Goodbye Ms Amy Winehouse

What an amazing talent. Yet sadly like so many amazing talents, she was so plagued by her inner demons, that the talent was overshadowed, and ultimately consumed by it. Such a tragedy for a lady who could have had so much, and a world robbed of such a precious gift.

RIP Amy. May you finally find peace.

Obituary by Caroline Sullivan from The Guardian

Leading a rock’n’roll life has proved fatal to many artists, but few could be considered as much of a loss to music as Amy Winehouse, who has been found dead at the age of 27, the cause not immediately clear. One of the outstanding singers of her generation, she had suffered from drug addiction, and the loss of hope that goes with it. Her husky, soul-steeped voice belied both her youth and her London origins – singing from the gut is not just the province of older black American performers.
Winehouse’s music spoke to people so persuasively that her second album, Back to Black, became Britain’s bestselling record of 2007 and reached number two in the US, making her one of only a few British female soloists to achieve that level of transatlantic recognition. Its success spurred sales of her initially overlooked first album, Frank (2003), so titled because of the diary-style lyrics that produced songs such as Stronger Than Me, which railed against a “gay ladyboy” ex-boyfriend. The two sold a total of more than 10m copies worldwide.
Born to a Jewish family in north Finchley, north London, Winehouse grew up listening to the jazz albums of her taxi-driver father, Mitch. He and her pharmacist mother, Janis, later divorced.
Amy caught the performing bug so early that by the age of eight she was attending stage school. She spent time at three, including the Sylvia Young theatre school, central London, from which she was expelled for “not applying herself”, and the Brit school in Croydon, south London. Rebellious instincts surfaced in her mid-teens: by 16, she had acquired her first tattoo and was smoking cannabis. “My parents pretty much realised that I would do whatever I wanted, and that was it, really,” she said later.
Her boyfriend of the time passed a cassette of her singing to a record company, which was impressed. “It was unlike anything that had ever come through my radar,” said songwriter Felix Howard, who went on to collaborate with Winehouse on Frank. She signed a deal with the world’s largest label, Universal, and was taken on by the management company run by Simon Fuller, the force behind Pop Idol and its television spin-offs. However, being in the bosom of the pop establishment turned Winehouse surly and defensive. When she was accused early on by the press of being one of Fuller’s pop puppets, she retorted: “He’s clever enough to know he can’t fuck with me.”  
If Winehouse was not entirely singular – Dusty Springfield and Maggie Bell preceded her as white British pop singers whose complicated personal lives yielded unguarded, richly soulful music – she certainly stood out from almost every other artist under 40. When Frank was released, just after her 20th birthday, the prevailing female pop sound was the manicured slickness epitomised by Girls Aloud. Winehouse’s disconcerting sultriness meant she was initially classified as a jazz vocalist. Despite being tipped by critics as a “buzz” act – borne out by two Brits nominations in 2004 – she did not catch the public’s fancy, and Frank peaked at number 13 in the charts.
It was when she finished promoting the album and set about writing the follow-up that a remarkable transformation took place. During this time she met her future husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who worked on the periphery of the music business as an assistant on video shoots. The attraction was apparently instant, at least on Winehouse’s part, and when Fielder-Civil ended the relationship after a few months, she poured her depression into songs that would become Back to Black.
Of the months following their split, she said: “I had never felt the way I feel about him about anyone in my life. I thought we’d never see each other again. I wanted to die.”
The album was released in late 2006, and when Winehouse began a round of concerts and TV appearances that autumn, it was obvious that she had spent the recent past walking on the wild side. She had lost several stone and acquired armfuls of tattoos, a mountainous beehive hairdo and, it was rumoured, drug and alcohol problems.
Typically forthright, she drew attention to the latter in Back to Black’s first single, Rehab: “I don’t never want to drink again, I just need a friend… They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.” Despite its subject, the song was infectiously upbeat, and became her first Top 10 hit, remaining in the charts for a near-record-breaking 57 weeks.
