Matt Rakowski
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The Story Behind the Picture: Amy Winehouse

Posted On Tuesday, 23 June 2020

In another fond and emotional memory from my time as a music photographer, I thought I’d share the story behind the picture for Amy Winehouse. The picture itself isn’t of Amy, but of Joss Stone—although the story is all about Amy.

One Thursday night in November 2004, I was at the Birmingham Academy to Photograph Joss Stone. I was excited about the gig because she’s a beautiful girl and I wanted to get some great pictures of her. A lot of the bands I took pictures of were hairy, sweaty men. Unfortunately, I never knew what to expect with female pop stars, sometimes they love the camera, others not.

A few weeks before Joss, I took pictures of Avril Lavigne at the NIA. I had a total crush on her, but that night she shattered my dreams forever by playing the first three songs in an unflattering black hoody, with her face and hair tucked away. After the first song, as the photographers were ushered out of the pit—Avril unzipped her hoody, threw it into the crowd and played the rest of the gig in a strappy white top, looking like a goddess. I looked back and though ‘you bitch!’

No such drama with Joss. I’m not sure she was too bothered about her audience beyond the pit, such was her undivided attention to the photographers for the first three songs. I got some great pictures of her and managed to express her beauty in the way I wanted. I left the pit on a high and made my way to the balcony to watch the rest of the show.

I grabbed a beer and took a seat, already feeling pretty smug with myself for getting some decent pictures. After a few minutes, one of the guys from the Academy came over, tapped me on the shoulder and yelled something inaudible in my ear. The song ended and I asked him to say it again.

“Do you mind if Amy Winehouse watched the gig with you?” He turned and pointed to someone who was unmistakably Amy Winehouse, standing a few metres away. Naturally I agreed. I got another round of drinks and we spent the next hour or so watching Joss Stone and chatting between the songs.

Amy Winehouse being there didn’t come as a complete surprise, because I was booked to photograph her the following night, but her asking to sit with me—wow!

I don’t remember what we talked about; it was only small talk because both of us were keen to watch the gig. But I can say she was a truly lovely girl—polite, chatty and totally down to earth.

The experience of that night made the following one even more special. Being only 21 and promoting her first Album ‘Frank’, it was before the time she assumed the excessively skinny and tattooed look. The gig was great, slow and soulful with a timeless energy in her voice. I bumped into in a bar in Camden a year or so later, she recognised me, and we chatted for a few minutes before each going our separate ways.

When the news of her death broke, naturally I was mortified. Primarily because the world had lost one of the best singer/songwriters of my generation. But also because she was a wonderful human being, who ended up in a dark place.

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