With her husband languishing behind bars and her family allegedly " petrified she'll do something stupid", fans of Amy Winehouse hoped the start of her UK tour would help focus her mind on what she does best – singing.
Not so. At Birmingham's National Indoor Arena on Wednesday night hundreds of usually loyal fans booed and jeered as the tortured singer delivered a shambolic and apparently drunken performance.
Arriving on stage almost an hour late, the soul diva dropped her microphone, slurred her lyrics, stumbled into a guitar stand, repeatedly came close to tears, and devoted several songs to her troubled husband, prompting a mass walkout.
Her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who is remanded in custody at Pentonville prison, has been charged with grievous bodily harm and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He is accused of offering a bribe to the pub landlord he allegedly assaulted in June 2006 in return for him dropping charges and temporarily left the country. Winehouse, 24, who married Mr Fielder-Civil in May, wept after police broke into the couple's home in Camden, north London, on Thursday last week, in an attempt to arrest Mr Fielder-Civil. He was later photographed being led away in handcuffs from an address in Bow, east London.
Having tried and failed to visit her husband on Tuesday – his mother is said to have taken his only visiting slot – Winehouse eventually managed to see Mr Fielder-Civil in jail on Wednesday afternoon for the first time. A spokesperson for the singer said the visit had been particularly hard for Winehouse.
After a slow and slurry start to her performance at Wedneaday's concert, she responded to boos from the audience by saying: "Let me tell you something. First of all, if you're booing you're a mug for buying a ticket. Second, to all those booing, just wait till my husband gets out of incarceration. And I mean that."
In her next song, "Back to Black", she cried "Blakey" at the end of the song and solemnly declared: "Nothing's going to bring my husband back." She then devoted her hit "Wake Up", to Mr Fielder-Civil, announcing: "This is for my husband."
Dressed in a tight black miniskirt with shiny, low-cut top, Winehouse failed to complete her final song of the night, dropping her microphone for the third time and walking off stage before the climax of "Valerie".
"She was just a wreck. She couldn't get her words out. She was horrendous," said one fan. Another said: "She was absolutely shocking. She was falling about, she was forgetting her words. They stopped her singing at one point because she was crying. It was really, really bad."
At one point, Winehouse left the stage and returned a minute later with a cigarette. She downed the first of many drinks at the end of her first song, and during her rendition of the reggae-lite "Monkey Man" abruptly cancelled a dance routine and collapsed into a fit of laughter.
"She was incoherent during a lot of the songs," said Emily Fox, 28, from Erdington. "She shouldn't be performing if she's not up to it. It's a waste of our money."
Another fan, James Dyas, spent £175 on seven tickets for the evening. "She managed four songs but was slurring her words and swaying all over the place. She fell into the guitar stand and dropped the microphone – it was atrocious. The song dedicated to her husband was so bad it was like swinging a cat round your head."
It has been a traumatic year for the singer. Her indiscretions involving drugs and drink have largely been forgiven by fans enthralled by her talent. Her Back to Black album, the biggest selling British release of 2007, has prompted Prince, George Michael, and Missy Elliot to approach her about collaborations.
Winehouse is due to play at the notoriously unforgiving Glasgow Barrowlands this evening.