Authors: Mitch Winehouse
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #music, #Personal Memoirs, #Composers & Musicians, #Individual Composer & Musician
Amy's CD sleeve for the
Back to Black
sampler. Amy still loved her heart symbol and drew a good self-portrait. She still seemed a schoolgirl at heart.
The album astonished me. I knew my daughter was good, but this sounded like something on another level. Raye carried on telling us that it would be a huge hit all around the world, and I was getting very excited. It was hard to read Amy: I couldn't tell if she expected it to be a triumph, as Raye did, but she was much happier with the final cut than she had been with
. This had been a much more hands-on process for her.
Back to Black
was released in the UK on 27 October 2006, and during its first two weeks it sold more than 70,000 copies. It reached number one on the UK Albums Chart in the week ending 20 January 2007. On 14 December 2007 it was certified six times platinum in the UK in recognition of more than 1.8 million copies sold. By December 2011
Back to Black
had sold 3.5 million copies in the UK and more than 20 million copies worldwide.
I was blown away, beyond proud. But deep down I never wanted Amy to write another album like it. The songs are amazing but she went through hell to write them. I don't like
Back to Black
as much as I like
; I never really did. And that's for one reason only: all of the songs on
Back to Black
, apart from
Rehab', are about Blake. It occurred to me recently that one of the biggest-selling UK albums of the twenty-first century so far is all about the biggest low-life scumbag that God ever put breath into. Quite ironic, isn't it? Mind you, you don't get albums written about really good people like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, do you? Good people's places in Heaven may be assured, but nobody's going to have a chart-topping album full of songs about someone's good deeds.
While the album's success altered Amy's career in every way imaginable, it came with a high price tag. The nature of the songs made it hard for her to feel as excited as you might expect about the album's reception and success. Whereas people might walk along the street humming âLove Is A Losing Game', to Amy it was like a knife in the heart, a reminder of the worst of times.
I knew what the songs meant because she always wrote about her life, and I didn't want to discuss them with her when I knew how painful she found it to listen to them.
Even though Amy was with Alex Clare, Blake wasn't far away. Sometimes with Amy, sometimes not, but an all-important figure to her nonetheless. The fact was, although Amy loved Alex, she was not in love with him. She was in love with Blake.
Alex wasn't stupid and he soon found out that Amy was seeing Blake. He told me that he thought Amy had been smoking heroin with Blake. He said he could smell it on her. I laughed, and told him the âClass-A drugs are for mugs' story. At that point, Amy was still opposed to hard drugs, and Alex was wrong: Amy wasn't doing heroin then, but Blake was smoking it in front of her, which was why her clothes smelt of it.
Alex wanted to have it out with Blake and I said I'd go with him. I didn't want him to walk on his own into a situation he couldn't handle. Blake used to drink regularly in a pub called the Eagle in Leonard Street, east London, but every time we went to confront him, he was never there; I'm pretty sure Amy rang him to tell him we were on our way.
Eventually, around the start of 2007, Alex and Amy split up. Then Amy was back with Blake full time, and I finally got to meet him at the Jeffrey's Place flat. Despite everything I'd heard from Tyler and Alex, I decided, given how Amy felt about him, that I wanted to make up my own mind about him.
My first impression was that he seemed to be a decent and respectful guy, if a bit scruffy. Amy had talked about him off and on during the Alex Clare period, but I didn't know much about him. I wondered about his age, as his hair seemed to be receding, and he looked like he could do with a good meal. We had a bit of a chat and he told me that he had been born in Lincolnshire and had come to London when he was sixteen. He said he was working as a video production assistant and wanted to get into pop videos. On that occasion Amy and Blake looked very happy together, and he didn't strike me as a drug-user, so I thought that perhaps Alex had been mistaken about him. I couldn't have been more wrong. In the light of what happened later, I'm pretty sure that Amy had started smoking heroin and crack cocaine by then, although at the time I had no idea.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Amy's last time in New York with Mark Ronson was in December 2006. They were talking about Motown Christmas songs, and how all the great soul artists of the sixties and seventies had brought out a Christmas record.