The whole album was also an instant, and huge, success. The jazz-lite that characterised Frank had been supplanted by sparky R&B, immediately hummable songs and, crucially, the performance of a lifetime from Winehouse, who sang as if her heart were damaged beyond repair. Critical acclaim was heaped on it – “One of the great breakthrough CDs of our time… when this lady sings about love, she means every word,” said the US Entertainment Weekly magazine – and it appeared on numerous best-of-the-year lists. Its appeal transcended language barriers, sending it to number one in 18 countries, including the UK.
A great imponderable was whether Back to Black would have connected so strongly with listeners if Winehouse had not simultaneously been playing out her emotional dramas in public. Still wracked by the failure of her relationship with Fielder-Civil, her behaviour was erratic: her weight dropped further and the monstrous beehive got even taller. She seemed to lack the inhibitions that stop most people from “acting out” in public, which made her a tabloid dream – drawn by the scent of disturbed celebrity, paparazzi were soon following her around the streets of north London.
Perversely, as her life became more complex, her success increased. She won the 2007 Brit award for best female artist, and Ivor Novello awards for Rehab and Love Is a Losing Game. In addition, she picked up Q magazine’s best album trophy, and was nominated for that year’s Mercury prize.
She unexpectedly reunited with Fielder-Civil in early 2007, and in May they married on impulse in Miami. If Winehouse had been fragile before, the marriage seemed to bring out the worst in her. She and her new husband became heavy drug users, and she was soon said to be injecting heroin. The couple were frequently photographed looking much the worse for wear, and Winehouse’s arms bore the marks of self-inflicted cuts. She collapsed from an overdose in the summer, and paid the first of several unsuccessful visits to rehab.
Fielder-Civil was arrested in November, and subsequently pleaded guilty to attacking a pub landlord and attempting to pervert the course of justice by offering him £200,000 to keep quiet about it. While he was on remand, Winehouse lurched on as best she could. She cancelled concerts, struck up a friendship with fellow junkie Pete Doherty and tried rehab again. In the midst of it all, her talent still unquenched, she won five Grammy awards in February 2008.
The couple’s relationship ended when Fielder-Civil was jailed the following July for 27 months. Despite initially saying she would wait for him, they divorced in 2009 and she moved temporarily to the Caribbean island of St Lucia, where she hoped to escape the pernicious influence of the drug crowd in Camden, north London. Her flat in Camden was conveniently close to her favourite pub, the Hawley Arms. While she claimed to have kicked drugs in St Lucia, she admitted that she was drinking to compensate – though not to excess, she insisted.
Several other relationships followed, the longest-lasting with Reg Traviss, director of the films Screwed and Psychosis. Winehouse also began to record the follow-up to Back to Black: the head of Universal, Lucian Grainge, pronounced the demos “fantastic”. She also launched her own label, Lioness, whose first signing was her 13-year-old goddaughter, Dionne Bromfield.
Nonetheless, Winehouse was constantly in one sort of trouble or another. She was arrested several times for public order offences, hospitalised for emphysema and treated for an infection caused by silicone breast implants. And, always, there was evidence that she had not conquered the demons that she battled throughout her career: last year the tabloid papers ran a photo of her unconscious on a bench outside a pub, and last month she behaved so erratically on stage in the Serbian capital of Belgrade that the rest of her summer tour was cancelled.
Her final public appearance came three days before her death, at a gig by Bromfield at the Roundhouse, Camden. Winehouse danced in dreamy circles, then disappeared without singing a note. Her last recording was a duet with Tony Bennett, to be released on his album Duets II in September.
During the chaotic last years of her life, she was frequently compared to other singers with tempestuous existences, such as Billie Holiday and Édith Piaf. She is survived by her parents and brother, Alex.
• Amy Jade Winehouse, pop singer-songwriter, born 14 September 1983; died 23 July 2011

News of the World…. The Art of Evasive Sleaze

Today (UK time), 19 July Rupert Murdoch & James faced a British parliamentary enquiry established to looking into the News of the World scandal, which grows wider and more damaging by the way, and while very little of anything was admitted to by them (like that was a surprise), comments in the Twittersphere were damn near hilarious….

