Tag Archives: 2004

Amy Winehouse *1

I HAVEN’T really got anything to add to the blizzard of uninformed opinion that has followed the death of Amy Winehouse.

Who knows what really went on? We’d all like to think that we make our own choices but what happens when choice is taken away from you? When the thing you think you need is really the very last thing you need?

The girl I met in late 2003 and again about a year later was very cool and while she definitely had an edge, she clearly wasn’t anywhere near as tough as she tried to make out. I liked her. She was funny and outspoken and real and honest – all you could want from someone you’re interviewing. And of course, it helps that the music she wrote and the words she sang were just incredible.

It’s a crying shame she isn’t around anymore.

* * *

AMY WINEHOUSE might look like she’s been dragged though a hedge backwards but she walks into the hotel bar like she owns the place.

 We’re introduced and she informs the photographer that, nah, he won’t be taking any pictures while we do the interview. She’s just this minute off the tour bus.

”Look at the state of me,” she says, unnecessarily. Everyone is looking at her already.

“Trust me,” soothes the snapper. “I can do something artistic with the computer 
later on.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m doing something artistic with these zits now. We’ll do the pictures later.”

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Mark E Smith *2

MARK E SMITH of the Fall is talking to me, eyeball to eyeball, giving me a few pointers about how I might like to approach our interview:

“Is he an idiot like Oasis? Or is he friendly like New Order? Or is he reclusive like Morrissey?” he whines in a fey, airhead manner, before snapping back into reality and fixing me with a surprisingly steely and clear-eyed gaze. “Say what you want. But watch your back.”

MES doesn’t have much time for the people others might regard as his contemporaries. If you see Manchester as one big happy musical family, Smith is the surly step-child in the corner, loudly singing off-key and out of time, spoiling it for everyone. Loving the fact that he is spoiling it for everyone.

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Amp Fiddler

JOSEPH ‘Amp’ Fiddler has a theory that conversations are the dynamic for change in our lives and I’m with him all the way.

How true this is when you’re speaking over the phone, I’m not so sure. Surely you need to be close enough to be able to see the whites of their eyes to really have a chance to know what’s going on in someone’s head?

It’s a shame not to meet the guy in person. Fiddler cuts a striking figure. Tall - well over six feet when you take into account his hair, which fluctuates between dreads and an impressive afro – distinguished, and a snappy dresser to boot, Amp resembles nothing so much as a latterday funky Malcolm X, stepping out to an afterhours jazz den in his wraparound shades, polo neck and leather raincoat.

But he’s in France, midway through a lengthy European tour, relaxing before tonight’s gig and I’m in the UK, midway through production day, not relaxing before the magazine goes to press. We’ll have to try our best.

Thinking about it, it’s unlikely I’d be able to see the whites of Fiddler’s eyes anyway  one, he’s on tour so they’re probably a little red around the edges (“we’ve been having a lot of fun,” he drawls) and two, he’s rarely seen without sunglasses, even indoors.

Fiddler, however, has been in this game a lot longer than I have and he fields my questions like the seasoned pro he is, his rich, melifluous  if, occasionally, a little croaky  voice booming over the line from Lyon.

The tour is going well. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he “most definitely enjoys the European way of life” and only wishes the weather was a little better, “but it’s okay. I been having a great time.”

Roughly half of the people in his audiences have already heard his astonishingly assured debut solo album, Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly he estimates (well, he actually recorded his debut for a major label at the start of the Nineties, but it wasn’t a happy or rewarding experience); the other half haven’t but, “our show is very dynamic, so if people don’t get it by the middle of the show, they definitely get it by the end. But,” he adds with a chuckle, “most of them get it in the beginning.”

Old enough to say “record” when he means “CD”, young enough to know who Dizzee Rascal is (he recently bought Rascal’s album for his son Dorian), Fiddler is also polite enough not to mention it when I get the titles of his songs wrong or interrupt him, mid sentence. He doesn’t let things bother him. He’s playing a long game. He turned 46 last week but isn’t unduly perturbed: “The older the fiddle, the better the tune.”

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Bebel Gilberto

I’D LOVE to be able to pretend that bossa nova has been a big part of my life for years and years, but the fact is I didn’t really get it – or any of that easy, lounge stuff – until I heard Bebel Gilberto’s major label debut, Tanto Tempo, in 2000. After that, there was no stopping me.

She didn’t play up north until a few years later and I made it my business to sort out a face-to-face interview with her when she finally made it.

She was lovely, the gig was great, the interview was okay.

This is a reworked, slightly longer version of the piece that eventually ended up in the Big Issue in the North. It’s followed by the transcript of a phoner with her I did for City Life a year or so later.

* * *

“I WAS always a traveller,” says Bebel Gilberto, glancing out of a hotel window across the Manchester Ship canal, as she pulls on a lock of jet-black hair. “I started travelling when I was a baby with my parents, because my father was touring, and I have been travelling ever since.”

Over the last few days, Gilbert has been in Spain and Holland playing gigs before coming to the UK for a meeting with the producer of her new album in London and travelling up to Manchester for tonight’s gig.

She is in Manchester as part of a short solo UK tour before she supports Simply Red around Europe.

