Life & Culture

‘Winehouse will be massive’: How the JC reported on the musician

In 2004, ahead of the Brit Awards, we compared Amy to S Club 7’s Rachel Stevens


'Not your average north London Jewish girl': Coverage of Amy Winehouse from the JC archive

From the first review of Amy Winehouse’s debut album Frank in 2003 the JC recognised her talent: Don Carnell reviewed it saying: “Winehouse will be massive. If she was a Brooklyn babe she already would be. It takes feisty Jewish teenagers from Camden just a little longer to crack the global market.”

Alongside his review was an interview written by Jacqui Kohan, which kicked off: “If you saw her in synagogue, you’d think Amy Winehouse was your average north London Jewish girl, especially since she was brought up in a close-knit, middle-class family. But you’d be wrong. Very wrong.”

Jacqui clearly hadn’t had a chance to listen to Frank, asking Amy if she was a gangsta rapper. “No, no. I sound like one of those old jazz singers. I can’t compare my sound to anyone in particular . People make up their own minds, but my sound is very jazz based, with a hip-hop and r ‘n’b influence,” the singer replied. Her idols were Grace Jones “because she didn’t care” and Madonna, “because she’s not afraid to express herself sexually.”

Winehouse’s career took off, and the following year she was nominated for two awards at the Brits. The JC previewed the event by comparing her with the squeaky-clean SClub7’s Rachel Stevens and predicting correctly that she’d lose out in the best British female solo artist category to bookies’ favourite Dido.

“But she has scooped another nomination for best British urban act, which, with her street-based sound and Camden cool, she might just win. Had there been a best British suburban category, Rachel would have had no competition,” snarked the JC.

Alas, by 2008 our coverage took a darker turn. It was front page news when we exclusively reported that Winehouse was heading to Israel for drug rehabilitation. Eliezer Cohen, chairman of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, said she would have “medical care, which is a very short, intensive and effective treatment”.

The same year, the JC’s ‘How Jewish is…’ column dubbed the singer only 78 per cent Jewish, objecting to her tattoos, her alcohol consumption and saying she couldn’t tell Never Mind The Buzzcocks host Simon Amstell, the lyrics of Hava Nagila when asked. “Once she comes out of rehab, we’ll have her back,” we concluded. Not our finest hour.

Things looked up the following year when Jessica Elgot reviewed Amy’s appearance on Strictly Come Dancing: “Singing backing vocals for her cute- as-a-button goddaughter Dionne Bromfield, Winehouse stood up (almost straight), clicked her fingers and flung her arms about as she ooh, ooh-ed in front of an audience of 9.5 million ballroom dance fans. OK, she was not moving exactly in time to the music, and the burly male singers who flanked her looked a little too much like minders for comfort. But for a woman whose past excesses made Pete Doherty look like Cliff Richard, this was a small step along the road back to the kind of popularity she enjoyed a couple of years ago. “

And then came Amy’s tragic death in 2011. After her funeral the JC interviewed Rabbi Frank Hellner who officiated: “They were very stoic,” he said of Amy’s parents. “It’s the worst thing to have to bury your child. I think they knew this was a strong possibility. She was on a course of self-destruction. although she was fighting at the end and thought she had prevailed, it had gone too far. She was a frail little girl, and I think it was too much for her body and she succumbed.

“There was no feeling of guilt that they should or could have done more. They tried to do their best, but she was a grown-up with her own mind.”

A tribute from Amy’s biographer Chas Newkey-Burden revealed the singer’s softer side: “Amy Winehouse was called many things during her short, eventful life: a genius, a junkie, a diva, even a hooligan. However, many of her friends called her something else: mum. Some of them even had her telephone number stored on their mobile phones as ‘mummy’. So much of Amy’s dirty linen has been washed in public that you might be surprised that she had any secrets left. It might surprise you even more to learn that one of her biggest secrets was that she was a kind, loving and maternal soul.”

But most moving of all was the brief announcement in the JC’s Social and Personal columns:

“WINEHOUSE. Amy Jade. Our darling Amy, in our hearts forever. Love conquers all.— Mum, Dad, Alex, Richard, Jane and family.”

keren david

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