Incredibly, it is almost fifty years since legendary musician, Jimi Hendrix’s sublime guitar skills became known to the world.
Born in Seattle, Washington on November 27th 1942, Jimi Hendrix obtained his first guitar- an acoustic model costing a mere $5- when he was fifteen years old.
In 1961 he enlisted in the army where he trained to be a paratrooper.
Military life wasn’t for Private Hendrix- perhaps most clearly demonstrated when he was caught dozing whilst on duty!
He was discharged in 1962 and, eager to forge a career in music, began touring clubs across the United States.
Over the next few years Jimi perfected his craft but despite his talent, he struggled to make a wage, remaining undiscovered and creatively stifled.
His luck changed in May 1966 whilst playing at the Cheetah club in New York.
Here he was spotted by Linda Keith– girlfriend of the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards– who recommended the dazzling guitarist to Chas Chandler– former bassist for The Animals who was looking to establish himself as a manager.
Like Linda, Chas Chandler could see that Jimi Hendrix was indeed a very rare talent… and so decided to whisk him to London which, during the swinging 60s, was the place where Jimi Hendrix would flourish and make his name.
Tragically, it was also the city in which he would lose his life.
In tribute to Jimi Hendrix and to celebrate the exciting announcement that one of his former London homes will soon be opening to the public as a museum, I have compiled a list of some of the most notable London locations associated with the late, great performer…
11 Gunterstone Road, W14
Jimi Hendrix first arrived in London on 24th September 1966, flying into London Airport (which officially changed its name to ‘Heathrow’ that same year).
After several years as a struggling musician, Jimi Hendrix had very little to his name. When he boarded the plane in New York his only possessions were a change of clothes, a set of hair curlers, $40 (which he’d borrowed) and of course his beloved guitar.
Upon his arrival in London, Jimi was taken straight from the airport to 11 Gunterstone Road, West Kensington which was the home of British musician, Zoot Money, a major figure on the Soho scene at the time.
Whilst at the house, Jimi took part in a jamming session with Zoot’s friend, Andy Summers– who would later go on to play with The Police.
Scotch of St James Club, 13 Mason’s Yard W1
On the evening of 24th September 1966, Jimi Hendrix played his first ever UK solo gig at the exclusive Scotch of St James club in Mason’s Yard; a peaceful courtyard which is now dominated by the White Cube modern art gallery.
A stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, the club was popular with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, both of whom enjoyed the luxury of their own private tables. The Who and Stevie Wonder also spent time here.
Immediately after his set, Jimi met Kathy Etchingham and the pair embarked upon a two year relationship.
The following month, Hendrix returned to Scotch of St James with musicians Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, who together formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience and thus it was here that the trio performed their UK debut.
Les Cousins Club (now Club 49), 49 Greek Street W1
Originally opened in the 1950s as the ‘Skiffle Cellar’, Les Cousins (tucked away beneath the Soho Grill) was at the heart of London’s folk scene by the 1960s
After just a few days in London, Jimi Hendrix and Chas Chandler paid a visit to the club as regular guests, paying their own entry fee.
Blues musician, Alexis Korner was on stage that night and Chas Chandler asked if Jimi could join him on stage for a jamming session… needless to say the crowd were gobsmacked by the young American’s flair!
Westminster Polytechnic (now Westminster University, Regent Campus), Little Titchfield Street
On the evening of 1st October 1966, Cream were playing at this London Polytechnic campus when Jimi Hendrix rather audaciously asked if he could get up and jam with Eric Clapton, the UK’s undisputed guitar king.
Jimi’s skill and flamboyant style knocked Eric Clapton for six and, once back stage the Cream guitarist had to ask Chas Chandler if the American was ‘always that good?’!
Despite their guitar duel, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix became firm friends.
Cromwellian Club (now gone), 3 Cromwell Road, SW7
Situated directly opposite the Natural History Museum, the Cromwellian Club was rumoured to have started life as an illegal gambling den.
By the 1960s, ‘The Crom’ as it was nicknamed had established itself as a popular casino and music venue, witnessing performances from the likes of Georgie Fame, Eric Clapton and a very young Elton John.
Jimi Hendrix played one of his earliest gigs here in October 1966.
Bag O’ Nails Club, 9 Kingly Street W1
The Jimi Hendrix Experience played a gig at the Bag O’Nails club on 25th November 1966, after which, Jimi remarked, “Britain is really groovy”- not a surprising observation considering the club backs onto the ultra-hip Carnaby Street.
