Life & Culture

Amy’s friends: ‘She was humble’


Georgina Littlejohn

l She was my intern when I worked at the entertainment news agency Wenn, in 2001. One afternoon I was in the cutting room listening to an interview I’d just done and she came in, sat down and said: “I’m bored, got anything for me to do?”

“I don’t, sorry,” I replied, “but I hear you’re a singer – give us a tune.” Without standing up, she sang a Frank Sinatra number. I don’t remember which one, but what I will never forget, is the roar of her tremendous voice in that soundproof room. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I knew immediately she was going to be a star.

The office used to go out for work drinks quite often and on one occasion I admired the Burberry trilby she was wearing. She put it on my head: “Suits you babe, you can have it.” But at the end of the evening, I handed it back. I wish I hadn’t!

Nathan Kay

l I used to have a column in MailOnline called Nathan Kay’s Party People and through that I knew Amy from the social and party circuit. I went to see her at one of her first showcases in the early 2000s, and we met around 15 times afterwards. One of the clubs where we met was called Jazz After Dark, and one evening, she started singing impromptu. She was always chatty and nice, and she was very humble. After she split from Blake, she started seeing Reg Traviss and told me that he was the one, but it obviously wasn’t to be. I always sensed that she was a lost soul looking for love, and sadly, she never found it. We lost touch towards the end, and I was very sad when I heard she had died.

Julia Fiske

l I met her through Blake who I met at The Settle Inn, as it was then called, in Archway, in north London. He introduced us and she stayed the night at my flat a couple of times. This was after Frank, she was in the studio recording Back to Black. She was lovely. Funny as hell, witty and kind.

Ruth Swanton

l I was working at AOL which used to have a big music department. Amy had just released Frank and I was tasked with organising an event to thank all our content partners. I booked Amy. We didn’t have a huge budget and she was one of the only people who would do the event. She was lovely, so down to earth. On the day she was sat at the bar and I was looking after her. She asked for a vodka and tonic. People kept asking us if we were sisters, which was funny, but mostly she was fed up that day because it was a corporate event and people were busy networking rather than really listening to her perform. I’m sure they now wish they had paid more attention.

Dominic Conway

l I was guitarist in a band called The Bolsha Band, a big, chaotic band playing small gigs. We had lots of different singers and Amy was one of them. We never planned exactly how would play the songs, she would riff on the words and was brilliant at improvising. We met in Cherry Tree Wood, in Finchley, when I was 13 and she was 15, and she’d come and play guitar at my house with other young musicians. Sometimes she’d come to my secondary school Fortismere, which had a fantastic music department, and practise there too. And other times we’d go to her flat in East Finchley, a place we all thought was super cool. She was writing Frank at the time and would play us the songs as she was working on them.

She was a really friendly person, animated and attentive and quick to laugh. She was also generous and could be impulsive. One evening in June 2002, she heard that the rock band Fun Lovin’ Criminals were playing at the Astoria, and she bought a bunch of us tickets and paid for a cab too.

The other thing that stood out about Amy was her modesty. She could have easily had a big ego to match her big voice, when we were on stage she’d ask by gesticulating: shall I do this verse? One of her defining characteristics was how supportive she was of other musicians.

Fiona Sturges

l I met her for an interview for The Independent in 2004. She was proper stroppy at first, yawning in my face and telling me she’d prefer to be at home waiting for a plumber to fix her washing machine. I decided not to take it personally. It was just general annoyance on her part at having had to get out of bed to talk to a stranger. There was clear charisma mixed in with the attitude, and some funny jibes at the expense of those she was working with at the time. She just didn’t care who she offended: journalists, record company reps, PRs, whoever. The fact that she insisted on putting on her make-up through our chat was both aggravating and, in retrospect, fascinating as those trademark black wings slowly took shape (though this was before she had the beehive to match).

Jade Wright

l I met her by accident. It was probably 2003, and she was playing at one of the venues at Manchester University where I was a student. I was drinking in a bar over the road from the union and she came over and asked if she could borrow a chair from our table. My friend recognised her and she ended up coming and sitting with us for a bit, chatting and was very down to earth. I met her again a couple of years later to interview her, backstage at the Academy in Liverpool. It was just before Mark Ronson’s Version came out, maybe 2006, and we’d heard she had been trying out a cover of The Zutons’ Valerie. She waxed lyrical about the song and how great the band were. I’m pretty sure they were in the crowd that night when she played it, the first time most of us had heard it. I was due to interview her again when she played Aintree, but the show was cancelled.

Another time, I saw her on a beach on the wild bit of St Lucia. She was drinking in a little shack with some blokes. It was all a bit grubby and scary and we were all encouraged to give large tips (pretty much mugged) by a gang of fairly intimidating lads who ran the ‘bar’. I was pretty worried for her, but she seemed happy enough.

Dom Bastyra

l I worked with Amy at Island Records when she was first signed and I was an assistant A&R [artists and repertoire] on the first record Frank. My boss Darcus Beese signed her. He heard her, went completely mental and was like, ‘I have to sign this person.’ But I was close to it because I was his assistant in terms of dealing with her and her management day to day, hearing her music before anyone else on the label did; I knew that album back to front and sideways.

She was incredible. When I saw the first documentary Amy, directed by Asif Kapadia, I was floored. It was a pretty emotional experience. There are a couple of scenes in it that I would have been in the background, and I remember texting Darcus and saying it was an utter privilege to be in her orbit. It was an incredible place to work and there were amazing artists around, but she was head and shoulders above anyone else.

There are people that are just born with it, it’s innate. And that’s her. She was utterly magic and brilliant in every way. There’s that scene in the film where she played for the first time to everyone in the lounge that was the A&R Lounge and you could hear a pin drop. It was like everyone knew. She had this specialness.

She used to call me ‘baby boy’. I was older than her, but I was a north London boy and looked quite baby-faced, straight out of university and in my first job. I was dealing with her a lot, ordering her taxis, making sure she went to the right session, stuff like that. And she was always very sweet with me.

Back then, she was smoking a lot of dope, but that was it. And so the worst thing she did was missing a flight because she overslept she was going to record in LA. That was as bad as it got on album one. She was really lovely and easy to deal with.

The last time I saw her was in Camden in a club called Proud Galleries opposite  the Hawley Arms, which was was the centre of the universe for about six months. Stuff was kicking off in the club  It was late and dark on the dance floor, and I remember her coming up to me and going ‘all right baby boy?’

I had to do a double-take. She looked like someone dressed up as Amy Winehouse with the big hair, but super thin. She was a waif. It really really depressing, like the time I’d seen her at Bestival where she was completely battered.

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