âWhy aren't there any great Jewish-holiday records?' Amy wondered. Later that week she went with Mark to the studio where he did his regular radio show and they hosted it together as âTwo Jews and a Christmas Tree'. They decided that that might make a good title for a Jewish-holiday song. By the next day Amy had come up with a whole load more great titles including,
Heart Of Coal' and
âAlone Under The Mistletoe'. To Mark, everything Amy came up with was an instant classic, even if it was just a throwaway line.
Doing the promotion for
Back to Black
brought Amy back into the public eye, and she appeared in the newspapers regularly. They were all in love with her new look but far less kind about her drinking: she was often pictured going into and coming out of pubs. âAmy, darling, you've got to do something about your drinking,' I said to her. âYou're not doing yourself any favours.'
I got the usual Amy shrug. âYeah, yeah, Dad.'
There were also allusions to drugs, but I didn't believe these for one minute.
In March 2004, as part of the ongoing promotion for
, Amy had appeared on BBC2's irreverent weekly pop quiz
Never Mind the Buzzcocks
. It had been a pretty good show â Amy was very funny and got quite a few laughs â so in November 2006 when she was promoting
Back to Black
she was invited back. It didn't hurt that her look was so striking that the cameras loved her and â unlike with
â her beehive image was now everywhere.
Now, there was a long time between Amy arriving at the studio and the recording starting. She got bored and had too much to drink. By the time the recording got going Amy was drunk, and while she was very funny on the show, in hindsight it's clear to me that this was when her reputation for being out of control began to take shape.
Amy was on the comedian Bill Bailey's team. She hit it off with the host, Simon Amstell, when he introduced her: âBill's first guest is Amy Winehouse, the Ivor Novello Award-winning “Jazz Jew”. Amy's likes include Kelly Osbourne and the smell of petrol. I quite like matches. Let's do lunch.'
Amy got her first big laugh when
presenter Penny Smith, who was on the other team, asked Amy if her beehive was her own hair.
âOh, yeah,' Amy replied. âYeah, it's all mine. Cos I bought it, yeah.'
Shortly after that Amy asked Simon if she could have another drink and Simon refused, which led to some friendly banter. Amy said she was seeing Pete Doherty later that night to talk about doing a tune together.
âHe wants to sell you drugs,' Simon yelled. âDon't go near him! Do something with Katie Melua. There you go.'
âI'd rather have cat AIDS, thank you,' Amy replied.
When it came to the âIntros' round, where two of the panel sing an intro to a tune the other panellist has to name, Amy stood up, saying, â
,' as she did so.
âWhat's the push-push?' asked Simon Amstell.
âI dunno. It's my new thing,' said Amy.
Quick as a flash, Amstell retorted, âIs it? I thought that was crack.'
Amy didn't take offence, just gestured towards herself. âDo I look like Russell Brand?' Then, in mock-horror, she buried her head in her hands when the audience laughed.
Amstell snapped back, âYes!'
When she sat down again Amy took a drink of water, then turned and spat over her shoulder.
âThis is not a football match,' Simon said to her. âYou come here full of â¦ crack â¦ spitting all over things â¦'
Amy jokingly pleaded, âLet it die, please. Let it die â¦ please.'
âThe addiction I'd like to die â¦' Simon replied. âThis isn't even a pop quiz any more. It's an intervention, Amy.'
Amy laughed and told me later she'd thought that was the best line on the show. I think Amy liked Simon Amstell. She let him get away with remarks she wouldn't have taken from someone she didn't like.
The following day I went round to see her. âYou know, you really shouldn't drink when you're working,' I lectured. âEverybody could see you were drunk, and it was embarrassing.'
We had a bit of a row. âYou don't know what you're talking about, Dad,' Amy said. âEveryone laughed.'
âThey were laughing at you, not with you.'
âWatch it again, Dad, and you'll see what I mean,' she insisted.
