Winehouse Graffitti

Amy Winehouse: Queen of Camden

Although Amy Winehouse and Camden are in some ways synonymous, Amy was in fact an Enfield girl. She was brought up in Chase Street in Southgate, part of Enfield chase. She was a powerhouse of a singer who created a unique sound though the eclectic mixing of soul, rhythm and blues, and jazz. She was a slight, young woman with a massive voice, who died tragically, aged 27, in 2011.

Moving to Camden

She chose to move to Camden in 2003 when she was twenty,  just as her first album ‘Frank’ was released. She lived in various rented flats, and throughout her career she remained, like Camden Town itself, unpretentious and brassy. 

Her local hangout was the Hawley Arms where initially she worked as a barmaid. She met fellow singers like Pete Doherty, later hanging out there, playing billiards, jamming in group concerts, and occasionally jumping the bar to serve drinks again, much to the customers delight. Sadly the Hawley Arms was badly burnt down in the 2008 Camden lock fire, but after a great fundraising effort it re-opened its doors and still serves Amy’s favourite tipple ‘Rickstasy’,  a cocktail  of vodka, banana liqueur and Southern Comfort. Amy was heard shouting “Camden Town ain’t burning down” to a confused American audience when she received one of her five Grammy awards on the night of the Camden Lock fire.

She clearly felt at home in Camden Town, describing it to her father Mitch as her playground. Later, when famous, she could be seen posing for delighted fans on the streets near, or in, the Stables Market. In her early twenties she had worked in the market selling candles. Now there are references to her all over Camden. Her trademark  beehive hair and winged eye liner appear on walls and above doorways in the streets.

Wall next to the Earl of Camden pub, Parkway

In 2007 the Jewish Museum in London decided to honour her through an exhibition and street art tour. Many of these images remain. As I walked the streets to take these photos on a wet and windy February day, the music of her still amazing song Rehab drifted out from the tattoo bar Nemesis and the Lock Tavern.

The Jazz Cafe

Her early music was heavily and obviously influenced by jazz. She played at jazz venues across London but claimed to be most happy at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, where she did a gig in 2004. The Camden Jazz Cafe is regarded as one of the world’s leading jazz venues and has been hosting international legends here since the 1980s; for example, Archie Schepp, Eddie Harris, Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Smith and Lana Del Rey.

The Dublin Castle and Abbey Road Studios

Amy’s album ‘Back to Black’ brought her international fabe and stardom, but she found all this a struggle and became addicted to drugs and alcohol. IBy 2007 she was booed off stage for being unable to sing coherently and stumbling about in a drunken haze.This did not stop her playing at local venues. She was a regular at the Dublin Castle pub, a well known live music venue.

In commemoration of Amy, the pub has a fresco and a signed photo of her. Her last recording was at the Abbey Road studios – a recording venue used by giants like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Freddie Mercury and more recently Lady Gaga – on March 23rd 2011.  Here she recorded the Billie Holiday number ‘Body and Soul’ with her idol, the singer, Tony Bennett. He later released this on what would have been her 28th birthday, September 14th 2011.

The Round House

On July 20th 2011 Amy made a surprise appearance at the Round House in Chalk Farm to support her god-daughter Dionne Bromfield, who was singing there. The pair performed a brilliant duet of ‘Mama Said’.  In the late 60s and 70s the Round House was a rock venue which hosted the likes of Led Zepplin and David Bowie. Today it is both an arts centre and a music venue, and still occasionally hosts Amy Winehouse tribute evenings in celebration of her music. 

A sad demise

The Round House concert was just three days before her untimely death in her new swanky flat at 30  Camden Square. Amy died from alcohol poison. She purchased the flat in March 2011 but had spent little time there. She had been appearing in public as a very damaged, frail person who often cancelled shows from promotional tours or was too drunk to perform. So her death was in many respects unsurprising. However, given how gifted a performer she was, to many it felt an utter tragedy and waste. The floral tributes remain a decade later, tied to a tree opposite her flat. Camden Council have had to put up a sign asking people (her fans) not to take the street sign of Camden Square as 14 such signs went missing in six years! Such is the devotion of her fans.

A Statue in Camden Stables Market

After Amy’s death both her father Mitch and fans raised money for a life-size bronze statue to be created by Scott Eaton and erected in the refurbished Camden stables market. It commemorated the 31st birthday she never reached. I found myself searching for it, even though there are comparatively few people at the market in these post-COVID days, because it is so small. It underscores her frailty.

London Music’s Walk of Fame opened in Camden November 2019. On March 4th 2020  a ceremony was held at the unveiling of a granite stone honouring her contribution to music. It is located outside Barclay’s Bank, close to Camden Town underground station.

The 27 Club

Amy’s love for Camden and Camden’s love for Amy are intertwined. On her death, Amy Winehouse joined the sad ’27 Club’, a club whose members are rock stars who died at the age of 27 in more or less similar circumstances. The best known are Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

All photographs taken by Sylvia McNamara, 2022.

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