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TNS is 10: Interview - Amy Winehouse

30th July 2013

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And all that Jazz...

Simon Campbell talks life, music and Michael Jackson with one of the new musical sensations of 2003 – jazz diva Amy Winehouse.

Amy WinehouseThink of a jazz singer and what do you see? A chubby guy, wearing black glasses, smoking something, trying to look cool and sounding American? Perhaps. A streetwise girl from London town? Possibly not.

Stereotypes mean nothing to Amy Winehouse. Sassy, sexy and sanguine, she is as far from the traditional jazz singer as it is possible to get. Still only 20 years old, her debut album Frank has had the critics drooling and, with the likes of Jamie Callum, has brought UK jazz to the 21st century masses.

Imagine a mix of Ella Fitzgerald, Lauren Hill and Ms. Dynamite, and you come close to describing Winehouse’s vocal style. With one of the most distinctive voices around and some quality production you have one of the albums of last year.

From the outset it is clear that music is a very important part of this North London girl’s life, and has been for quite a while.

“When I was little I used to love Michael Jackson,” she declares in the most quintessential of London accents.

“Bad was the first album I had. My trouble was that I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be him, or marry him. I remember my aunties went to see him and I was so jealous. I was too little to see him, I was about four or something at the time and I was like “they’re gonna go and spend the night with Michael Jackson!”

Her father’s love of jazz clearly had a strong influence on the young Amy but her influences go much wider than just Dinah Washington and Miles Davies.

“Well it wasn’t until mu teenage years that I found jazz to be my music. By that point I was listening to a lot of hip hop, girl hip hop, a lot of female rappers. Me and my friends loved Salt n Peppa. They were the first girls to put what it’s like to be a real girl into rhyme. None of this ‘I love my man whatever he does’, but a real girl who doesn’t care about what people think.”

Frank is an album filled with this sentiment; in every way an independent woman, Winehouse has seen a lot in her 20 years and is not afraid of sharing her experiences. The album’s release in October 2003 saw the culmination of a project that begun a long time before.

“I was 16 when I started to get into it, but it really only started to come together a year and a half ago,” explains Winehouse.

“We had the album ready to go before we signed a record deal so all we really needed was the funding to go and work with the producers in America.”

You get the feeling that executives and financiers are not on the top of Amy’s Christmas card list. “I still cannot deal with them people, I just can’t relate to them.”

A natural entertainer at heart, contracts and money talk stop Winehouse from doing what she loves best, performing.

“Singing on stage is the best. It’s the one thing out of everything I do, that I have, that is mine, that I have control over. Even with the album – I did my album, then people with money started interfering with it. So when I play live it’s the one time where I am doing my thing. I was in the studio for three years doing the album, so at this stage I just wanna be doing a gig every night.”

An intriguing representation of the modern music business, it is surprising to learn someone so refreshingly unafraid to voice their opinions is signed to former Spice Girls’ boss Simon Fuller’s 19 Management. Sharing management with Will Young, Gareth Gates et al doesn’t  stop her giving a candid and mature assessment of the Pop Idolisation of the modern British music scene.

“Yes, it is an absolute abomination that music in this country is in the state that it is in, but on the other hand it’s good because it’s the stuff in the foreground that’s gonna create a stronger underground, you know what I mean?”

With Frank having ‘blown up’, the offers for collaborations will surely come flooding in. Is there anyone she fancies working with in future?

“I wanna work with everyone, everyone. There’s people in America, I’d love to work with. I’d love to work with Missy [Elliot]. There are so many legends around it’s hard to say, but yeah, a strong woman like Missy would be good. A journalist once said to me, ‘who would you like to work with?” You’ve got Christina [Aguilera], Britney [Spears] and Justin [Timberlake].’ I said Missy, what you talking about? Where’s Missy? Huh?”

With this being a student publication, I couldn’t let Amy go without asking her opinion on daytime TV. “Ha ha. Well you know what, I’m a big weed smoker so if I’m not working I just tidy the house and watch TV. I love Trisha, she is so funny in a not ‘trying to be funny’ kinda way.”

To be frank, the future looks bright for Amy Winehouse. Expect to hear a lot more about her in the not too distant future.

Good money can be put on her winning the next Mercury Prize. A stereotype she certainly is not.

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