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Amy Winehouse, R.I.P.

She became a byword for excess, but MOJO knew her as a genuine artist with soul to burn. By MOJO Editor-In-Chief Phil Alexander

 

Despite her battle with alcohol and drugs which has been so well publicised over the last six years, the confirmation of the death of Amy Winehouse this afternoon (July 23) was both shocking and pitiful.

The 27 year-old singer was found dead at her flat in North London by parademics who attended the scene following a call to the singer's property at 3.54pm.

The Metropolitan Police issued a statement that reads: "Police were called by London Ambulance Service to an address in Camden Square, NW1, shortly before 16.05hrs today, Saturday 23 July, following reports of a woman found deceased. On arrival officers found the body of a 27-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene. Enquiries continue into the circumstances of the death. At this early stage it is being treated as unexplained."

Winehouse's death comes after the singer's disastrous return to performing last month when she played a much-publicized show in Serbia which went horribly wrong. Her management confirmed that the show would be her last for the foreseeable future while she tried to conquer her addictions.

Amy's early career had shown none of the vulnerability that engulfed her and ultimately consumed her in later life. She began performing at an early age, receiving her first guitar at 13 and attending the Sylvia Young Theatre School and then the Brit School where she began to hone her craft.

Under the watchful eye of A&R man Darcus Beese she signed to Island Records and released her debut album, Frank, at the age of 20. Produced by Salaam Remi, the record framed her voice in a polite manner, and its musical direction saw her bracketed at the time with a small coterie of so-called nu-jazz stars including Jamie Cullum.

I met Winehouse after the release of the album and found her enthusiasm for her music to be infectious. Despite the fact that she had co-written much of the material on the album, Amy herself also expressed the fact that her debut had fallen short of her own expectations.

Her second effort, Back To Black, was far more immersive, its rich soul texture being matched by intensely personal lyrics that chronicled her increasing excesses and her failing relationship, its release shrouded by the loss of her grandmother a few months earlier. MOJO received a number of tracks in unfinished form prior to the album's release and we were left in no doubt that the fresh-faced North London girl that we'd encountered a few years earlier had grown into an artist capable of writing about real life experiences in the most direct manner imaginable. Her voice too had clearly improved, giving her the ability to deliver the songs with striking emotion and passion.

Some seven months after Back To Black's release, Winehouse attended the MOJO Honours List in 2007 with her then husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. The pair had recently married and arrived two hours late blaming the traffic. Their tardiness meant that Amy initially missed receiving her award for "Rehab", which scooped Song Of The Year at the ceremony. The very fact that she'd made the effort to get there made us decide to re-present the award to her at the tail end of the evening, with radio DJ Steve Lamacq and Specials singer Terry Hall returning to the stage to do so. It would be one of many awards that Amy would win on the back of the multi-million selling Back To Black, including a string of five Grammys in 2008.

Later that same year, MOJO attempted to interview Amy again for a cover story and dispatched journalist Paul Elliott, who had spoken to Winehouse on previous occasions, to one of her UK shows. The interview did not happen and the show itself saw Winehouse abuse the audience and stumble through her set. The magazine's cover line read: "Music is where I can be honest."

Amy's talent was such that, despite her self-destructive streak, she drew praise from her contemporaries and her elders, although their concern for her was also evident. A swathe of musicians have already paid tribute following this afternoon's shocking news. Among them David Arnold, who tweeted: "Amy W one of the funniest and loveliest people I'd met.she wasn't well.So sad for her and her family.a genuine raw talent and a sweetheart", and Jamie Cullum: "I shared some wonderful musical moments with Amy. I feel very lucky to have done so. She was a wonderful person with an extraordinary talent."

One of her last recorded appearances was on legendary crooner Tony Bennett's forthcoming album, Duets II, due out in September. Winehouse interprets the standard "Body And Soul", previously sung by Billie Holiday. A tune dealing with heartbreak and devastation, it will now prove to be Amy's swansong and that in itself is almost too tragic for words...

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