Meet The Amy Winehouses Of London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 12 months ago
Meet The Amy Winehouses Of London
Laura Jane Butler as Amy Winehouse.

"It got to a stage where I was by Camden Market and there was actually some sick on the floor and they got me to bend over it and pretend I'd just done it."

Just as it was rarely glitz and glamour being Amy Winehouse, neither is it always an easy ride being an Amy Winehouse tribute act.

That same chilly day in Camden, Tania Alboni — who's been performing as Winehouse since 2007 — was made to burst into a pub slurring Jingle Bells to the bemusement of the punters. She was also told to crouch down under a bridge by the canal in Camden and 'pretend to have a wee.'

"They wanted me to act properly off my face," Tania says, admitting she was worried the real Winehouse — then still alive — might catch her in the act.

"I wouldn't have done it after she died."

There's a spooky resemblance between these scenarios and the way Winehouse was often treated by an unrelenting media circus. And just as the singer was lionised by adoring fans, so too are the people inhabit her role on stage.

"2008 was ridiculous, it was crazy," says Tania. "The audience would stand there with their mouths open. Or while I was singing they'd come and grab me round the neck and take selfies with me as if I was actually Amy. Really. It was weird."

They'd come and grab me round the neck and take selfies with me as if I was actually Amy.

Laura Jane Butler — voted the UK's official #1 Amy Winehouse Tribute in 2013 and 2016, and a good friend of Tania's — has also noticed the parallels with Winehouse's life.

"I've been on the journey with her," says Laura. "When she was at her most popular, winning all the Grammys, I had so much work. After the drug stuff came out, I would get negative comments from people, saying horrible things, as if I was Amy.

"When she wasn't as popular, I didn't get as much work."

Tania Alboni.

Being Amy

By coincidence, the two Amy Winehouses also perform as Cher. Tania — who remembers being good at doing voices as a young girl — actually performs as a roster of artists including Shania Twain and Karen Carpenter. But getting Winehouse's vocal was a particular challenge for her, not least because Winehouse could be different versions of herself.

At one gig I had someone come up to me and said 'I love you and I've been coming to a lot of your gigs, and this time I just hated it'.

"It's difficult to get the balance right," admits Tania. "When I first used to do it, I sang the songs as they were on the album. Then I put a little bit more of the drunk influence in and people liked it. But then it got to the stage when she was really bad at gigs when she was drunk. And I used to put a lot of that in my act as well.

"At one gig I had someone come up to me and said 'I love you and I've been coming to a lot of your gigs, and this time I just hated it, it's horrible.'

"It's really hard to get the right balance of it really."

On the phone, Laura's voice bears a striking resemblance to Winehouse's. From the moment she jokingly teases us about our 'crap phone', there are echoes of the chirpsing, impish banter Winehouse employed at her sharpest.

"This is my accent by the way," Laura assures us, "I'm not putting it on."

Growing up in south London, and now living in Essex, Laura says she's 'a bit of everything rolled into one.' "And Amy was like that," she says. "You couldn't pinpoint where in London she was from.

"I am Jewish as well, so I've got the mannerisms down to a tee. We've got a way."

Almost incredulously, Laura's cautious about her own ability to ape her idol:  "I don't think I sound like her. Whereas other people think I sound very much like her. I can't hear it because I'm such a fan."

Tania as Amy, with a fake Blake.

It's even harder to believe when you discover she's been mistaken for the real deal. At the height of Winehouse's fame, Laura was sat in a Camden pub fresh from shooting a TV show, still dressed as the singer. "I had a Chinese fella come up to me and challenge me to pool, because 'I'd beaten him last time'. He thought I was Amy," she laughs.

Death

Both Amys remember with horrible clarity that moment on 23 July 2011, when they found out the real Amy had died.

"I was my cousin's wedding and I was a bridesmaid," says Tania. "My phone kept going as the speeches were going on. Then someone texted me and said 'Amy's died'.

"I didn't want to tell anyone because I thought it'd turn the wedding into something about me!"

Eventually, as the news became widespread, Tania found herself on the end of one consoling cuddle after the next, as if Amy was a best friend of hers.

Laura strikes a pose as Amy.

Laura was on a cruise ship, where she'd been contracted to be Winehouse and Cher for the summer.

"A friend of mine phoned me up in my cabin and she said put the telly on. It took them about four hours to get me out of my room."

It took them about four hours to get me out of my room.

Surely Winehouse's sudden death was a boost for business?

"For three months there was absolutely nothing," says Laura. Afraid of being accused of jumping on the bandwagon, even the cruise ship cancelled the Amy Winehouse portion of her act.

"I got frustrated because I thought 'I need to perform her music!'" says Laura.

Tania was swiftly roped in for a tour of the States as Winehouse, only for it to be cancelled by the promoter, because he was receiving death threats, presumably from Winehouse fans. For some, that near-filial way they felt for Winehouse knew no bounds.

Still popular today?

Things took a bizarre turn for Laura following Winehouse's death; she soon found herself working on behalf of the Amy Winehouse Foundation, endorsed by both of Winehouse's parents, and becoming quite close with the pair in the process.

She has sung on stage with Amy's dad, Mitch, a few times, and he even accepted an invitation to her wedding.

"I've got photos of me in my wedding dress dancing with Amy's dad," says Laura, "It's surreal."

How does Mitch find it, being with someone who spends so much time pretending to be his daughter?

"He can't watch me perform," says Laura, "he gets so freaked out. He says to me 'don't get offended, but I can't watch that'."

Laura with Amy's dad, Mitch.

Maybe it's Laura's closeness to the Winehouse family that makes her and Tania feel differently about the singer's legacy. Laura insists that in the last few years  — especially since the release of Asif Kapadia's sympathetic film —  there is more understanding and love for the singer than ever.

Tania is more sceptical: "I think she died when everyone was fed up of her antics. She hadn't had an album out for five years and everyone was just a bit bored of it."

I've got photos of me in my wedding dress dancing with Amy's dad. It's surreal.

Still, Amy Winehouse continues to be the most popular act for both. They continue to have healthy schedules lined up, alongside scores more Amy Winehouse tributes (of varying abilities, it must be said). That's quite a phenomenon for an artist who only recorded two full studio albums in her lifetime.

With that fleeting nature of Winehouse in mind, one further dilemma awaits any tribute act sooner rather than later. Says Tania, "I think I look less like her as I've got older as well. That's the thing, her dying at 27.

"I said I'd never want to be Amy when I'm 40 but I turn 40 next year... so I'll have to inject a load of Botox into my face!

Last Updated 28 November 2016