One of the things that has long frustrated me about London is how little effort it puts into celebrating it’s rock ‘n’ roll heritage (certainly compared to Liverpool). This is in spite of London being (after Memphis the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll) probably the most important city on the entire planet in terms of rock history when one considers the number of globally influential bands who either formed in this city, built their reputation in this city or recorded in this city.
Hopefully, things are starting to change and that’s why, I was delighted to see Jimi Hendrix’s flat at 23 Brook Street, where he lived between July 1968 and March 1969, being restored and opened to the public this year.
By a quirk of fate it’s right next door to the home of George Frideric Handel who live here between 1723 and 1759 . For years the old Hendrix flat had just been used as a storage annexe but now both homes are open to the public as part of a single visitor attraction.
The first part of the tour is the Handel house. It was interesting to find out more about the man, his music and his home.
I confess to not knowing a huge amount about Handel, prior to this visit. In fact, this quote from Hendrix in the later part of the exhibition sums it up nicely for me:
The second part of the tour starts with an exhibition, devoted to Hendrix, on the third floor of number 25 which includes his acoustic guitar, stage-wear and other displays. It was really fascinating to learn more about his early career in the segregation-era US, prior to being discovered and brought to London for his big breakthrough by manager Chas Chandler (who would go on to manage some more heroes of mine: Slade).
After the initial exhibition you then walk through into number 23 and enter the Hendrix flat itself. In the modest sized flat the largest room which was Hendrix’s living room-cum bedroom has been lovingly restored with exact replicas of furniture, soft furnishings and a whole bundle of belongings he had in the flat at the time, including all the records Hendrix had in his collection there.
The website for the house gives some useful background:
The flat on the upper floors of 23 Brook Street was found by Jimi’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham from an advert in one of the London evening newspapers in June 1968 while he was in New York. He moved in briefly in July before returning to the United States for an extensive tour. He spent some time decorating the flat to his own taste, including purchasing curtains and cushions from the nearby John Lewis department store, as well as ornaments and knickknacks from Portobello Road market and elsewhere. He told Kathy that this was ‘my first real home of my own’.
It really felt like walking straight into a slice of late 60s life and because so many photos exist of Hendrix in that flat, they have been able to do an amazing job on recreating it exactly as it was. It was a weekday and wasn’t hugely busy when I visited and the experience was made all the more fascinating by a lovely and amazingly helpful and informative guide. She was one of those rare people who seem to confound the old saying about the 60s by both remembering them (in great detail) and being there. She had loads of information to share, both on the recent challenge of restoring the flat and of Hendrix’s day to day life in it back in the late 60s, not to mention talking me through his life on the road and his many musical influences as we knelt on the floor and flipped through his recreated record collection together: Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, lots of old American blues recordings and many more.
For anyone interested in rock history who wants to get that bit closer to the life of Mr James Marshall Hendrix then the Hendrix flat is a must-see on any visit to London.
Visit the Handel and Hendrix House website here