching in how to give the best to her audiences. Her act needed refining before she took it to the States.

They told Amy that she had to communicate with the audience and the best way to do that was to show them she was having a good time. This, though, was what she struggled with. She loved singing and playing to family and friends, but as the gigs got bigger, so did the pressure, highlighting the fact that she wasn't a natural performer. As Amy was outwardly so confident, no one imagined that inside she harboured a fear of being onstage, and that as she played in front of ever-increasing crowds, the fear didn't go away. Over time it became worse. But she was so good at concealing it that even I wasn't aware of how hard this was for her. Quite often, during a song, she'd still commit the cardinal sin of turning her back on the audience. I'd be watching and want to shout at her, ‘Speak to the audience, they love you. Just say, “Hi, how you doin'? You all havin' a good time?”'

Amy never did figure out how to deal with stage fright. While she wasn't physically sick, as some performers are, she sometimes needed a drink before she went on. Maybe even needed to smoke a little cannabis, but I don't know for sure, because she wouldn't have done that in front of me. What I certainly didn't know and, with hindsight, perhaps I should have seen the warning sign for, was that she was starting to drink a lot more than was good for her, even then.

As a teenage girl she'd suffered from a few self-esteem issues – what teenager doesn't? – but I really don't believe that was at the root of her stage fright; by the time she was performing regularly her self-esteem issues had gone. But 19 were right: she wasn't ready to go to America. Before that Amy needed to work hard on her act and it would take time. Talking to the audience and showing them she was enjoying herself came later, and even when it did, I don't think it was ever natural. To me, she always looked uncomfortable when she was doing it.

It wasn't easy to talk to her about a performance; after maybe a couple of days I could say things about what she was and wasn't doing, but I had to be careful. Amy wasn't so much strong-willed as cement-willed, and she did things her way.

As the promotional gigs continued, her management started to talk about a second album. There were still some good songs that hadn't been included on
Frank
. One in particular was ‘Do Me Good'. I told Amy that I thought it should go on the second album because it was fantastic, but she didn't think so and reminded me of something she'd told me once before: ‘That was then, Dad. It's not what I'm about now. That was written about Chris and I'm over it.'

All of Amy's songs were about her experiences and by this time Chris was firmly in the past. With him no longer relevant to her life, that made the songs about him even less relevant.

She'd started writing a lot of new material, and there could easily have been an album between
Frank
and
Back to Black
– there were certainly enough songs. But Amy didn't want to bring out an album unless the songs had a personal meaning to her, and the ones she'd written after
Frank
and before
Back to Black
didn't do it for her. She resisted the pressure from 19 to head back into the studio.

Amy and I often talked about her song writing. I asked her if she could write songs the way Cole Porter or Irving Berlin did. Those guys were ‘guns for hire' when it came to churning out great songs. Irving Berlin could get up in the morning, look out of the window and ten minutes later he'd have written ‘Isn't This A Lovely Day?'. ‘Could you do that?' I'd ask Amy.

‘Of course I could, Dad. But I don't want to. All of my songs are autobiographical. They have to mean something to
me
.'

It was precisely because her songs were dragged up out of her soul that they were so powerful and passionate. The ones that went into
Back to Black
were about the deepest of emotions. And she went through hell to make it.

5
A PAIN IN SPAIN

During the summer of 2004, in the midst of her first taste of success, Amy's regular drinking habits were worrying me – so many of her stories revolved around something happening to her while she was having a drink. Just how much, I never knew. On one occasion, she had drunk so much that she fell, banged her head and had to go to hospital. Her friend Lauren brought her from the hospital to my house in Kent and they stayed for three or four days. After they arrived, Amy went straight to sleep in her room and I called Nick Godwyn and Nick Shymansky. They came over immediately and we sat down to discuss what they were referring to as ‘Amy's drinking problem'.

We had a sense that Amy was using alcohol to loosen up before her gigs, but the others thought it was playing a more frequent role in her life. The subject of rehab came up – the first time that anyone had mentioned it. I was against it. I thought she'd just had one too many this time, and rehab seemed an overreaction.

‘I think she's fine,' I told everyone, which she later turned into a line in ‘Rehab'.

As we carried on talking, though, I saw the other side – that if she dealt with the problem now, it would be gone. Lauren and the two Nicks had seen her out drinking, and they, with Jane, were in favour of trying rehab, so I shut up.

After a while, Amy came down, and we told her what we'd been discussing. As you'd expect, she said, ‘I ain't going,' so we all had a go at changing her mind, first the two Nicks, then Lauren, then Jane and I. Eventually Jane took Amy into the kitchen and gave her a good talking-to. I don't know exactly what was said but Amy came out and said, ‘All right, I'll give it a go.'

The next day she packed a bag and the Nicks took her to a rehab facility in Surrey, just outside London. We thought she was going for a week, but three hours later she was back.

‘What happened?' I asked.

‘Dad, all the counsellor wanted to do was talk about himself,' she said. ‘I haven't got time to sit there listening to that rubbish. I'll deal with this my own way.'

The two Nicks, who had driven her home, were still trying to persuade her to go back, but she wasn't having any of it. Amy had made her mind up and that was that.

