Pop supremo Nick Godwyn signed Amy to Simon Fullers 19 Management when she was an unknown teenager. Nick Godwyn also worked with artists like Boy George and Kylie Minogue while he managed Amy Winehouse for 6 years and managed 3 of her tours.
“There were signs, even back then, that she wasn’t happy. You can listen to the words of her songs and there aren’t many happy, upbeat love songs. And I think that’s a reflection of where she is. She only writes songs from personal experience. There are some beautiful songs which, lyrically, are fascinating. But some of them are quite sad.” ~ Nick Godwyn.
In this Times interview Nick Godwyn talks about Amy Winehouse from what she loved, her influences to her drug and alcohol troubles.
The real Amy Winehouse by her first manager Nick Godwyn
A giggly 16-year-old walked into Nick Godwyn’s office in 1999.
Her first manager describes what she was really like…
“Putting my hand on Amy’s coffin, I thought how small it was. Under the beehive and the attitude, she was a tiny thing. Mitch, her father, had told all of us at the funeral that her friends had put her in a dress, done her hair, her make-up. It was comforting but odd. I imagined her sleeping.
Then, as I walked away, it hit me. I would never see Amy again.
The day was meant to be a celebration and Mitch and Janis were unbelievable. They have been through every minute of Amy’s addiction with her and here they were still giving this time to us. But I couldn’t feel happy that day.
When you worked with Amy it was exhausting. She would be late or she didn’t feel things were right, she didn’t feel like writing or whatever it was we were trying to do. Things were always tinged with — is she going to turn up? Is she going to answer her phone? Will we get her there on time? Will she tell people to piss off? You were always on edge.
So, when you finished a day with her, you’d be totally and utterly exhausted but with a big smile on your face. The difference on Tuesday was that I spent a day with Amy and I got home exhausted, but there was no smile this time.
Amy was gifted and different from everybody else. She wasn’t trying to be different but she was. She looked at things differently, she read things differently, she wrote things differently, she behaved differently.
She wasn’t abnormal. She was unique. Talented, unique, troubled, young. I don’t know why but I wrote those words down the day she died.
I first met Amy when she was 16 in 1999. She was young, fresh and curious. She had big eyes, huge eyelashes, was giggly and the teeth would be there. As a favour to Simon Fuller, I’d recently stopped doing PR for the Spice Girls after they fired him as manager. In turn, he said he’d fund whatever I wanted to do.
I said manage, so I started working with a colleague, Nick Shymansky, who was only 19, and the first artist we found was Tyler James.
One day Tyler brings in a tape of his schoolfriend, Amy. It was a song called Estrogenius, it was a six-minute poem with bad guitar-playing but there was this voice, I got goosebumps just from the tape. We asked her to come in and sing something for us.
She came in with her baby guitar, we had a chat but then she broke her guitar string and wouldn’t sing. We all thought it was hilarious. Nine out of ten times, I wouldn’t give people a second chance, but I told her, “Come back when you’re ready.”
She came back the next week and this time she sang. We knew instantly she was something special. We thought, this person has a chance, she could write a record that the whole world would listen to if she delivers it with that vocal. We asked her what she wanted to do? “I don’t know, really — sing a bit. Be a waitress?”
Amy wasn’t someone who wanted to be a pop star; just someone who was curious about us, about the music industry. This wasn’t school, this was real and these two people were saying to her, “You’ve got an amazing voice, what do you want to do?” not “We think you should do this.”
So we started working together. She was only the second artist we’d worked with, so we had no idea what we were doing, apart from the fact that we had a huge amount of passion and we believed in her. We met Mitch [her father], he wanted to know whether we were a reputable company, was she going to make it.
I said, “Look, she’s got the talent to make it, you need a bit of luck as well. We will look after her and this will be a pleasurable experience.” Looking back it seems ludicrous. We really thought, if it doesn’t sell who cares? If she’s having a good time, then we’re all happy. We were idealists and naive, but I was loving it.
From the start Amy knew what she loved. Her influences were Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Carole King’s Tapestry, James Taylor, and this was not what was going on. It was not what 16-year-olds listened to.
