Rest in peace Amy Winehouse. As you probably know, she died 10 years ago yesterday, Saturday 23 July 2011, aged 27. The anniversary has been marked by a documentary featuring new interviews with her parents, and plenty of tributes which continue throughout this weekend.
I remember the day of her death well. That night I played at the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street for the final time, with a short-lived band that I had put together earlier in the year. We didn’t realize that the band, as a live act, would also come to an end that weekend. We came onstage after midnight (so, technically, it was Sunday 24 July) and, as so often before, stayed until closing-time, around 3am.
While the Amy tributes have built up in recent days I have been thinking of that last gig at the 12 Bar Club. The hours leading up to our time on stage were quiet. There was only one support act, a teenage kid on holiday in London from America. He had visited numerous venues asking if he could play and the boys at the bar had said yes, as was their way. The kid (whose name I never knew) bought a guitar that afternoon from a nearby shop in Denmark Street and put on a good show. Often there were four bands lined up during an evening so it was odd to have only the two of us performing, with all that extra time for pool, pinball and reflecting on the short life of Amy Winehouse.
The after-gig hours were more lively. One of the guys who ran the bar had got married that day. After our set he paid us and over the next 20 minutes the whole wedding party piled in, suited and booted like we had never seen them before.
Among all the familiar gig-goers, strangers and wedding guests were three friends from my corner of West London. One of them was a guy I had known since the early 90s, when we worked together. The other two were a mum friend and a dad friend who I had met because they had children the same as age my son: the former had a daughter at nursery with him, the latter a daughter at primary school with him. My old workmate was driving, and after 3am he offered to drive us all home.
Heading down Charing Cross Road to Trafalgar Square one of us (it might even have been me) suggested stopping for something to eat. If I had known that the McDonalds on Kensington High Street was open all night I would have suggested it (it was on our way home), but I only learnt about it the following year. Someone (not me) suggested Brick Lane for bagels, so that’s where we headed.
Either side of 4am we were parked up next to a couple of bagel shops filling up on kosher (mostly vegetarian) food and coffee. Shortly before 5am we were back in West London. My wife knew that I would be back late and my children (then aged 4 and 6) had no idea of my comings and goings. My old work-friend often kept late hours. The other two, however, were in a bit of trouble with their spouses. The four of us have not been allowed out to play together since then.
Last night my wife and I drove into town for a friend’s belated 60th birthday meal, the first time we have been to the West End together since our wedding anniversary in 2019. It was at New Loon Fung, our favourite restaurant in Chinatown, and our first Chinese meal, eating in, since September 2019. We parked off Great Portland Street, round the back of the BBC. The parking was free (it was after 6.30pm) but we learnt that the Congestion Charge now applies until 10pm. When did that happen?
I texted my compadres on the 10th anniversary of our post-gig shenanigans and received replies over the next 12 hours. My school dad friend, who is currently based in Hong Kong, summarized his memories of the night: “For me, it’s fondly remembered as Beers, Bagels and Bollocking!” I explained to my children this morning what a bollocking means: someone having a go at you, often in a sporting context, as in “The manager gave the centre forward a right bollocking for missing the penalty”.
Our fellow diners in Chinatown last night had travelled by public transport. We walked with them to Leicester Square station, the opposite direction from where the car was, to say our goodbyes. My wife and I were on Charing Cross Road so I suggested a slight detour to the car to check out the site of the old 12 Bar Club. 10 years ago Denmark Street was abuzz. Now it’s dead. Here’s a photo of the site of the club last night, with Centre Point rising in the distance.
The band that played that night was together for less than a year. The 12 Bar Club was part of my life for nearly 20 years, from my first gig there in spring 1996 (eating jelly beans with The McCluskey Brothers) until late 2014. Amy Winehouse’s life was only slightly longer. And just like that, they were gone.