If the likes of Norah Jones and Jamie Cullum’s albums sit happily in your record collection then you have probably already heard of Amy Winehouse. For those of us with an ounce of self-respect then, here’s the story so far: Inner city London girl Amy has been setting the jazz world on fire since the release of her debut single “Stronger than me” late last year. One album, two Brit nominations and a whole load of critical acclaim later, she has been play-listed on every station from 1Xtra to Radio 2 and appeared on TV shows as diverse as Popworld and Des and Mel. Obviously trying to appeal to the student market then.
Frank was recorded when Winehouse was just 19, following her break-up from an older journalist boyfriend, but there’s no way you could guess that from listening to the album. After all, her voice sounds like that of a forty-something on fifty-something Marlboros a day, and when you examine her songs you don’t get the impression they were written by a teenager. Despite attending the same stage school as Emma Bunton and Denise Van Outen, Winehouse has managed to gather up some experience of ‘real life’ instead of spouting lines from the Busted school of rhyming. But what does she think about her possible influence over her future generations? “I think it’s important that there are young people who are writing music. I feel good about the fact that I’ve been allowed to have an outlet where I can do whatever I want,” she admits, “Hopefully kids will grow up not thinking that they have to be like certain bands to be successful, just to be honest.”
When I spoke to her, she was on her way to Cardiff for a Back to the Bars gig, the same organisation that recently brought da Blazin Squad to Fibbers. But to dismiss this woman as another bit of pop fluff would be a big mistake, as she is keen to point out; “I’m a musician… I’ll do a gig and I’ll act like I’m a backing singer, not the singer.” It’s a cliché amongst serious artistes these days but Winehouse swears she was never in it for the fame aspect, “I’m not a smoozer, that stuff doesn’t impress me.” When asked about the her recent Brit nominations, one for best British Female and the other for Best British Urban Act, she is distinctly nonchalant, “It’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t go to if I didn’t have to.”
Having safely ruled out the possibility of her wanting to duet with the Cheeky Girls, Nouse asks Winehouse about her own tastes in music. For the first time in our interview, her reply is truly enthusiastic; “I went shopping yesterday and I got records by Tommy Evans, Tanya West and Minnie Ripperton. I can’t wait to listen to those.” I put it to her that, given her age and her musical background, her own album, is selling very well, not to mention the vast amounts of praise being heaped upon her by every broadsheet in the country. “Success to me is not sales,” she is quick to point out. “Success is being able to work with whoever you want to work with. I’d love to work with so many people… Mos Def, De La Soul, Missy Elliot, Timbaland… there’s so many amazing people around.”
But do we need yet another purveyor of frighteningly trendy jazz-lite? Does Amy even see her record as the same kind of music as that of Norah Jones and friends? Nouse asked her what she thinks of the current trend of nu-jazz. “It’s people writing soulful music, what they think is soulful.” Although Winehouse is obviously trying to mask it, her dislike of these artists comes through in her frequent derogatory comments; “It’s people trying to connect on an emotional level, that’s what I think they are trying to do. I can’t really hear that myself though.”
Despite these throwaway insults, Winehouse insists that she is not some egotistical diva determined to go around slagging off anyone that gets in her way; “I don’t like a lot of music. It’s not that I’m a bitch or that I think I’m the best or whatever.” In truth, this girl comes across as someone who is totally devoted to her profession. “I’m just honest, because that’s what I’m about. It’s not like I’m bad-mouthing people. I just think that the state of music- its in such fucking chaos. It’s such a shame. No-one else talks about it. Artists that everyone else thinks are real, no-one ever says what a shame it is that in our country, this is our music.” A lot of what Winehouse says boils down to one thing; she can’t bare falseness. During the course of our conversation, there are countless swipes at what she perceives to be fake music, from Pop Idol, which she colourfully describes as; “Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller having a wank” to the Top 40 in general. “I don’t like any chart music,” she comments, “I can’t even hear it, it doesn’t even register to me.”
So, can we assume that she prefers music with a bit of edge, something a bit less manufactured? “That’s the way people seem to be going nowadays, trying to be street, and there’s a place for that,” she concedes. But even these relatively ‘cool’ urban acts aren’t safe from Amy’s wrath, “These artists that are at the front, they get the opportunity to work with legends, and they fuck it up. And no-one realises that they fuck it up.” She doesn’t wish to name names but does add, “I hate the fact that people will grow up thinking that Blue wrote Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Er… you mean they didn’t?