Amy Winehouse’s live sound engineer Gerald Albo takes an exclusive, intimate and loving look at the peaks and lows of Amy’s final years on the road.
Five years ago we lost one of the greatest and most promising musical talents of our time, Amy Winehouse (1983-2011). We have asked front-of-house live sound engineer Gerard Albo, who worked closely with Winehouse in her final years, to share some of his memories. Albo held a rare and unique position from which he could both help the artist express herself at her best, and observe her at the peaks and lows of her career. Here are his recollections.
Far from What People Could Ever Imagine
“I first met Amy in August 2007 at Benicassim Festival in Spain, where I was asked to cover for a colleague. This was my first show after taking a year off due to some family issues. I did not know Amy’s music well, I did not know the band, there was no soundcheck, and I had to mix on a digital console I was not so familiar with... But Amy sounded great, and the band's performance was phenomenal. The show went so well that at the end the festival organizers came over to congratulate me on my mix, saying it was the best they'd heard on that stage! I knew I was back, and I was happy when Amy chose to keep working with me.
“Amy was a delightful and sweet woman, far from what people could ever imagine. Extremely intelligent and talented, and a very warm person. Working with Amy and the band was like being part of a big family. There was a strong bond between myself and the band, which is an essential ingredient for me in order to do a great mix. Getting the respect of the artist is the key to success and to feeling confident.”
She Had the Most Amazing Voice
“Once at the Rock in Rio Festival in Lisbon, 2008, with a 100,000-strong audience, Amy flew straight from London to the gig and turned up nearly an hour late. Standing in the front-of-house tent in the middle of 100,000 impatient fans can be a very scary experience... I finally got a message from our tour manager saying she was about to come on stage – and that she had lost her voice! I could not believe what I was hearing....I was so worried that I would not be able to turn her voice up and that the entire audience would slaughter me. The first few songs were a little rough, but she eventually warmed up.
“Amy had the most amazing voice, and 2008 was a good year for her performance, all of our festival summer dates were a huge success. Being Amy’s front-of-house sound engineer was of course a huge honor for me. I appreciated every single second on the road – I knew I was being part of something historical. There was and will be only one Amy. She had such an aura, and becoming part of that aura meant that I always felt respected and welcomed by local colleagues when arriving in a venue, in hotels, in airports.”
Mixing Amy Was So Easy
“Amy's voice was powerful and she had a great mic technique, always singing close to the mic, which enabled me to keep the levels high and have a very 'fat'-sounding voice. I used a Sennheiser e935, a simple dynamic microphone which suited her voice well. I started mixing on digital consoles, went back to analog, to eventually finish on an Avid Profile using Waves plugins, which enabled me reproduce that 'analog' sound I missed. The C6 plugin was always my favorite on Amy's voice, controlling her massive peak at 2k when she would let go, without affecting the rest of the spectrum. Mixing Amy was so easy: she and her band were so good, it was effortless to mix them. I loved the music, which was performed without tracks or computers: drums, electric bass, electric and acoustic guitars, Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, baritone sax, tenor sax, flute, trumpet, and two backing vocalists. I loved making the band sound huge: we were always on the main stage, with audiences ranging from 40,000 to 100,000. Above all, mixing her always put a smile on my own face!”
I Was Heartbroken
“I guess the biggest challenge with Amy, towards the end, was her inconsistency. Her concerts would either be memorable or, on a few occasions, a disaster, to the point that I wanted to quit since I was so heartbroken when she was unable to perform at her best. Before her last tour, in 2011, we had a warmup show at a small club in London, with only friends and family as an audience. Amy was at her best that night. Everyone was so optimistic and looking forward to a great two-month summer run. A few days later we flew to Belgrade for the first show, which ended up being the last concert with her band. She walked ill on stage and her performance was bad. The tour got pulled off the next day and we all flew home. A few weeks later Amy passed away.
“I lost a friend. Amy was not like any other artist. I belonged to a family – the artist, the band, the crew –and we were laughing and smiling 24/7. Music was our passion and our subject of discussion all the time, and the vibe on the road was unique. Such a huge loss.”