When Amy Winehouse stepped on stage in Dubai Festival City in 2011, the crowds that booed her had no idea it would be her second to last ever performance.
She passed away from an overdose, eight years ago today.
It was her debut Middle Eastern performance, but also was historic for the wrong reasons. It was initially hailed as a landmark for the UAE concert scene, but that was soon replaced by a less fortunate marker: it was the only time that a UAE audience – normally an easy going crowd – had booed a major music performer on the stage.
Born in London, Winehouse was one of the most acclaimed singers of her generation. Her deep contralto voice and mastery of modern day soul music arguably blazed the path for future British music superstar Adele.
Her masterpiece remains her second album, 2006's Back to Black. Co-produced by Mark Ronson, the album's lush sounds were inspired by the soul music of the 1960s: it won the Grammy Award for best pop vocal album. It spawned five singles, the most popular the chart topper Rehab, which is extra poignant today considering Winehouse's demise.
Amy Winehouse was not ready for Dubai gig
Her Dubai show was part of a comeback world tour that saw her performing her first concerts in nearly two years. In his report of the concert, The National's Karl Smith stated that Winehouse "stared out at the crowd, confused, resentful. Behind her, in bitter contrast, the band were tight, sharp, giving every support to the star who was giving the crowd nothing because she had nothing left to give."
Watching the debacle unfold side of stage was Thomas Ovesen. Chief operating officer for concert promoters Done Events at the time, he describes the whole affair as "disappointing to say the least.”
Speaking exclusively to The National recently, Ovesen said that Winehouse "was a mess. She basically crumbled on stage and my heart immediately went out for her."
Winehouse took to the Dubai stage near the end of her short and chaotic stay in the city. Ovesen witnessed her management team, at the time, resorting to creative ways to keep her ready for the show.
“They basically had her under watch around the clock in the hotel,” he says. “They used creative ways to keep her off drinks and the result as we witnessed was not a fit and energetic performer but one that cocooned on stage instead.”
While he was concerned about the star’s plight, Ovesen recalled being assured by Winehouse’s management team that she would be ready for the gig. “They told me not to worry and that they had everything under control,” he says. “Obviously what happened in Dubai was not the case. It is hard to see a musician crack in front of an audience and I felt an immediate empathy for her.”
'A sad ending of her career and too short life'
Does Ovesen, as the Dubai concert promoter, feel regret for being part of Winehouse’s notorious last tour? His answer is emphatic. “This is not the way it works. She was an incredibly talented artist but also a very troubled soul.
“While the team around her played a vital role in making her a global superstar, they should also have known when it was time to protect her health, and not allow the train to run off the rails as was the case. It was a sad ending of her career and too short life
"The fans and I would have accepted if eventually she announced she couldn’t do the show.”
He recalls his final heated encounter with Winehouse’s management team when Winehouse walked off the stage to disappointed fans.
“I was absolutely furious and we had a massive argument. I told them that they had failed her, the fans and myself and that they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
“Obviously, in hindsight, and knowing what happened next I also understand there was a great deal of pressure from the artist to go on tour and that, perhaps, no one including her family could have made her volunteer to seek help.
"But we all lost a fantastic music creator and her Dubai show should not damage the legacy of her music catalogue.”