“Sleeping is a big problem, I have trouble, I guess because of being in so many different places,” she says in charmingly accented English. “But lately I don’t know .. I don’t even want to talk about it because I think my body can hear – and then I’m not going to be able to sleep again. But I’ve had like 11 hours of sleep. So I’m in a very good mood.”

bebelBorn in New York and raised in Mexico City, São Paulo and Rio de Janiero, much of the early childhood of the only daughter of Brazilian bossa nova legends João and Miúcha Gilberto was spent touring the world. Her “totally hippy” parents were not exactly what you would call conventional.

A couple of lives dates in Mexico City, en route back to Brazil, for example, turned into a two-year stopover.

“We had a beautiful house with a big peacock walking around in it,” she tells me with a big smile, “but we had no furniture at all. We did have a TV and we all watched Brazil in the 1970 World Cup and it was fantastic.”

Her parents weren’t the only entertainers in the family – her uncle, her mother’s brother, is the poet, playwright and singer Chico Buarque.

But while the songs on her astounding major label debut retain the Zen-like simplicity of her father’s best-loved work, while her honey-toned voice recalls that of her now famously reclusive mother, Bebel Gilberto is more than merely a chip off the old block. However, growing up in a showbiz family – even a globetrotting Brazilian bossa nova hippy family – brings its own problems.

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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

HERE is an interview with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost written for The Big Issue in the North in early 2004, just ahead of the release of their rom-zom-com Shaun Of The Dead.

* * *

IT’S all very well for the Americans.

They have the right – some might even say the duty – to bear arms under their Constitution. But just suppose for a minute that, say, the cannibalistic undead rose from their graves in this country – how would we Brits defend ourselves against the zombie multitude?

Don’t laugh. It could happen.

“I think that the British would be much better at fighting zombies than the Americans,” decides Nick Frost. “The Americans would rely too heavily on firearms. When they ran out of bullets they’d find it difficult to adapt.”

“Exactly!” agrees Simon Pegg. “They would have no proficiency in the use of no weapons.”

“I’d go with something like a Lee Enfield with a bayonet,” Frost ruminates, “because you can fire, fire, fire, oh, I’ve run out of bullets, what’s next?” He thrusts an imaginary rifle towards Pegg’s face. “Bang! Right in the eyeball!”

“We always used to think about getting some kind of long stick, like a long crook with a point on so you can just come in, top of the head, crack, there, straight into the cranium” – Pegg jabs a finger at the top of Frost’s head – “Bang! Brained!”

Okay. Is that door locked?

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Shazia Mirza

I WORKED on a magazine focussing on Black Minority Ethnic arts and culture in Manchester for a time and one section was devoted to high profile BME figures talking about the decisions and choices they made on the path to success. Stand up comic Shazia Mirza was the first person I interviewed.

****

THERE’S something about holding the attention of a bunch of unruly kids in school which prepares you for a career entertaining drunken adults in nightclubs: French and Saunders, Dave Spikey from Phoenix Nights, even Tom O’Connor served their time at the chalk face before moving into stand-up.

But it’s unlikely any of them put up with anything like Shazia Mirza dealt with when she taught at a tough inner city boys school in the East End of London.

“The kids didn’t want to learn,” remembers Mirza as she wanders around the lobby of an arts centre in Oldham where she has just done a gig in an ultimately futile attempt to track down some cranberry juice (“Cranberry? Juice?” asks the manager, incredulously). “I used to have to lock the doors to keep them in. They used to escape from my lesson though a window. I mean, they weren’t interested in physics and chemistry; they wanted to be football players. It was a really poor area.”

“When I’m onstage, you get some bad heckles, but nobody would ever say things like, ‘have you got a boyfriend?’ Nobody’s ever said, ‘You’re shit, you don’t deserve to be paid’. I suppose once you’ve been a teacher, you’ve heard all that. The only time the kids listened to me was when I said something funny – actually, looking back on it, I used to go into school every morning and perform for them – so when I started stand-up, it wasn’t that different.”

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Amy Winehouse *2

TODAY, the Sun has published stills from a phone-flick of Amy doing crack at 5am one morning last week.

I’m not going to stick my oar in with any uninformed opinion about what she should do or not do – I’ll leave that to the likes of Carole fucking Malone – but I hope she can get through it. The girl’s got talent and she’s not so very bad when you get to meet her – but the Amy I met four years ago was a very different person to the one portrayed on the front page of the Sun today.

She just seems to be turning into a latterday Billie Holiday. For me, Winehouse has a voice which, in its own way, is every bit as arresting as Lady Day’s. All she’s lacking is the same calibre of tragically profound material – and she seems to be working on that as we speak. It’s a crying shame.

This is an interview with Amy from the end of 2004, whilst she was still working out the direction of her breakthrough Back To Black album – an album detailing her relationship with her future husband Blake Fielder-Civil …

* * *

YOU know you’re getting somewhere when, as one of Amy Winehouse’s backing band puts it, your audience starts singing your songs back to you like they wrote them themselves.

“When I get out on stage and the crowd go mad, I can never believe it,” says Winehouse, fresh off the tour bus, as she teeters around in alarmingly high heels backstage in Liverpool before the second date of her current tour. “I think a trapdoor will open and I’m going to fall through it, like someone’s set me up for some big gag or something. I don’t get it, it’s weird.”

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