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Amy Winehouse’s former musical director on working with the late icon

Dale Davis tells Rolling Stone UK about his experiences of working with the late icon.

By Nick Reilly

Amy Winehouse performing on stage (Picture: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns)

Amy Winehouse‘s former musical director has hailed Marisa Abela’s performance as the late music icon in Back To Black, as well as opening up on the experience of performing with the singer at her last ever gig in 2011.

Last week saw the release of the Winehouse biopic Back To Black, which was described by Rolling Stone UK as providing a “masterful performance” from Marisa Abela in the title role.

That verdict is also backed by Dale Davis, who was Winehouse’s band leader and became one of her closest friends in the years spent together. Their partnership began when Winehouse released Frank in 2003 and continued right up until her untimely death in 2011.

“I saw her [Abela] on set and immediately it was very impressive,” explained Davis – who has also worked as the film’s music supervisor. She really looked like Amy and she sounded like her too. It’s exactly what it should be.”

When Davis first joined Winehouse’s band, they were tasked with creating the live arrangements for her first album Frank.

The Amy Winehouse band, with Dale Davis fifth from left (Picture: Press)

“Amy was just consistently brilliant when we started performing Frank and, obviously, things got more erratic when Back To Black came out and things started to change. It was hard to take, but I had to stay calm through the situation because I didn’t want to cause any alarm to Amy and I just hoped she would take the necessary steps to get back on the road.”

Although not covered in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s biopic, Winehouse’s last performance came at a show in Belgrade in 2011. The footage of the performance remains hard to watch, with Winehouse visibly slurring and struggling to perform through the gig.

“As a musician, it remains the most difficult night I’ve ever had,” he recalled. “I don’t really remember too much about it, but I must have gone into some kind of shock because someone said we played for an hour and 20 minutes and I don’t remember any of it. The whole thing was *so* public too, which made it even harder.”

Winehouse cancelled all planned performances and died from alcoholism just a month later at that London home.

“We were still in touch a lot in the last month and we spoke on the night before she died,” he said. “I was never gonna give up on her because we had such a great relationship and I just wanted to continue that.”

Now, Davis continues to honour his late friend’s memory with The Amy Winehouse Band – who have been performing her music since 2016. Later this year, they’ll perform a homecoming at KOKO in Winehouse’s native Camden – having delivered a sold out show there last year to mark what would have been the late singer’s 40th.

“I was reluctant to do initially because things could go wrong and it wouldn’t be the right tribute, but we started off in Holland and within a few shows you realised that it had a massive impact on the audience,” Davis explained.

“It was very emotional and I realised it’s about the audience and not us. A lot of girls who would have been kids when Amy was around are in their twenties now and they’re getting a chance to see the music as close as is possible.”

He added: “There’s a lot of artists who know what they want but they never actually put it into practice and can back it up. Amy had the ability to back it up. She had a great sense of humour, a great talent and her legacy will continue to live on.”