At another Bag O’Nails gig on 11th January 1967, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were in the audience… it was the first time they’d seen Jimi play live and, naturally, they were entranced.
Later that year, Paul McCartney met his future wife, Linda at the club.
Blaises Club (now gone) 121 Queen’s Gate SW7
Located in the basement of the now demolished Imperial Hotel, Blaises (named after the cartoon character, Modesty Blaise) was a cramped, sweaty club which, according to Melody Maker journalist, Chris Welch, was a venue, “where musicians, agents, managers and writers allowed themselves to be deafened whilst imbibing quantities of alcohol.”
Jimi Hendrix appeared here on 21st December 1966 which led to one of first rave reviews: “Jimi has great stage presence and an exceptional guitar technique which involved playing with teeth on occasions and no hands at all on others!” (tricks which he’d learnt from old timers whilst on the US circuit).
Pink Floyd were another big name to appear at Blaises and the club can be seen in the cult 1967 film, The Sorcerers (in which Boris Karloff uses hypnosis to seriously mess up one cool cat’s mind!)
Please click below to view a clip of the Blaises club in its heyday:
34 Montague Square, W1
During the 1960s, the basement of this rather grand address was leased by Ringo Starr.
Consequently, the home has numerous connections with The Beatles– the song, ‘Eleanor Rigby‘ was developed here for example and in 1968 the racy cover for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s, Two Virgins album was snapped on the premises.
Jimi Hendrix rented the basement from Ringo between December 1966 and March 1967, moving in with his girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. Whilst at the address, Jimi composed ‘The Wind Cries Mary’.
Unfortunately Ringo had no option but to evict Jimi Hendrix when the guitarist, whilst under the influence of LSD, splashed paint all over the walls…
One of the most iconic photographs of Jimi was taken just across the road on Montagu Place outside the Swedish embassy. Sadly, the original street sign has since been removed.
Lime Grove Studios (now gone), W12
Between 1940 and 1991, Lime Grove in Shepherd’s bush was home to a BBC studio where many classic shows including Top of the Pops, Blue Peter, Doctor Who and a 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s, 1984 (performed live and starring Peter Cushing) were filmed.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience filmed their first appearance for Top of the Pops here on 29th December 1966 with a performance of ‘Hey Joe’. Their next shoot took place on 30th March 1967– and can be viewed below.
Sadly, Lime Grove studios were demolished in 1993 and a modern housing development now occupies the site.
The Upper Cut Club (now gone), 1-39 Woodgrange Road, E7
Out beyond Stratford and past the former 2012 Olympic Park, this is probably the furthest east Jimi Hendrix ever ventured whilst in London!
Based in Forest Gate, the Upper Cut Club was in business for just one year between 1966 and 1967. Despite its short span, the club shone bright playing host to such greats as The Who, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Prince Buster, Ben. E. King and Nina Simone.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared at the Upper Cut on Boxing Day, 1966…and it was here, whilst resting in the club’s dressing room, that Jimi penned Purple Haze, one of his most definitive hits.
A simple plaque now marks the site.
The Speakeasy Club (now gone), 48 Margaret Street, W1
Opened in 1966 a short distance from the bustle of Oxford Circus, the Speakeasy modelled itself on the illegal drinking dens which flourished during the era of American prohibition.
Visitors entered and signed in via a fake undertaker’s parlour… and were then permitted to enter the main club through a false wardrobe door! Inside, a menacing portrait of Al Capone loomed over the patrons.
This was one of Jimi Hendrix’s favourite London clubs and he could often be spotted hanging out with friends here.
Jimi’s first Speakeasy gig took place in February 1967… and it was here that he cheekily tried to chat up Mick Jagger’s then girlfriend, Marianne Faithful!
To be continued
Tucked away in Belgravia, a short walk from the chaos of Victoria’s bustling coach and railway stations, you’ll find Ebury Street, the southern end of which is home to a little corner of London that will be forever associated with one of the world’s greatest composers: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Born in Salzburg, Austria on 27th January 1756, Mozart was the youngest of seven children; five of whom died in infancy.
As a toddler, young Amadeus displayed a keen interest in the violin and the clavier (a keyboard instrument similar to a piano); a fascination which was actively encouraged by his father, Leopold who himself was an accomplished composer and music teacher.
Amadeus’ older sister, Maria Anna (affectionately known as Nannerl) also displayed impressive musical flair, her talent idolising her in the eyes of her little brother.
