While its standing in certain areas has taken a hit of late, one thing we can always trust the BBC on is music. Such an approach has provided a haven for certain artists, allowing them to sidestep the madness of the tabloid world and concentrate on being musicians again – even if only for a short while. Perhaps that’s why there’s enough Amy Winehouse material to fill a four disc box set – three DVDs (including the Other Voices special, not strictly a BBC enterprise) and one CD – and why it might even rescue a legacy that seemed damaged beyond repair.
This is the sound of Winehouse the singer, the songwriter, the interpreter of other people’s songs par excellence. The story starts in 2004 with her Frank supporting T In The Park appearance and, although the mix leaves a little to be desired, the four tracks place her firmly in the context of her jazz roots as opposed to the ill-suited role of pop star. As with her career, however, it’s the Back To Black material that really lifts the collection. A Pete Mitchell session version of ‘Rehab’ sets the tone, a subtle reading that brings the words to the fore and reminds the listener of the dark humour at work in the song. Jo Whiley Live Lounge takes on ‘I Told You I Was Trouble’ and ‘Tears Dry On My Own’ repeat a similar trick, even to the point of outshining the originals.
Crucially, her association with the broadcaster allowed Winehouse to move in circles that her normal career began to deny her. Thus we get a big band special, the warm embrace of Later and an appearance at jazz icons Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine’s theatre – all of which find her sounding happy and relaxed. Of course you could argue that all this material is (wisely) taken from before her life began to career out of control but it is still a pleasant surprise to discover a posthumous release that goes someway to re-writing the book rather than just cashing in. For those – myself included – who had made up their minds on this one, a single listen to the heartbreaking version of ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ will have you hanging your head in shame. That this has to be the end of the story is, of course a tragedy, but those in control of these things must surely make this the full stop and allow their charge to bow out on a dignified note.