“Rupert didn’t know anything about anything. “Nobody told me.” “It was like that when I got here.” “A Big boy did it and ran away”… (@PaulBurston)

“I give it five, maybe six minutes before Rupert denies ever having owned a newspaper.” (@benpobjie)

“Remember Dad one kick in the shins means yes, two means no.” (@craigreucassel)

“I do not have knowledge of that.” Having tshirts printed (@StMurphy)

“James is so grounded when they get home.” (@s_sidekick)

“Look away from the screen and imagine Tom Cruise delivering Jame’s dialogue. It works.” (@johnbonbailey)

“James Murodhc is doing hat thing when your mum catches you and you ramble on ending up with “the dog did it” (@WhichPennySmith)

“‘James, would you like a cup of tea?’ ‘I have no knowledge of liking tea, but I’m happy to find out if I do and get back to you.'” (@ncguk)

“Geeks, having trouble concentrating on the enquiry? Imagine it’s the Emperor and Darth Vader in front of the Jedi Council.” (@Simon Pegg)

... and it all ends with Murdoch getting hit with a pie by a Johnny Marbles at the enquiry. Farce plus!

Emmy Nominations are in!

I would like to say I am a connoisseur of hip quality TV, but the truth is I love and need it so much that I am, in all truth, a junkie. I need my fixes of my favourite shows like Nurse Jackie, Glee, Big Bang Theory, Modern Fanily and Parks & Recreation, and I need them often and now!

So as a junkie of pop culture, one of the big events of the year is the release of the Emmy nominations and this year’s are out and you can see them here:

My only moment of bug-eyed spluttering outrage was the omission of Community, one of the laugh out loud funniest shows on Tv right now. For shame Emmys, for shame…

Movie review: Meek’s Cutoff

(image courtesy IMP Awards)


What an odd movie. I mean truly odd.

Watching it felt like we’d entered the cinema late and missed the beginning, and then someone forget to tack the end onto it. Now I need to say straight off that I like movies that are more experience-driven than narrative-driven, since you get to immerse yourself in a world that is simply happening before you, and this can be immensely rewarding providing the movie gets the characters just right and the atmosphere just so. Meek’s Cutoff did that, and on balance, I think I liked it, but what it lacked was an overwhelming reason to be.

Yes, it raised all sorts of issues from racism to cultural ignorance to a blind faith in the destiny of anything Western, and by extension, Christian, and certainly gave you much to think about, but it did suffer from a lack of any cohesive storyline, and any resolution at all. I have watched many movies with ambiguous, or ill-defined endings but at least they ended. There was some sense in those stories that while the characters may not have resolved everything – when does life ever truly give you that luxury? – that they had at least arrived at a definable point in the journey. No such sense with Meek’s Cutoff which simply ended.



 I have no doubt the director had some grand artistic vision which was likely to simply leave you with the sense you had accompanied these people on an epic journey – it takes place in 1845 as three families attempt to cross the Oregon desert guided by a man who clearly has no idea what he’s doing; eventually an Indian is forced to join their group, and is supposedly leading them to safety but no one ever really knows – and you got a harsh lesson in the grimness of life on the frontier, the ending smacked of creative laziness. There was not even a hint of any sort of resolution, even a blurred one, and I honestly felt ripped off.

As one wag quipped while the credits rolled, in reference to the film starting initially, playing a few minutes and then stopping (forcing a comical reboot on the cinema screen including Windows XP re-loading) , “I preferred the first film more.”  You and me both, brother, you and me both!

  • Saturday 2 July @ Dendy Newtown (with Warren, my guy, Fahmi, and Jono)


Movie review: Super 8 / Bridesmaids

(image courtesy IMP Awards)


Super 8

I loved this movie!

It promised a return to feel good 1970s family movies with a 21st Century knowing postmodern edge and it didn’t fail to deliver. Media wunderkind, JJ Abrams of LOST and Alias fame, continues to show that spending his childhood in the 70s making Super 8 movies (much like his hero, and now collaborator, Steven Spielberg) was time well spent. His eye for detail, a great story, emotions that spring from genuine interaction between his characters (rather than being manipulated out of you like a mallet flattening steaks for a BBQ, which is all most Hollywood movies can manage these days), and a sense that even when awful danger threatens, that you are going to be safe.