In 1762 when Amadeus was aged 8 and Nannerl 11, their parents decided to take the child prodigies on a grand tour of Europe to showcase their skills amongst the continent’s greatest cities including Vienna, Prague, Munich, Zurich and Paris.
In April 1764 the Mozarts arrived in London where they would remain until July the following year.
After a rough sea crossing and a brief stay in Piccadilly’s White Bear Inn (now the site of the Criterion Restaurant), the Mozarts found their first London digs at number 9 Cecil Court, a little lane connecting Charing Cross Road to St Martin’s Lane.
London’s scientific community were fascinated by Amadeus’ outstanding talent and it was at Cecil Court that the youngster’s musical aptitude was closely examined by Dr Charles Burney. A report on Amadeus, compiled by the philosopher, Daines Barrington was later presented to the Royal Society.
During their lengthy sojourn in the capital, Amadeus and Nannerl demonstrated their musical abilities at numerous venues; one of which was Chelsea’s Ranelagh Gardens (now famous for being home to the annual flower show).
The children also played for King George III and Queen Charlotte on three separate occasions. These special performances took place in ‘Queen’s House’… the building we know today as Buckingham Palace.
Amadeus and Nannerl proved very popular with the Royal couple and the King took great delight in greeting the family from his coach when he spotted them strolling through St James’s Park.
In August 1764 the Mozarts moved to Ebury Street; then known as ‘Five Fields Row’. At the time, this area was in surrounded by pleasant countryside, yet to be engulfed by the greater swell of the metropolis.
It was this location’s pastoral setting which enticed the family to the area, as Leopold Mozart was suffering from a bout of illness and needed the fresh country air to help him recuperate.
180 Ebury Street is of great importance in the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for it was in this very building he composed his first two symphonies; an amazing feat considering he was just 8 years old at the time.
The home’s role in the history of classical music is commemorated by a plaque which was added in 1938. The row of buildings has also been christened ‘Mozart Terrace’.
On Orange Square, which lies a few feet away on the junction of Ebury Street and Pimlico Road, a further tribute can be found; a statue of the great composer as a child.
Unveiled by Princess Margaret in 1994, this little statue was created by Philip Jackson; an acclaimed sculptor whose other pieces around London include the Ghurkha Memorial on Horseguards Avenue, artist Terence Cuneo at Waterloo Station, Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium and the recent Bomber Command memorial in Green Park.
Jackson’s sculpture of young Mozart was the culmination of a long campaign to have a memorial installed in the area- the first idea, which envisioned a fountain, was first mooted in 1961 but failed to come to fruition.
Towards the end of their time in London and with cash running short, the Mozarts found cheaper lodgings back in town at 15 Frith Street, Soho. The original building has long gone, although a blue plaque commemorates the site which is now covered by number 21.
Seeking to make a quick buck, Leopold changed tact somewhat and decided to turn his son’s talents into something of a party trick, inviting the paying public to test young Amadeus’ skills by “giving him anything to play at sight, or any music without bass, which he will write upon the spot.”
Despite the celebrated musical career which ensued in adult life, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart never returned to London.
Laden with financial woes and poor health, the genius composer died in Vienna on the 5th December 1791 aged just 35. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
An excerpt from Mozart’s first symphony, written on London’s Ebury Street when he was just 8 years old, can be heard below.
Toiling away above Frith Street, with financial help from his family and a £200 donation from a private benefactor, John Logie Baird struggled with his invention for many months.
For his experiments, he used an old ventriloquist’s dummy’s head; a character whom he nicknamed ‘Stooky Bill’.
However, try as he might, the Scottish inventor just could not get the image of his plaster prop to appear on the televisor’s wee screen.
As autumn set in, Logie Baird had been at Frith Street for almost a year, yet his invention seemed to be going nowhere.
But then, on Friday 2nd October 1925, the breakthrough moment came:
“Funds were going down, the situation was becoming desperate and we were down to our last £30 when at last, one Friday… everything functioned properly.
The image of Stooky Bill formed itself on the screen with what appeared to me almost unbelievable clarity. I had got it! I could scarcely believe my eyes and felt myself shaking with excitement.”
Almost immediately, Logie Baird wanted to test his televisor on a living, breathing human being.
In a sudden burst of energy, he dashed downstairs which, at that time, was home to an office belonging to a Mr Cross. Logie Baird asked if he could quickly borrow the office boy; William Taynton.
William was quickly hauled upstairs and plonked in front of the camera. Wasting no time, John Logie Baird dashed over to the viewing screen… only to find it blank.
