Seventy years since the birth of Rock’s greatest guitarist Jimi Hendrix, and hot on the heels of The Rolling Stones: 50 photography exhibition at Somerset House, comes another rock n roll show in the capital.
It is good to see London giving tourists something to do in between queuing at the beer tent at the various London 2012 Olympic venues.
Hear My Train a Comin’: Hendrix Hits London focuses on Hendrix’s quick rise to prominence in the London music scene, from his arrival in the UK on September 24, 1966 to his brief return to America to play at the Monterey International Pop Festival on June 18, 1967. In less than nine months, Hendrix had transitioned from an unknown guitarist to darling of the British music press, and was poised on the edge of superstardom.
Here’s what we already know about Hendrix:
- American guitarist. Played the guitar upside down. The guitar, that is – not him. He did this possibly because he found it too easy the other way round, although (better informed) sources have said that it was due to his being left handed whilst playing a right handed instrument.
- Initially unknown in the USA he learned his trade on the Chitlin’ Circuit playing in backing bands for Ike and Tina Turner and Little Richard before coming to the UK and being a front-man. Think Robbie Williams in Take That before going solo. But with more talent.
- Brought to London after being spotted in New York by Chas Chandler (bass player in British Invasion band The Animals) in 1966 who told him “You’ve gotta get out of this place”.
- At Chandler’s behest he teamed up with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding within a week to form The Experience. Think Nigel Martin-Smith forming Take That. But with more talent. Causes huge commotion due to:
- Innovative guitar work including use of pedals, amplification and feedback.
- Fusion of USA soul with the UK blues scene.
- Flamboyant military dress. Before Sgt Pepper.
- Great tunes.
- Smashing and burning guitars onstage.
- Returns to USA. Sets his guitar on fire at Monterey Pop Festival. Whole of USA realises he’s a genius.
- Dies, aged 27.
The mark of any good exhibition is that it shows something new or presents something familiar and gets you to think about it in a new way. Hendrix Hits London does both. Whilst small, it has clearly been lovingly pieced together, as evidenced by the hand painted images of Hendrix which form an attractive backdrop to the rare items on display.
Speaking of the rare items, among those that caught my eye was the original record contract Jimi signed (c/o Yameta Co Ltd, an offshore company that Hendrix’s manager set up for tax reasons) with Pall Mall Music Ltd of 110 New Bond St. It agreed to pay Jimi 10% of the retail price of every copy of Stone Free, plus 50% of the royalties for publishing world wide. I’m no lawyer, but I think the two page contract then gave the record company rights over all future releases…
A nice piece is a postcard written by Hendrix to his dad in Nov 1966 where he tells him he is in the UK and says “I think things are getting a little better”. That was an understatement.
There is also an acetate of Hey Joe, made so Hendrix could hear his freshly recorded song on his home record player. We see blues records from Jimi’s personal collection bought mainly in London, and letters to fans.
I enjoyed reading a review of Hendrix from The Disc and Music Echo: “Hendrix: Impact of a 50-Megaton H-bomb!” screamed the headline from their review of Hendrix’s farewell show at the Saville Theatre. It was during this performance that he smashed a guitar (one of the exhibits) after starting the show with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (for the benefit of McCartney who was in the crowd: Sgt Pepper had been released a couple of days before). This is proper rock history on display.
But perhaps most of all we get an insight as to why Jimi dressed the way he did. The show boasts three original Hendrix jackets – and the hat from the cover of compilation album Smash Hits. It appears that it wasn’t just the army that made Hendrix wear a uniform: being in Ike and Tina’s backing band also demanded conformity. Given the freedom to wear what he wanted, Hendrix took full advantage.
Hear My Train a Comin’: Hendrix Hits London, presented by Seattle’s EMP Museum, will run at The Hospital Club, 24 Endell St, Covent Garden, London from 27 July – 31 August 2012. Admission is £8.
Record #79: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Stone Free
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