Oddly enough that last facet doesn’t take away from the rollercoaster ride of thrills that this movie delights in taking you on, but rather reinforces the sense that you can truly surrender to the events as they happen. Maybe it is like reading the end of the book, and thus being reassured that all will be well come what may, but I prefer to think of it as being safe in a sense of time and place, and knowing that no matter how dark the night, there is a morning coming and somehow it wil be bright and shiny. It harkens back to 1970s innocence, if such a thing ever existed (it did for this Baptist pastor’s son growing up in a loving church family), but updates it all beautifully at the same time without surrendering one ounce of charm or fun.





(image courtesy IMP Awards)


I wanted to love this movie.

But I did not. I walked in, fatally as it turns out, expecting the movie to be every bit as funny as the hype, both commercial and from friends who had seen it, a not unrealistic expectation given that Kristen Wiig is one uber talented funny lady, as is the rest of the cast, but alas it wasn’t.

Oh, it had very funny, very silly moments that descended into the sort of hold-your-sides-laugh-out-loud farce that you get so seldom in movies these days, unless someone British is involved, and I don’t think I will ever forget watching Maya Rudolph’s character sitting in  the gutter evacuating her bowels (yeah it doesn’t sound funny like that!) with her wedding dress folded around her. Somehow the juvenile nature of the humour managed to transcend its puerile gross out base, and I laughed long and loud. But the farcical moments came and went, didn’t lead to ever more silly farcical moments, supplanting them instead with serious characters moments. .

Now there’s nothing wrong with injecting some serious elements into a comedy and it can often work well, rounding out the characters and adding some depth to very silly goings on. But in this instance, it merely resulted in a movie that didn’t really know what it was, or where it was going – was it a gross out comedy? A romantic comedy? A buddy chick flick? I don’t think the writers could decided, and it ended up resulting in a movie with a severe case of Multi Genre Disorder, which left me feeling quite unsatisfied. It’s a real pity since so much of the movie showed real promise and it could have been so much more.

As for everyone else. I have no idea what you were laughing at for so long….




My new favourite Coldplay songs!

I adore Coldplay!

I know some hip snobsters sneer at their mainstream-ness but being the sort of person that rejects snobbery in any and every form, and abhors people who elevate high art over low art – arbitary subjective delineations if ever there was some! – but I love their sense of melody, commitment to intelligent songs and the fact that they are genuinely nice guys committed to ethical and just causes….

……… and thank the musical gods, they have new songs – Major Minus, Cartoon Heart, Hurts Like Heaven, Princess of China and Us Against The World – and while they’re not officially released on an album till November/December this year, they are on YouTube in the form of clips shot at a German music festival recently. My favourites? Cartoon Heart and Major Minus so far but it’s early days yet and I am a sucker for Coldplay’s big emotional ballads.

Oh hell, let’s be honest, they’re all good, and you can’t help but love them! Enjoy!    (Cartoon Heart)  (Us Against the World)   (Major Minus)   (Princess of China)  (Hurts Like Heaven)

Movie review: Water For Elephants and X Men : First Class

(image courtesy IMP Awards)


Two great movies but vastly different.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is a movie that surprised me completely. I had expected a love story, set in a Depression-era circus travelling across the United States, and while that is in part, largely what I saw, it was also a movie with great cruelty (both to animals and people), sociopathic behaviour (by the circus owner, August, who is emotionally very unstable, and the husband of Reese Witherspoon’s character, Marlena who rides first the horses and then the titular elephant in her act), and great sadness as some unexpectedly terrible things happen.