Initially I agreed with her, since I hadn't been totally convinced she needed to go in the first place. Later it came out that the clinic had told Amy she needed to be there for at least two months – I think that was what had made her leave. She might have stuck it for a week, but a couple of months? No chance. For Amy, being in control was vital and she wouldn't allow someone else to take over. She'd been like that since she was very young; it had been Amy, after all, who'd put in the application to Sylvia Young, Amy who'd got the singing gig with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and Amy who'd got the job at WENN. She'd had help, yes, but she'd done it – not Janis, not me.

Amy headed to the kitchen. ‘Who wants a drink?' she called over her shoulder. ‘I'm making tea.'

 

*   *   *

 

Frank
sold more than 300,000 copies in the UK when it was first released, going platinum within a matter of weeks. Based on sales, you would have thought Amy's career was in the ascendant, but that wasn't the case.

By the end of 2004 there wasn't much work coming in and I was beginning to think it was all over as quickly as it had started, although Amy wasn't worried and continued being out there and having a good time. The people around her seemed unaware that nothing was happening with her career and carried on treating her as if she was a big star. I guess if enough people tell you you're a big star, you come to believe it.

Only my mother could bring Amy back to earth. She didn't often have a go at her but when she did it was relentless. We were at her flat one Friday night when she told Amy, ‘Get in there. If they're finished, get everyone's plates, bring them into the kitchen and do the washing-up.' Amy wasn't happy about that, but when everyone else had left, Mum called Amy to her again: ‘Come here, you, I want to talk to you.'

‘No, Nan, no.' Amy knew what was coming. She had said something earlier that my mum had considered out of line.

‘Never let me hear you say that again. Who do you think you are?'

It did the trick. My mother was a stabilizing influence on Amy and made sure her feet were firmly on the ground. So, it was no surprise that it hit Amy hard when her grandmother fell ill in the winter of 2004. I drove round to Amy's, dreading the moment when I had to say, ‘Nan's been diagnosed with lung cancer.' When Amy opened the front door of her flat I choked out the words before we fell into each other's arms, sobbing.

Alex moved into my mum's flat in Barnet for a couple of months to be with her, and when he moved out Jane and I took his place. We wanted to make sure she was never on her own because there had been a mix-up with one of my mum's prescriptions: she had inadvertently been taking ten times the correct dose of one particular drug. It had spaced her out to such an extent that we thought the cancer must have spread to her brain. Once we discovered the mistake and rectified it, she was back to normal within a couple of days.

All of the things that you would normally associate with lung cancer didn't apply in my mum's case. She was a bit breathless so she had an oxygen machine, but other than that she was very comfortable. During the last three months of her life she actually improved – well, outwardly she did. Then one evening in May 2006 I came home to find her on the floor. She'd had a fall. She didn't appear too bad, but I called the paramedics just to be on the safe side. They took her to Barnet General Hospital, and while they were checking her over there, she looked at me and said, ‘That's it. I've had enough.'

I asked what she meant.

‘I've had enough,' she said.

I told her not to be silly, that after a good night's sleep she'd feel better and I'd be taking her home the following day.

‘I've had enough,' she repeated. And those were the last words my mother ever spoke to me. That night she fell into a coma and a day and a half later she passed away peacefully.

I felt awful because my mother had asked me to stay with her, and once she was asleep I'd gone home for a couple of hours' rest.

‘Don't be silly, Dad,' Amy said. ‘She was in a coma.'

My mother's death had an enormous impact on Amy and Alex. Alex went into a state of depression and withdrew into himself, and Amy was unusually quiet. But the depth of Amy's sorrow didn't surprise me. Five days after my mum died my friend Phil's sister Hilary got married for the first time, aged sixty, to a lovely guy called Claudio. Although we were in mourning, we felt we should go to the wedding. Jane, Amy and I went, but Alex couldn't face it. Weeks before the wedding Amy and I had been asked to sing at the reception. My wedding present to them was a pianist. I'd worked with him before so I didn't need to rehearse with him. That night I got up and sang. It was only a few days after my mum had passed away so it was difficult, but I managed it.

Then Amy got up to sing and just couldn't. She couldn't sing in front of the guests, she was too upset. Instead, she went into another room with the microphone, so the guests couldn't see her, and sang a few songs from there. Although she sounded fantastic, I could hear the pain in her voice.

‘Dad, I don't know how you could get up in front of all those people and sing,' she said to me afterwards. ‘You've got balls of brass!'

I've always been able to put my emotions to one side, but Amy couldn't. She loved singing, but I've never felt that she really loved performing.

 

*   *   *

 

After
Frank
came out, Amy would begin a performance at a gig by walking onstage, clapping and chanting, ‘Class-A drugs are for mugs. Class-A drugs are for mugs …'

She'd get the whole audience to join in until they'd all be clapping and chanting as she launched into her first number. Although Amy was smoking cannabis, she had always been totally against class-A drugs. Blake Fielder-Civil changed that.

Amy first met him early in 2005 at the Good Mixer pub in Camden. None of Amy's friends that I've spoken to over the years can remember exactly what led to this meeting. But after that encounter she talked about him a lot.

