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"everyone around amy is a loser, me included. we all fucking lost."

Amy Winehouse’s first manager and close friend, Nick Shymansky, speaks to i-D.

by Colin Crummy
|
03 July 2015, 12:20pm

Amy is the superb new documentary on the late, great singer's life from Senna director Asif Kapadia. The film features contributions from those closest to Amy like Nick Shymansky, her manager between 1999 and 2006. Shymansky met Amy when she was 16, looked after her during the Frank years and famously tried to get Amy into rehab. The film's later chapters, which document Amy's tragic demise, have proved controversial with the Winehouse family but it has proved a moment for insiders like Shymansky and Amy's closest childhood friends to have their say. Now senior A&R manager at Island Records, Shymansky talks to i-D about talent discovered and tragically lost.

What was your first memory of Amy?
I heard her singing Night and Day, a cover of a jazz standard that I received in the post. I'd been talking about managing Tyler [James] and he said "you should hear my friend Amy." He said she wasn't interested in a record deal; I persuaded him to give me her number, I chased her and my first memory is having a conversation where she wasn't very interested and wasn't very nice. By the second or third conversation, there was banter and humour. I felt like we'd reached a point where she wasn't just trying to get off the phone [laughs]. A couple of weeks later I got a parcel covered in heart stickers, loads of stars around the word "Amy" and in it was a demo tape. I listened to it in my car and completely freaked out at how good it was.

Was Amy a challenge to manage?
She was but we connected on a young and playful level. I figured out quickly you couldn't manage her as a business proposition; [you had] to keep her occupied and stimulated. She wasn't interested in the business or the money. She was interested in having a really funny afternoon or the music she wanted to play. I'm quite like that too. I get bored quickly of business talk. I had a very clear idea of where I wanted the career to go but I knew I would have to pick her up, make her laugh, cheer her up, remember her passport, phone and keys. My memory is of so much raucous fun and energy right up until I stopped managing her; you have to remember she was 16 and I was 19.

The film is a real testament both to Amy's talent and her music knowledge.
Oh my god. Her knowledge! We used to joke that anything pre-1965, forget it; she knew everything. I'd throw modern film titles at her and she just didn't have a clue. When it came to jazz and hip hop [and] her real passions; 50s and 60s music and girl groups, she knew that stuff better than anyone.

This film is the first time you've properly publicly spoken about Amy since she died in 2011. Why now?
I'd got a call from Asif. I was skeptical that he'd be able to make an accurate portrayal of what happened without someone wanting to shut it down somewhere. It took me a long time. They kept calling. Since she died, I felt that no real substance or time has gone into her story. It's felt tabloidy, or light entertainment. It was appealing that this team who were respected and clever wanted to take the time to figure out what actually happened, what relationships were what, how the story unfolded. I eventually felt comfortable enough to talk to them.

You also were instrumental in getting Amy's closest friends, Lauren Gilbert and Juliette Ashby to talk. How did you persuade them?
Yeah, they were completely closed to it at first. They didn't want to know. I spent a long time convincing them. I knew them as long as I knew Amy. There's a real trust and respect between us. The one thing we had in common is that it was so horrendous how things unfolded for Amy and us three did everything we could to try and intervene and it got virtually impossible to get our claws in at the end and make a difference. Our tough love approach… we were a nuisance. We were shining a light into people's eyes the whole time, constantly having arguments and battles and trying to question why certain things were happening. We all went through this awful time after Amy died of trying to make sense of things. This film was the first time we all came up for air. We started talking amongst ourselves about some of the feelings and issues.

How did you feel when you watched the film?
Extremely sad and extremely angry. I felt how I felt for the past ten years. I feel so sad for Amy as a person. I feel angry about how she was treated by lots of different people. I still haven't come to terms with the fact that my dear friend became so famous, got so ill and died. Whenever I go to that place in my head it's like watching a film anyway. I still can't comprehend the whole thing. I feel sad, drained and really angry like I want to go fucking shout at someone.

Who would that someone be?
I don't want to create this battle; there are no battles to be had anymore. Everyone around Amy is a loser, me included. We all fucking lost. Nothing's ever going to bring her back. I could quite easily start pointing out individuals and say all kind of things but they know what they did or didn't do. I don't want to create that drama. The film feels totally accurate from my reality of it; I'm aware different people have their own reality of it.

Did Amy present a challenge when you tried to intervene?
Amy was a strong person. She challenged herself in good and bad ways. All I'll say is that Amy's whole thing was about respect with people; she constantly challenged and tested out people's integrity. She was pushing you to test if you had her best interests at heart. She would have thrived if everyone in her core [circle] gave her [that] same message. I'm not saying it would all be roses and she'd definitely be here but that's what she was craving. And I think that stems from parenting.

The film serves as a reminder of what a talent she was.
For me, the talent was there with or without the troubles. Let's say Amy didn't get lost in drugs, alcohol, depression, bulimia, I think that [talent] would have shone through. She was a big character and extremely poetic. My experience with her is that I really saw what she had under her bonnet. Fuck me, I heard her sing and open up, I've been there in recording sessions at 2am, at gigs with two men and a dog. I really saw what she had and she didn't need any drama for that to be way ahead of anybody else. The film brings that back and that's important for her legacy. I still wish none of that [drama] happened.

Amy is in cinemas from Friday 3rd July.

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Text Colin Crummy