Amy Winehouse has been the subject of many a musical tribute since her sudden death in 2011, but arguably none so personal as the one offered by her cousin David Sye, and his band No Mad Karma – the song ‘27’, released later this month.
“I was devastated by the news that Amy had died,” remembers David. “I wrote the song that day. And then as I was writing, I was thinking about all those talents – Cobain, Hendrix – who had died at 27, forming this extraordinary, enigmatic club. So it was about Amy, but it expanded. I just wanted to put it down…”
No Mad Karma frontman David Sye was devastated by the death of his cousin Amy Winehouse
The timing was all the more poignant for David, a revered yoga elder and meditation therapist, as the Winehouse family had only recently approached him to help their troubled star, following her terrible experience in Belgrade, when she was booed off the stage because of the condition she was in.
“The sessions just never got scheduled,” says David now, “and the next thing I knew, my mother called to say Amy had died. It was terribly sad and frustrating.”
David, whose father was legendary entertainer Frankie Vaughan, has his own experience of living in the eye of great fame, and he has his own theories about why so many talents are afflicted by addiction.
David with his famous father Frankie Vaughan
“Such superstardom isolates a person, they have no normal infrastructure, only lots of yes people, idiots just wanting money,” he suggests. “And Amy had the kind of voice and talent that only comes along every thousand years, so she had it worse than most.
“My father was clever and lucky. He surrounded himself with immediate family, we’d go fishing, do regular stuff, away from the glitz. And he was a great painter, so he could remember what it felt like to be a pure artist, unaffected by that stuff.
“He knew that, if it doesn’t please you, there’s no point. You can never make art of any kind for someone else, otherwise it’s just a disease of the ego.
No Mad Karma has been going for three years, inspired by the sound of traditional instruments from Kazahstan, and can boast its own talented lineup - producer Preston Heyman has drummed for Paul McCartney and Kate Bush, bassist Phil Spalding has worked with Mick Jagger and Elton John. However, David Sye seems to have fully taken on board the lessons offered by both his cousin Amy and his famous father.
“You have to have your tribe,” he says, smiling. “People you can be normal around. Otherwise it’s all glitz.
“When I was 10 years old, I went to a big gathering in London, with every single famous name you can imagine,” he remembers.
“My father whispered to me, ‘Look at all these people, they’re all dwarves.’ I said to him, ‘What do you mean?’
“He said, ‘The childish essence that was unique, that’s already gone. What’s left is just personality… now do you want to go fishing?’”
No Mad Karma's debut single '27' is released on 20 April. Listen to it here...