And she was an authority on it; she had studied this music; she had listened and listened, and she had absorbed it. For her, money wasn’t an issue; fame wasn’t an issue.
She cared about jazz and music and that was it. In fact, you had to coax her a little bit along the way — what do you want? It’s against all the music rules to spend four years developing an act; it didn’t cost a lot of money but it was a ridiculous amount of time; we didn’t even sign a record deal for three years.
She was growing up and she was learning her craft, her way. The minute you sign a record deal the pressure starts that will filter down to the artist, however good a manager you are.
Her attitude of not following any rulebook was infectious. We had a brilliant artist, who was going to write her own record and somebody would go “We actually love this record and we’re going to play it to death” and then she would sell the records that she deserved. But she didn’t think like that.
She wanted to be recognised as a musician by other musicians, that was the biggest thing.
People who say that Frank, her first record (released in 2003), was not Amy’s record are wrong. You couldn’t ever tell Amy what to do. She did what she wanted. And we encouraged that. She chose the producer, Salaam Remi, who she also worked with on Back to Black.
She shot the cover artwork with her friend. She made her own clothes, had her own style. She got lumped into the new jazz scene with Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua, but she couldn’t have been farther from that. She was raw, she sang about her life, about her parents divorce, about casual sex.
She had a darkness. She was utterly different.
If you had a rulebook on how to promote an artist, she wouldn’t do any of the things that you’re meant to do; she alienated Radio 1 by getting up late for a phonecall and then saying live on air, “This is shit”; she alienated some parts of the press with outrageous comments; she alienated the record company when she called the whole of the marketing department “a bunch of idiots”. And she was always late.
If she even remembered to show up.
Before we signed a record deal, a couple of demo tracks had leaked and the industry buzz was mounting, so we arranged to see the MD at Virgin Records. We waited for her for an hour before I eventually got hold of her, she’d got lost and given up.
We rescheduled. This time my partner, Nick, went to collect her. One minute to go and they arrive.
Both are covered in dirt and dusting themselves off. “Nick, what’s going on?” I asked, and he said he’d chucked her in a bin, and not let her out until she calmed down. I was thinking, “We are just about to walk in the MD’s office and talk about a potential big record and you’ve just put her in a bin?”
In the end we did the record deal with Island Records. They were based in a townhouse, it was small, they had a studio. Amy could wander over there. Lucian Grainge, chairman of Universal, absolutely got Amy and loved her from Day 1. It was perfect.
We went to sign on December 22, the last day of work before everyone went off for Christmas.
The meeting was at midday. We’d sent a taxi. We’re waiting, she’s 30 minutes late. She finally calls to say, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m at the publishing company.” We’d done the publishing deal months before.
I had to explain, “No, this is the record deal, at your lawyers.”
But that was her character and I admired it in some ways because there are lots of artists who cannot wait to sign a deal. And behind the absent-mindedness there was an element of her being unsure of committing, because she thought she was giving in to something, but I told her, “You are not giving in, you now have an outlet that allows you to express what you want to do.”
The truth is she was complicated and difficult. She could be disruptive and haughty. She liked to challenge you. And she was always kicking against something.
Amy was brutally honest. Dido had said something nice about her and when she was asked about Dido, she said, “I’d rather pour cleaning fluid in my hears than listen to Dido”; “Madonna — she’s a grandma!”
It was often misconstrued as her being arrogant and rude, and there is a fine line; she wasn’t arrogant, but she was totally honest.
It’s all there in her lyrics. Her issues with men, her promiscuity. Her addictive personality. Some of her lyrics could be ambiguous. I only understood what “I only hold your hand to change the angle”, was about when her dad asked.
It’s about a guy masturbating her, she said to us unblinking. We’d had no idea. And who says that on a record? Who even says that in daily life?
We worked together from 1999 to 2006. We had lovely moments. Lots of laughs. The person I met was rosy, full of life, colourful, risky. She was great fun. I’ll always remember the two of us, driving away from the V Festival, singing Respect by Aretha Franklin at the tops of our voices.
But there was real attitude and caustic behaviour. There were people at the record company who were afraid of her. When Frank went platinum, I thought she’d be happy and backstage at a gig I gave her a platinum disc — she just shrugged angrily.
