Page last updated at 08:17 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 09:17 UK

The inside story of Amy's new label

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Amy Winehouse has made her 13-year-old goddaughter the first signing to her new record label. With her backing singers and a schoolfriend set to follow, will it just be a vanity venture?

Amy Winehouse and Dionne Bromfield
Amy Winehouse sings backing vocals on Dionne Bromfield's first single

Winehouse may not have released any new material since the 10 million-selling Back To Black three years ago, but she is making herself heard on the music scene again after setting up Lioness Records.

Her first release is the debut album by Dionne Bromfield, who sounds like a sweeter, more youthful Winehouse with a collection of 1960s soul and girl group covers.

One of Winehouse's long-time backing singers Zalon Thompson is also expected to join the label after recording a solo album with Back To Black co-producer Mark Ronson.

Winehouse's manager Raye Cosbert recently said Zalon's brother and fellow backing vocalist - and former X Factor hopeful - Heshima would follow.

He has also mentioned the name Juliette, likely referring to Winehouse's close friend Juliette Ashby, who was the other half of rap duo Sweet 'n' Sour with Winehouse when they were 10 years old.

Winehouse wanted to set up a label to "bring through the talent around her", according to Darcus Beese, co-president of Island Records, who signed the singer in 2003.

Zalon (left) and Heshima Thompson (right) with Amy Winehouse
Zalon (left) and Heshima Thompson celebrated the Grammys win with Amy

Lioness is an imprint of Island, with Mr Beese helping to run the label with the singer and her manager.

"I didn't want it to be just a vanity project for her," he says. "It had to follow that the talent was just as inspiring and as exciting as she is."

Referring to Winehouse's suggestion to sign her goddaughter, Mr Beese says: "I could have been as cynical as the next person.

"But when I heard the voice and the potential talent, I knew that we were doing the deal for all the right reasons, and it wasn't the fact that she was Amy's goddaughter."

Bromfield has "got much more of a pop ear than Amy did" when she was first signed, Mr Beese adds. "But that's because of her youthfulness."

Bromfield's mother is a friend of the Winehouse family and the two singers now claim to be as close as sisters. The 13-year-old describes shopping trips, getting nails done and watching Comedy Central with Winehouse as if they were two normal girls.

But when the Grammy winner heard her young friend's potential, she was able to pay for singing lessons, teach her guitar and put her into the recording studio to record demos with her band.

She has a mother who brought Dionne up very well... Amy doesn't have the same duties as her mother
Darcus Beese
Island Records

Bromfield recalls: "Eventually she said, 'Dionne you're on my label,' and I said OK! I wasn't going to say no."

The youngster says she does not mind comparisons with her mentor. "A lot of people have said you sound like Amy, and to me that's a compliment. I try to be myself but when you've grown up with Amy and sing together, you both click and sound the same."

But some people will feel unease at the thought of a 13-year-old girl being guided so closely by the volatile Winehouse.

"She has a mother who brought Dionne up very well," Mr Beese responds. "She's a well brought up intelligent young girl. Amy doesn't have the same duties as her mother.

"Guiding her career there's a manager, there's the label, which is me, and there's Amy. There's a team of people guiding Dionne."

They're very manipulative, the papers - Amy's just loving, she's fun
Dionne Bromfield

Winehouse does not deserve her bad reputation, Bromfield insists. "What people read in the newspapers - when you know Amy how I do - that's not what Amy's like.

"They're very manipulative, the papers. Amy's just loving. She's fun. She's not what you hear about in the newspapers."

Winehouse's next album will come out on Lioness and she may also sign artists from outside her clique, if they fit in with her "vision".

Big stars setting up their own labels is nothing new. The Beatles had Apple, Sir Elton John had Rocket, Prince had Paisley Park, U2 had Mother and Frank Zappa had Barking Pumpkin.

Madonna's Maverick was one of the biggest successes, signing Alanis Morrissette and The Deftones.

Frank Sinatra founded Reprise to release records by his Rat Pack pals and Led Zeppelin's Swan Song signed chart-topping hard rockers Bad Company. And in hip-hop, you're nobody unless you have a label.

But most artists' labels have struggled to survive once the novelty has worn off.

Doomed labels

Noel Gallagher's Sour Mash failed to make an impact with indie band Proud Mary, while George Michael's Aegean faded fast after he asked new bands to send demos over the internet in 1997 and "revolutionise the entertainment business" in the process.

Mariah Carey's Crave label lasted less than a year, while Paula Abdul's Captive released her own material plus The Adventures of MC Skat Kat and the Stray Mob, featuring the cartoon sidekick from her Opposites Attract video.

"A lot of artists started up labels that never even happened or put out a record," Mr Beese admits.

But Lioness, he insists, will be more than an ego-stroking gesture.

"It's nothing else than a label for talent," he says.

"Whether we're sitting here in a year's time breaking open a bottle of champagne or licking our wounds I don't know, but I know no-one could ever tell us it was never about the talent."

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