âBut I'm right. Stop bloody drinking.' I stormed off.
By the beginning of 2007
Back to Black
was at number one in the UK and we had a celebration to mark it. Amy drank more than she should have but everyone was so happy about the success of the album that I let it go. âCongratulations, darling,' I said.
âAre you proud of me, Dad?'
I couldn't believe my talented daughter needed to ask that. âAlways, darling. I'm always proud of you, whatever you do.'
Back to Black
was due to be released in the US in March; so on Tuesday, 16 January Amy did a couple of shows at Joe's Pub, a live showcase venue in Manhattan, New York. It wasn't the best night of the week for an American dÃ©but but both shows were sell-outs. Amy performed a fifty-minute set in each to enthusiastic audiences. The next day the reviews were pretty good. My favourite, though, which made us both laugh, was from an online blog. It described Amy's look as âRonnie Spector meets the Bride of Frankenstein'.
In February Amy was back in the UK, recording the video for âBack to Black', when she got some exciting news. It was bitterly cold and Amy had forgotten to bring her coat, so during the breaks in filming she was freezing in her trailer. Halfway through the day she called Jane, asking her to bring down a coat for her. As I was out in the cab, I took it to her.
When I arrived she squealed, âDad! I'm number one in Norway!'
âThat's great,' I said, although I did wonder why she was so keen on making it big in the Norwegian market. She had to explain that to be number one outside the more obvious, if bigger, markets of the US and UK meant she really was on her way to international stardom.
Shortly before the release of the album in the US, I was at the Turkish baths at Porchester Hall, Notting Hill â I used to go there most Wednesday afternoons and there'd usually be a whole crowd of my pals there, having something to eat and playing cards. Above the baths there's a fantastic hall where they put on music events, corporate dinners and weddings. Amy was due to do a concert there for
The BBC Sessions
on the Thursday, but I didn't know she'd be rehearsing there that afternoon. But she was and, boy, could you hear it! There was the constant muffled thump, thump, thump of the bass and Amy's incredible voice over the top. âKeep your daughter quiet,' one of my pals joked. âI can't hear myself think.' They were all ribbing me so I went upstairs to see Amy.
She was as surprised and delighted to see me as I was to see her. She came over straight away and gave me a big hug. Blake was with her and came over as well. He was very friendly, but he looked agitated and on edge. He said he was okay when I asked, but then he disappeared. When he returned, he was a different person â full of life and energy. You can make your own mind up as to the reason why. I thought back to what Tyler had told me. But I believed then that Amy would give him what for when she found out he was still taking drugs.
Later that month Amy was back in the US for a tour to promote
Back to Black
. It began in Austin, Texas, at the SXSW Festival, then went on to West Hollywood, California, where she played the Roxy Theater. There were a lot of big names at that gig and they wanted to go to Amy's dressing room to say hello. First Raye told Amy that Courtney Love was outside and wanted to meet her.
âGod!' Amy replied. âWhat does
Next up was Bruce Willis. It was his birthday and, as Amy put it, âHe had a bit of a wobbly head on.'
Bruce said to Amy, âHi, I'm Bruce Willis. Would you like to come to Las Vegas with me to celebrate my birthday?'
Quick as anything, Amy said, âOnly if I can bring my dad!' Bruce was astounded and Amy carried on the joke, âShall I call him and see if he wants to come?' Apparently Bruce beat a hasty retreat.
Then Ron Jeremy, the famous porn star, was led into the dressing room. He was accompanied by two women with pneumatic breasts â if you'd stuck a pin in them, Amy said, they might have exploded. Ron was wearing a pair of loose tracksuit bottoms. Amy looked down at them. âBeen working today, Ron?'
âFunnily enough, yes,' Ron said, playing along. They sat down for a good ten minutes and had a drink and a chat, minus the women. Amy was very sharp; her spontaneous wit never failed to make me laugh.
Danny DeVito was at one of the other gigs and Amy kept sidling up to the bar next to him, mouthing to Raye, âLook, I'm taller than him.' And she was, if not by much.
