Amy Winehouse – The Day She Came to Dingle: An Introduction

In 2006, Dingle hosted a performance by Amy Winehouse unlike any other.  She hadn’t long released the album Back To Black, the songs were new.  Massive success in the US was round the corner but it hadn’t happened yet.

Dingle is a magical place, a perfect place for a magical gig.  It’s so remote an artist can feel safe from media frenzy. It’s a small town on the west coast of Kerry, the furthest end of the Eurasian landmass.  Look west and beyond the handful of beautiful islands there’s nothing more than 3000 miles of ocean with America beyond.  This was the setting for Amy Winehouse’s gig at the Other Voices festival.

Other Voices is the brainchild of leading Irish broadcaster and musician Philip King.  King holds the festival not in the summer when the town’s population swells from fifteen hundred to thousands with tourists and holidaymakers but in December.  The Atlantic weather can be wild and so it was the night Amy came to Dingle.  She made it along with Dale Davis her bass player and Robin Banerjee her guitarist.  The stormy weather had marooned the rest of the band in Cork.

Winehouse was completely unfazed to be without the support of her full complement of musicians.  The Other Voice s cameras captured a virtuoso performance, stripped back and pure, the centre of the only film I can think of where her musicianship and musical knowledge is front, back and centre.

Every year, King films a festival of acts that range from famous names to the new and unknown and edits the results into a series for Irish TV.  Amy Winehouse sang six songs but King only needed to include three in the broadcast.  He carefully stored all six songs along with an unbroadcast interview she’d given after the gig.

The interview is fascinating, no dodgy boyfriends, no drink, no drugs, no desperation she talks only about the music that she loved and absorbed. She revealed a deep and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of jazz, blues, gospel, soul and every genre of music she’d soaked up to forge her own style.

In her own disarming way, she talks with erudition on performers present and past.  Her analysis of the difference between Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan would be worthy of the most acute New York jazz critic.

King brought the material to Arena to see if we could get together and make a film, so Other Voices  director Maurice Linnane, who’d shot the original gig, filmed contributors who were involved in that day and we were able to find all of the artists Amy Winehouse discussed featured in the richesse of the BBC archives.  One stands out, a magnificent performance by Mahalia Jackson.  There’s a poignancy to Amy Winehouse’s appreciation of gospel, the Jewish stories of captivity and slavery in the Bible were of course adopted by the slaves in America and became the narrative currency of Gospel music.

Jewish artists, songwriters, promoters, entrepreneurs have played a massive part in the history and development of music from the early days of jazz and recorded popular music, Amy Winehouse is part of that tradition.  Her music is now part of that canon, her story became unutterably tragic but I hope this film of the day she came to Dingle provides a record of a joyous Amy Winehouse and of her at her best.

Anthony Wall – Series Film Curator and Executive Producer, Arena at Jewish Book Week