‘When am I going to meet him, darling?' I asked.

Amy was evasive, which was probably, I learned later, because Blake was in a relationship. Amy knew about this, so initially you could say that Amy was ‘the other woman'. And although she knew that he was seeing someone else, it was only about a month after they'd met that she had his name tattooed over her left breast. It was clear that she loved him – that they loved each other – but it was also clear that Blake had his problems. It was a stormy relationship from the start.

A few weeks after they'd met, Blake told Amy that he'd finished with the other girl, and Amy, who never did anything by halves, was now fully obsessed with him.

A couple of months later I saw Blake for the first time, although I didn't actually meet him then, at the Queen's Arms, in Primrose Hill, north-west London, where I'd arranged to meet Amy one Sunday lunchtime. I walked into the busy pub and saw her sitting on some fella's lap. They were kissing passionately. The pub was packed and I thought, This isn't on. I got hold of her, took her outside and gave her a piece of my mind – she shouldn't have been doing that in a public place. We had a bit of a row and Amy told me she had been kissing her boyfriend, Blake. I said I didn't care who he was, and I was about to walk off when I stopped and turned round. ‘And another thing,' I said. ‘What's with all the big hair and the makeup? Who are you meant to be?'

‘Don't you like it, Dad? It's my new look.'

I thought she'd looked nicer when she was a bit smarter, though I had to admit the look suited her, but I didn't say so then.

‘Come on, Dad, come and have a drink with us,' she said.

I was still seething so I made some excuse. It was none of my business where and whom my twenty-one-year-old daughter kissed but I've always been a bit hot-headed, especially where my kids are concerned.

 

*   *   *

 

Amy's old friend Tyler James says that he noticed a massive change in Amy when she first met Blake. To Tyler, the day Amy met Blake, she fell in love with him, and after that they wouldn't leave each other's side. He became the centre of Amy's world and everything revolved around him. Tyler told me that the first time Blake visited Amy's flat at Jeffrey's Place, he offered Tyler a line of cocaine while they were watching TV – not something that Tyler or Amy would normally have come across. Amy was, as I said, dead against class-A ‘chemical' drugs, as she called them, and while Blake was doing cocaine, Amy stuck to smoking cannabis (which led to her lyrics on ‘Back to Black'
,
‘you love blow and I love puff'). And she was still drinking.

I found out later that Blake had been dabbling in heroin when Amy had first met him. Tyler, who was staying at the Jeffrey's Place flat at the time, would wake up in the morning and throw up because of passive heroin intake but he didn't know for sure that Blake was a user until Amy told him.

Tyler wasn't the only one who saw a change in Amy. Nick Shymansky remembers a pivotal moment around this time when he called Amy from a ski trip. She sounded ‘really different'. ‘I've just met this guy,' she told Nick. ‘You'll really love him. He's called Blake and we've fallen madly in love.'

Nick came back from his trip and saw immediately that Amy must have lost a stone and a half in weight while he had been away. She started phoning him in the early hours of the morning when she was drunk. One night she called saying she had had a row with Blake and was in a pub in Camden and wanted Nick to pick her up. Nick always felt protective towards Amy so naturally he went to collect her. This was the first time since Chris that Amy had been in love and, according to Nick, it was a terrible two or three weeks. Everyone was worried about her and they all knew something was up.

Amy and Blake's turbulent relationship only got worse. As if the drug use wasn't bad enough, Amy soon found out that Blake was cheating on her with his old girlfriend, a discovery that culminated in the first of their many splits. According to Tyler, Amy ended the relationship because of the heroin and the other woman. Until then, Amy and Blake had been together every day, and then they simply weren't.

She took the break-up hard. Not long afterwards, Amy and I were walking on Primrose Hill – she loved our walks there and, back then, few people recognized her so we weren't mobbed by fans. That afternoon I could tell she was miserable.

‘You know, I really want to be with him, Dad, but I can't,' she told me. ‘Not while he's still seeing his ex.'

I didn't know whether to be encouraging or realistic. After all, I didn't know anything about Blake at that time. ‘You know what's best, darling. I'll support whatever decision you make.'

She squeezed my hand. ‘It's me, isn't it, Dad? I always pick the wrong boys, don't I?'

‘Tell you what,' I said, wanting to do something, anything, to make her feel better. ‘You know Jane and I are off to Spain on holiday? Why not come with us?' I didn't think for a moment she'd agree, but I was delighted when she did.

The three of us stayed at Jane's dad Ted's place in Alicante. It's a lovely old farmhouse, secluded, with a pool. We'd all been there before and had a great time. On that trip we'd gone to a nearby jazz café where Amy had stood up and sung with the band. I felt this holiday would give her a chance to forget about Blake and write some more songs without too many interruptions.

The only problem was that she'd forgotten to bring her guitar. We went into the nearby village of Gata de Gorgos and bought her one from a fantastic workshop owned and run by the brothers Paco and Luis Broseta – we were in there for hours. Amy must have tried out a hundred before she settled on a really nice small one, perfect for someone of her size.

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