But overwhelmingly it is a visually lush, emotionally touching movie, that sticks to the premise, however unrealistic, that love will win out over all else. In the case of the characters of this movie, the ‘all else’ towers menacingly above their lives with everyone from Jacob (Robert Pattinson, who apart from being beautiful to look at, brings some impressive acting chops to the role) who loses his parents, his dreams, and any hope of the life he expected in quick succession, to Marlena, who lives with the mercurial and often quite cruel August, simply because he is a better alternative to the foster homes she grew up in where she felt like a nobody, to well almost all the performers and workers in the circus, all of whom love what they do, but always with a eye on the underlying instability of August’s often despotic rule. But win out, against all these obstacles, it does, even managing to rescue the life of Jacob, who, many years later in his 90s, rejoins the circus to escape his blighted existence in a nursing home.

I loved it from start to finish. A wonderful movie that draws you in, and keeps you there.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

From the 1930s, we jumped to the 1940s for this X Men prequel, which does a brilliant job of explaining how the mutants ended up forming into two adversarial camps. Rather than being just another shallow Hollywood blockbuster, more concerned with action and impressive CGI than substantial narrative and well-developed characters, this movie managed to be both  full-on action and tell us story suffused with grey and the ambiguities of life.

From the opening scenes where Erik Lensherr (later Magneto) watches his mother die at the hands of a sadistic concentration camp doctor, and embarks on a life dedicated to protecting who is, and those who follow him from the enemies all around him (real or imagined) at all costs, contrasted beautifully with the life of privilege and learning of the man eventually known as Professor X. The movie leaps from these formative years to the 1960s during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is re-imagined as a nifty piece of alternative history where the mutants sway the course of action, and examines how a hand picked group of mutants came to realise they were different, and how they handled it (some well, some, um, not so well). Yes it is a little bit too earnest at times, but it does a great job of establishing who is who, and why without resorting to too many action movie cliches, and leaving you feeling as if your mind was as engaged as the gee-whiz-look-at-that-explosion part of you.

  • Sunday 5 June 2011 with my friend Jason.



Hey Dee Dee B!

Dee Dee Bridgewater in concert – Sydney Opera House – Saturday 28 May 2011

Wow! I am not an R & B or Jazz aficionado, and was only here because my R & B devoted Fahmi bought tickets to the concert for my gorgeous guy and I so we could go with him, and so my expectations weren’t high (even though she was singing songs by Billie Holiday, who I love: yes I don’t love R & B or jazz – don’t hate them either – but I adore the Ragtime/Big Band sound…go figure) but man what a dame! Her voice is awesomely good, she made Billie Holiday’s songs her own, had a kickass band, and was funny, down to earth and just plain good fun.

What a wonderful surprise! I must check out more of this fine woman’s work and so should you!

Going Troppo Over Gaga?

Lots of people are, and with a new CD out, the excitement levels only bound to spike still higher. Lady Gaga, who’s music I quite like, has quite the talent for re-invention and creativity, much like the woman who’s career she models herself on, Madonna, and in the lead up to this CD release, hyped it’s imminent arrival to within an inch of it’s sonic life. Hype is dangerous because while it garners you attention, you run the risk you will annoy people if you go too far, and that no matter how good your product is, it won’t measure up the frenzy preceding it’s arrival in the hands of an eager public.

So having said that, does it live up the hype? Partially. The cover art is brilliantly cutting edge and fantastical, and the songs, for the most part, pulsate with a pounding energy that carries you along on a wave of cutting -edge creativity with songs like Scheibe, and Government Hooker sounding quite unique and like nothing else around at the moment. Having said that, quite a few of the songs sound like I have heard them before, which is not a crime if you bring something startlingly new to the table, something that Lady Gaga did with great rapidity during the The Fame/ fame Monster period, but doesn’t appear to be so good at doing now. While I like Born This Way, and Judas, they lack the originality of The Fame material, and I don’t think it’s simply that the Lady Gaga novelty has worn off. While she is still undeniably a pop powerhouse, her new material is lacking that extra special something that made me listen to Pokerface and Telephone over and over. So far, none of the songs on the new CD are begging to be played again, even if I am enjoying listening to them.

I will update once I have listened to the CD more fully as some albums are slow burners but right now, the verdict is great pop but not remarkable pop….