but with a voice, a charisma and a performing maturity beyond her years which set Amy Winehouse among the all-time greats. The comparison with Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughan and Carleen Anderson, not to mention players like Thelonius Monk whose instrumental quality she could take up so uncannily, isn't hyperbolic: watch the BBC Arena documentary Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle and see how sequences from the work of those magnificent artists don't diminish the performances of our own diva to an audience of 85 in a tiny church with only two guitarists (Robin Bannerjee and Dale Davis on bass) for perfect company. I watched it on the BBC Four iPlayer facility, only to find that it's on a hybrid set - CD, DVD - where the sound-only first disc also has plenty of treasures.
Having seen the Dingle doc, and witnessed what has to be the true and deeply curious, questing individual in fascinating interview with Philip King, founder of Dingle's Other Voices Festival, I wasn't sure I wanted to see the new documentary Amy, It was bound to emphasise the tragedy of Winehouse's life at the expense of what remains for us now: in other words, to reverse the words of Dan Cairns on the BBC set, a wake rather than a celebration.
Yet it's vital, if queasy and deeply distressing viewing. I knew how the industry eats its stars, but maybe not in such harrowing detail. The director, Asif Kapadia, simply lets people like Amy's foolish dad and weak boyfriend - not evil people, but so far short of understanding or the wit to do the right thing - condemn themselves out of their own mouths. And there's no doubt that if Mitch Winehouse had followed the wisdom of her lovely, utterly decent first manager Nick Shymansky and made sure she got into rehab before the feeding frenzy truly began, and if she had properly got shot of Blake Fielder-Civil, as well as the fatuously evil Svengali who took over from Shymansky and pushed her beyond what she could manage, the undeniable tragedy might not have happened.
Shymansky and two schoolfriends show that goodness and loyalty can be simple in the face of awful cynicism and exploitation. Chat show hosts like Graham Norton and Jay Leno must be hanging their heads in shame at the cannily placed clips of them mocking her demise while the truth unfolds; but then they were not alone in watching the meltdown from a comfy distance. What's unforgivable in both cases here is that they'd had Amy on their shows and presumably got to know the real person she always was just a bit in happier times.
You may find the comparison absurd, but in the later stages I was reminded of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: the sense that this need not have happened, that the heroine in both cases could so easily have resolved the worst, gone one way rather than another even at a late stage, is so intense. There was a last flourishing where Amy went clean and met and duetted with her idol Tony Bennett, the Good Father whose valedictory words - I'll leave them to the film - break the heart. Not that everyone seemed as shook up as we were coming out of the Notting Hill Gate Cinema: one girl was blithely jive-ing. We stared in amazement.
It helps to know what an authentic, confused but never malign or insincere human being Winehouse was, but of course it's all there in the songs: at one level pure confessional albeit raised to pure artistry in numbers like 'Rehab', 'You Know I'm No Good' and 'Back to Black', at another the spirit of something else speaking through a voice wise way beyond its years ('like a 65 year old jazz singer', as one commenter put it). Bearing in mind her jazz roots, exemplified in the film by a clip of young Amy singing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, she would surely have gone back to more of that once the songwriting vein had subsided a bit.
What's amazing about her own numbers is that stuff which on paper looks like the stream of consciousness of a tortured adolescent is shaped into meaningfulness by the phrasing. And one can well believe that she never gave the same performance twice. The way, moreover, she switches on at the beginning of a number and then at the end signs off with a north London little-girl 'thank you very much' and a curtsey, is memorable. Anyway, watch the six Dingle numbers on the DVD and marvel. Here's one of them, my own personal favourite, showing what a great artist can do with a handful of notes.