There’s a well-known line, from a famous film that has no relevance to Amy Winehouse other than that it contains one line that succinctly sums up the deceased singer’s life and career: ‘The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long’.*
Her career was so short that it only lasted just long enough for her to release two studio albums, but she sang on these discs with a focused intensity, inhabiting and interpreting the songs with such a distinctive stamp of originality that it made her stand out as a remarkable and memorable artist.
Subsequently, when you hear other singers tackle her songbook, it soon becomes evident that these songs are not really strong enough to stand on their own without her energy and soul present in order to give them the necessary spark of life they need to resonate with the listener.
Atlanta Coogan has been performing her Amy Winehouse Show around Australia for a number of years now, and whilst she is an established singer with a good pedigree, having worked with bands of the calibre of The Black Sorrows and Bjorn Again as well as others, she did not quite nail these songs in this performance. She has mastered many of the vocal pyrotechnics that Winehouse was famous for, but she seemed far too focused on ensuring technical ‘correctness’ without allowing herself permission to fully let go of inhibition and really live the songs.
Hence the best-known songs, like Back To Black, Valerie and Rehab, were played and sung a cautious half beat too slow, and subsequently failed to ignite the desired level of audience response you would expect these songs to elicit.
The song sequence also seemed somewhat random, with these better known songs coming too early in the set, leaving the closing number to be the very sombre What Is It About Men? which ultimately subdued the audience at the conclusion of the show. This was not the way people would have been expecting a ‘celebration’ of this talented performer’s life to finish up.
Tellingly, the best interpretations in this show were of some of Winehouse’s favourite old sixties classics – Phil Spector’s To Know Him Is To Love Him, The Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Sam Cooke’s Cupid and Ruby & The Romantics 1963 hit, Our Day Will Come.
But the fact that so much of this one hour set was built around these covers reflected how few Winehouse original songs there are that are unique and distinctly original enough to be included in a tribute show such as this.
Coogan’s intermittent between song commentary, ruminating upon Winehouse’s life and career, was disappointingly unrevelatory, and seemed to be delivered in an ‘off the cuff’ manner and be unrehearsed. This was strange because, after doing this show for so long, you would have thought the content, timing and delivery of these interludes would have been refined and polished by now.
The band – respected players all, with Steve Hadley on bass; James Black on guitars and keyboards; Steve Morrison on drums, and Pete Mitchell on saxophones – were simply too restrained in their approach to this material, and their playing, sadly, as a result, lacked spirit. Even the solo instrumental spots of Black and Mitchell appeared to be hesitant and undertaken a tad reluctantly.
All up, this was merely a ‘polite’ performance, lacking in passion and power, which, in response drew only polite appreciation from those who attended.
Whilst the legacy of Miss Winehouse’s technique and approach was present tonight, sadly her soul was absent, and that was clearly the missing ingredient preventing this performance ascending to the next level.
Rating: 3 stars
The Amy Winehouse Show was performed for one night only at The Fortuna Spiegeltent in The Garden Of Unearthly Delights on Tuesday 27 February 2018.
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* from Blade Runner (dir: Ridley Scott) (1982)