Amy met a lot of famous people on that tour and they had all come to see her because they loved what she was doing. Some stars get swept away by the conviction that everybody wants to be their friend, but it wasn't like that with Amy. Those people weren't jumping on the Amy Winehouse bandwagon: they just wanted to hear her sing. I witnessed it at first hand when I joined the tour in Canada a few weeks later. I turned up after the gig and found Amy with a man she introduced to me as Michael.
âVery nice to meet you,' I said. âWhat do you do, Michael?'
He laughed, as Amy hissed, âDad â it's Michael BublÃ©.'
He was a sweet man â I was a fan of his music â and all he wanted to talk about was how fantastic Amy had been that night.
The following day we walked into a shopping mall and âStronger Than Me' was playing. âIsn't that me, Dad?' Amy asked. âIsn't that my song?'
âYes, and you've just earned twenty-eight cents,' I joked, âso feel free to buy something.'
She stopped and listened. âIt sounds pretty good, doesn't it?'
It was as if somebody else had written and sung the song, as if it didn't belong to her any more. Wait a second, I thought. This is surreal. She doesn't know her own song. But when she did listen to her own records, she always thought she could have done better â not that she could have sung better but that she could have written more powerful lyrics. âI should have changed that word to this word â¦' she'd say.
She was never satisfied with what she'd done.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
In May 2007 Amy and Blake booked to go on holiday to Miami together. Before they left she called me: she wanted to know how I felt about her and Blake getting married. Since they'd got back together, they'd been virtually inseparable, aside from some of her trips to the US to promote the album. I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect of Amy tying herself to Blake, but I thought I'd have the chance to get to know him better â and for him to get to know the family before they eventually tied the knot.
âI won't stand in your way,' I told her. âYou're both adults. It's for you and Blake to decide.'
The issue of his drug use occurred to me, but I pushed it aside. I was pretty sure by now that Amy's stance on class-A drugs would have rubbed off on Blake: if he hadn't stopped on his own, she would have made him. If I was wrong, I thought, there would be enough time before they got married for me to do something about it.
I wondered then if she planned to marry sooner than we thought. I reminded her what had happened when Janis and I had got married, how upset Janis was that her mother didn't come to our wedding â she had recently left Janis's father and run off with another man. Janis still got upset about that and I didn't want her to miss our daughter's wedding. She deserved to be there. And me? Well, of course I wanted to be at my little girl's wedding â but to Blake? I wasn't sure.
I told Amy that if they were thinking of getting married while they were in Miami I would fly Janis out so she could be part of it. Amy promised me that Janis and I would both be at the wedding. It seemed to me that Blake couldn't have cared less if his mother was at his wedding or not, and I think he was partially to blame that neither Janis nor I was there when they were married in Miami on 18 May 2007.
Just after the ceremony Amy called me, all excited. âDad, we've just got married!'
I was stunned into silence.
âAren't you going to congratulate us?' she carried on, seemingly oblivious to how I felt.
I couldn't bring myself to say the words to her. In fact, I couldn't say anything to her â I pretended I couldn't hear her properly and hung up. I was beside myself with sadness for Janis, and really angry with Amy. After that she called me back several times, but I didn't pick up.
Eventually I phoned her. âAmy, you know what?' I said. âYour mum should have been there. Never mind me.
Your mum should have been there.
âYeah,' she said. âI know that, Dad, but we thought it was the right thing to do at the time â¦'
âWhat do you mean
thought it was the right thing to do? What's it got to do with Blake about your mother being at your wedding?' I didn't object to Amy marrying him: she'd told me she loved him and that he loved her. But I took great exception to them preventing Janis from being at the wedding. What business was it of Blake's? They'd been married five minutes and he'd already put my back up.
The call ended badly, but I resigned myself to what had happened and made sure that it wouldn't cause a rift between us, even though I was seething about the snub to Janis. I suggested throwing a wedding party later in the year, but although Amy was up for it, it never happened.