A significant moment was when she won the Ivor Novello award because that was her being recognised as a musician.
Nick and I knew before but didn’t tell her, so she was grumpy about that. We went back to the office to celebrate and there were some flowers from the record company. She picked them up, scowled and threw them in the bin. She’d already turned the day into a negative.
Why would someone give her flowers? That was her. Dark and light.
She was happiest with musicians in the studio, working things out. That’s where she felt comfortable. She also liked being on the road for the same reason although I don’t think she was comfortable on the stage. For her singing was such an experience, it was almost spiritual.
She could look glazed, as if she’d gone to another place.
Things started to unravel in 2004. Frank had done well. It was critically acclaimed, she’d liked it. But there is one song that shouldn’t have been on there and if there is one way that I let her down in my tenure it was letting that song on. Anyway, all we’re doing is thinking about the next record.
One day, she gets Blake tattooed on her chest. Blake [Fielder-Civil] is on the scene. And she changes. She might have changed because she had fallen in love with someone.
People change when they are in love. She loved him.
There’s a different priority in life, I accepted that, but then other things started to change. Her behaviour became more erratic. She wasn’t doing anything; not going away, not going into the studio.
We arranged a trip for her to New York to meet the producer Mark Ronson and she wouldn’t go.
Then one Friday morning, I got a call from Nick. Come straight to Amy’s. I get there and she is in pieces. It was shocking. I’d never seen her like that before.
She was broken. She was crying, upset, saying she loves Blake. We were consoling her but also said that maybe now is the time to talk to somebody.
I never used the word rehab because it had such big connotations. We just wanted her to talk to someone. We knew then the drink and drugs were bad, that it was hard drugs, but I don’t think anyone quite knew then how bad that was.
Neighbours were coming down and saying to me, she’s not a bad person, we think she’s got problems. And I went into the flat and it was like a squat, it was just hideous. Mitch came and picked her up. Her friends came and tidied the flat.
This behaviour accelerated very quickly. It wasn’t over a year; it was over two or three months. The disintegration was really, really quick. I don’t know why Amy got into drugs. She never had been.
She liked a spliff and a lot of drink, but she’d always said she thought people who took drugs were @#$%&. It wasn’t her bag, she didn’t need them. Did Blake change that? Did Camden change that? I don’t know.
She’d lost her grandmother who was the most important person in her life, the only one who could tell her what to do because her granny had been rock’n’roll herself, she’d dated Ronnie Scott.
Amy adored her. And something happened that moved her from being OK to being broken in a very short space of time.
We did get her to the clinic on Monday. As the world now knows, it’s all in the song, Rehab. She didn’t want to go but we knew it was the moment. We dropped her off, told her to call us, whatever she wanted was OK.
Before we’d even sat down to have our lunch, she calls, “Right, done that.” And so we took her back to London. What could we do?
After that my relationship with her definitely changed.
She hadn’t wanted to go, didn’t think she needed it and she lost her faith in me. My partner Nick moved on. I was out of contract with Amy and nothing was happening.
Eventually we met in early 2006 and she was very quiet and very nice, I think she was dreading it, and she said she wanted a new manager. I made it easy for her.
I understood why she was doing it. From 16 to 21, you change. I wasn’t her character any more and probably never was, really. I was Big Nick, Godders, I was older and maybe a bit sensible. And I’d seen it done too many times round the other way.
I said to her, “I don’t think you need a new manager, I think you need to make a record. You’ve got the best deals there have ever been.” I said, “Send me the record when you make it because I’d like to hear it, because I’m a fan.” But I’d also got pretty tired and was possibly slightly relieved.
The next time I hear Amy is when I hear Rehab on the radio, five times a day, everywhere I go.
The bloody song is about what I did. She’s saying “No, no, no”. I’m thinking “Yes, yes, yes”. I thought it was absolutely brilliant.
From Day 1 with Nick we’d said one thing we’d like to do was to make a record that a milkman in Newcastle would be whistling. and this was it.
It was bittersweet. We’d put in so much; I’d have liked some of that success. But then she does these TV shows that I would never have done. She never courted the press. She did very few interviews in her short life but suddenly her car-crash life is everywhere.
