Back in Dingle we didn't want her to leave and knew we were in the presence of greatness
Amy Winehouse travelled to Co Kerry for an ‘Other Voices’ show in late 2006, and she electrified those present with her soulful singing, writes JOHN KELLY
THE CONCEPT was as follows. In the very darkest days before Christmas, a ragbag of willing performers would brave the winter to perform brief sets in a minuscule church in Dingle.
It was a concept riddled with problems – the most obvious ones being the time of year and the climate – but a lot of the time it worked well. When the likes of Amy Winehouse showed up, it worked extremely well indeed.
High winds were threatening the travel plans of our star turn and messages were coming through all day – “Amy’s flight has been diverted to Cork”, “Amy’s in Shannon”, “We think she may be in Killarney in a taxi”, “Actually we have no idea where she is.” We couldn’t quite relax until we had her seated comfortably in Benners Hotel. And then suddenly there she was standing on the Main Street in Dingle – all smiles and collapsing beehive.
The first thing she asked for was a packet of crisps. This was the end of 2006 – the year Back to Black was released – and Amy was destined to be the biggest star of 2007. This was one act nobody was going to miss.
Of course, it wasn’t just the music which brought that extra edge to her appearance. She had a few under-the-weather television appearances behind her, and her reputation as a drinker was very much in the mix.
I have no record of our interview and, in any case, only the smallest snippets of it would have been used in the show. But I remember that we talked about her brother’s record collection introducing her to Ray Charles and Thelonious Monk. Round Midnight was a big tune for her.
I also had to keep reminding myself that she was still only in her early 20s until, that is, she reminded me permanently of this fact by saying that she had grown up listening to Kylie Minogue.
I must say that I liked her. She was sweet natured. She knew her onions. She had a lot of soul and she was thrilled to get a plate of oysters. Then there was the performance itself. She took to the stage with just a guitarist and a bass player, and while I knew she’d be good, I had no idea just how good. Television does its best and the YouTube footage is excellent but, really, you have no idea of just how good she was.
This comparison isn’t right in terms of voice or style, but on how well she sang, she was as good as Billie Holiday – no question.
In the presence of greatness? Definitely. Of course, the bit that also should have been filmed was the aftermath – the pair of us escaping from the melee through the window of the sacristy is something I’ll never forget. And then the way she cut such an exotic figure in Curran’s as the bus waited and waited.
Amy really liked Dingle and didn’t want to leave. We didn’t want her to leave either. I’m a lucky man to have met her. And to have met her then. And I’m a very lucky man to have heard her sing. May she rest in peace.
(This article was carried in the Irish Times on the 25th of July)