sat 18/05/2024

Arena: Amy Winehouse - The Day She Came to Dingle, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Arena: Amy Winehouse - The Day She Came to Dingle, BBC Four

Arena: Amy Winehouse - The Day She Came to Dingle, BBC Four

A moving, genuine tribute - in the singer's own words and music

'Spindly little legs and mental hair: Amy Winehouse in Dingle

The first anniversary of Amy Winehouse’s death seems like both a temptation and an opportunity for a sensationalist, hyperbolic tribute. Refreshingly, this Arena film, which told the story of the night that a superstar in the making performed to an 85-capacity church in the Irish fishing village of Dingle, for the most part avoided the clichés: the word “tragedy” wasn’t even mentioned until 38 minutes in.

“You don’t just go to Dingle by accident,” Philip King, director of Irish music series Other Voices, explained by way of introduction. Every winter the show manages to attract some of the finest contemporary performers - King cited Ray Davies, Ryan Adams and the National - to the County Kerry village which is so remote that the journey can be completed by car only. It is this remote location, King suggested, that coaxes some very special performances out of its invited artists; there is something about the village’s location “on the edge of the known world” that artists can sense.

The documentary spliced footage of Winehouse’s six-song set at St James’ with a revealing interview, conducted by Other Voices’ then presenter John Kelly, and recollections from some of the characters who were involved that day. Filmed on 3 December 2006, a mere six weeks after the release of Back to Black - the album that would propel Winehouse to superstardom - what came across was a 23-year-old with an incredible voice who was yet to become guarded or wearied by the pressures of fame. To Kelly, she gushed about her vocal influences - Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles, the Sarah Vaughan she “easily” preferred to Ella Fitzgerald - while skilful editing showed snippets of the performances a 14- or 18-year-old Winehouse fell for, open-mouthed, in the doorway to her brother’s bedroom. Later she talked about her “wicked” contemporary favourites, from local jazz bands to the Mercury-nominated Soweto Kinch, and shared a melodramatic post-breakup phase lying on the kitchen floor sobbing along to the Shangri-Las with short pauses for sustenance from KFC.

The show also resisted any temptation to call on the typical "talking heads". Instead we heard from Paddy Kennedy, the driver who picked Winehouse up from the airport in Cork. “I had not a clue who the lady was ... this girl came along, and a man with her, and I said to her ‘where’s your mother?’” he recalled. Bass player Dale Davis, one of the two guitarists who accompanied her in the church, also shared his memories as did booker Aiofe Woodlock and Rev. Mairt Hainey of the Dingle Union of Parishes.

It was the young priest’s awkward contributions that made for some of the more interesting links. Although not particularly religious herself, Winehouse compared her relationship with her music to the “pure” relationship worshippers have with their God. Although this seemed an ideal opportunity to bring in the Rev to talk about the idea that musicians are “the prophets of today” whose more insightful or beautiful pieces “feel nearly like an act of praise or worship”. These thoughts were cut into a stunning rendition of the notoriously filthy “You Know I’m No Good”.

Well-trodden songs they may be now, but Winehouse’s performances in Dingle lived up to the billing. Accompanied only by Davis and another guitarist, stripped-back renditions of “Back to Black”, “Love Is a Losing Game” and even “Rehab” showcased a performer at the peak of her vocal powers - but one who, despite the much-publicised darkness and drama of her later years, was still happiest performing with a giggle and a little half-curtsey to 85 fans in the wilderness.

Watch some highlights from the Dingle performance

What came across was a 23-year-old who was yet to become guarded or wearied by the pressures of fame

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I watched it yesterday and it made feel like "Oh, how I miss her". This was so well made, so respectful and moving. It was a relief to see Amy being comfortable, happy and healthy. The whole atmosphere, the place and the way people embraced her certainly played a role in the show. It was Amy at her best!

Couldn't agree more. THIS is the one to see to understand what a genius Amy WInehouse was, and how much she knew about her sphere, too.

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