Like everyone else I watched the roller coaster from afar. It was when she got emphysema in 2008 that I was devastated for her. For a vocalist that’s a disaster.
At the funeral it was her father who said that Amy was all about “love”. I’m not sure what he meant by that. She was absolutely about family and her friends, her world was small. She absolutely loved children and she always said to me that all she wanted was to be married and to have babies.
I don’t know if that was making up for her parents’ divorce or because she believed in the fairytale.
But she did feel things more strongly than other people. When you listen to a song and it makes you cry, that’s what she was doing night after night, when she performed. Going to that place.
In many ways, I think she was playing catch-up; her talents were beyond her age, so she was catching up with her talent, she was too gifted at such a young age to be able to handle it all.
But that’s me and if Amy was alive she’d probably be like, “Nick, don’t be a dick, that’s not how I felt.”
There were 300 people at the funeral. A lot of them had worked with her. All were distraught. It was very charged. Every person that she met she touched with either her idiosyncrasies or her talent; her ability to come with something that would you knock you sideways.
If you look from Frank to Back to Black, that second album had hits all over it and nobody could have expected that. She was always delivering the unexpected. And she was engaging. Once she had your attention, you didn’t walk away from her.
I’d dispute any of the recent claims that she was pushed into anything, or that people weren’t trying to help. Her record label had not asked her to do anything since 2007. They’d even turned down music, which must have hurt her a lot.
They just wanted her better. Her family were devoted to her and paid heavily themselves.
She was a lot luckier than some artists who have success in that she wasn’t on a treadmill. I know artists who have one day off in a year. Before she got ill, you were lucky if Amy did 30 days in a year. No doubt she might have been lonely.
Fame isolates people. As does a public image as a rebel.
I did find the recent tour upsetting and strange. Putting an addict into an environment in which they’re used to taking drugs or drinking is a bad idea. Who knows what the reason was. Maybe her team thought a tour would get her confidence back. At the funeral, Mitch said it was soon after the gig that she had stopped drinking.
I won’t call Amy a genius. I don’t like that word. It’s overused. Frank was a great, challenging album but it wasn’t unbelievable. Back to Black was more commercial and is undeniably brilliant — what was constant were her voice and lyrics. That’s what set her apart.
Her voice that was that of the very best Ella Fitzgerald, Billie and Dinah — up in that league. Her voice transcended just her generation, she is one of the greats of all time. The voice could crush you with its emotion.
From Day 1, from when she sang, I’d heard nothing like it. We’d go into a record company and everyone would sit there, jaws open. We did it the old-fashioned way. We didn’t send demos. We said, “We’ll come and play for you.”
Which most people don’t want you to do because it could be embarrassing, but we just went in and blew everyone away.
She loved singing. For us it was, could the record company handle this? The minute anyone said, “We love her … but”, we would switch off because there was no “but” about it. We were uncompromising in that way.
Mitch said in his eulogy, “What you saw was what you got with Amy” and that was absolutely right. there were no angles. You either accepted it and dealt with it, or didn’t like it. It was never going to change. In the early days, she definitely said, “I can take drugs and I can handle it.
When I don’t want to take ’em, I won’t do this any more.” But it took her a long time to get to, “I don’t want to do this any more.” I wanted to believe Mitch when he said she was happy when she died and I did.
It’s a tragedy that potentially she might have just got to the turning point but her body had taken too much by that stage and just couldn’t cope.
For me, a selfish regret is that I’m never going to hear her sing again. The emotion, the diction, it could just fill everything, it was enveloping, you were lost in it. But what I’ll miss the most is her beating her demons, which she may well have been on the way to doing.
“I’m going to miss that Amy — the one who was going to come out the other side.”
Nick Godwyn Talks About Amy Winehouse In This BBC Video here
Amy Winehouse was ‘a very strong character.’ Nick Godwyn who began managing her when she was a teenager, told the BBC: “Even in those days you thought she’d be an artist that would need quite a lot of care and attention.
“People talk about wasted talent, but I don’t look at it like that. If Amy never made another record again it would be sad, but it’s less about the music for me and more about ‘this is a human being that maybe isn’t very happy,’ he added.