What the inventor had failed to realise in his haste was that young William, being rather scared by the bright lights and rapidly whirring discs, had shied away from the camera!
Persuasion was on hand though- in the form of half a crown. Taking this handsome payment in hand, William Taynton diligently sat where required… as the flickering image appeared on the screen, the young lad on the other side of the camera probably didn’t realise that he was going down in history as the first ever real-life T.V star!
Shortly after this euphoric success, there was a knock at Logie Baird’s door… it was a group of Soho prostitutes who, having glimpsed the strange machine through a window, has mistaken it for a telescope- and demanded to know why the Scotsman was spying on them!
Within a few months, John Logie Baird was ready to demonstrate his televisor to the public.
On the 26th January 1926, at Frith Street, he gave the first showing to a group of guests from the Royal Institution. The demo, also beamed to guests at Olympia and at premises on Savoy Hill (behind the Savoy Hotel), included transmitted images of Stooky Bill and also of a real person.
Today, a blue plaque at Frith Street commemorates this event:
Although the showing was a success, one critic from the Royal Institution, clearly not grasping the ground-breaking nature of the event he’d just witnessed, felt compelled to ask; “well… what’s the good of it? What useful purpose will it serve?”
Following the first public demonstration, ‘Baird Television Limited’ was established, its headquarters moving a short distance from Frith Street to 133 Long Acre in Covent Garden.
Further experiments were carried out at the new studio, each more ambitious than the last.
In 1927 John Logie Baird successfully broadcast test images to his native Scotland; the receiving end being a televisor set based at Glasgow’s Grand Central Hotel.
The following year, he also succeeded in beaming grainy images (of a man and woman sitting in his studio) across the Atlantic to New York.
Experiments with colour and even 3D were also conducted.
With these advancements, John Logie Baird knew that the time was ready to begin broadcasting to the public.
In those days, the only broadcaster in the UK was the British Broadcasting Corporation; itself in its infancy (and, in those days of course, a radio station).
Logie Baird approached the BBC’s director, John Reith and, after some persuasion, managed to get the corporation to give the new technology a try.
Logie Baird had built a transmitter on the roof of his Long Acre premises, but he soon realised it would be too weak for his ambitions. He therefore needed to borrow one of the BBC’s aerials- known as ‘2LO’ which was located on the roof of Selfridges.
However, 2LO’s primary use was for radio broadcasts, so the BBC only granted Baird Broadcasting access to the transmitter between 11pm and mid-morning next day, when wireless broadcasting was off-air.
Selfridges continued to play an important role in the dawn of television when the first Baird ‘Televisor’ sets went on sale at the department store.
With prices for the new equipment ranging from £20 to £150 (equivalent at the time to the price of a motor-car), only a handful of wealthy people in the London area were able to receive the new-fangled programmes.
In fact, for the very first broadcast, Logie Baird himself estimated that only 30 people were tuned in! One of this select group was the Prime Minister himself; Ramsay McDonald, who watched the historical moment from 10 Downing Street on a Televisor which had been presented as a gift from the Scottish inventor.
The very first programme was broadcast from Covent Garden’s Long Acre on the morning of 30th September 1929.
Due to transmitter limitations, the sound and vision had to be broadcast separately in two minute bursts; so the viewer would first see a silent, flickering image with the crackling sound following shortly afterwards. This split process would continue for the first six months of programming.
The very first televisual broadcast opened with a speech by Sydney Moseley; Logie Baird’s business manager and one of his most supportive friends.
The tiny audience would have seen Sydney, silent but mouthing words… followed two minutes later by the vocal segment:
“Ladies and Gentlemen: you are about to witness the first official test of television in this country from the studio of the Baird Television Development Company and transmitted from 2LO; the London Station of the British Broadcasting Corporation.”
A few more short speeches followed, and then the morning’s entertainment began. The schedule ran as follows:
11.16am. Sydney Howard: televised for two minutes.
11.18am. Sydney Howard: Comedy monologue.
11.20am. Miss Lulu Stanley: televised for two minutes.
11.22am. Miss Lulu Stanley: sang ‘He’s tall, and dark, and handsome’ followed by ‘Grandma’s proverbs.’
11.24am. Miss C King: televised for two minutes
11.26am. Miss C King sang ‘Mighty like a rose.’
Morning television in those days was clearly far more sophisticated than the dross on offer today!
On the 14th July 1930, Baird Television were finally able to broadcast the sound and vision together for the first time. The vehicle used for this demonstration was a short play called ‘The Man With the Flower in His Mouth’, which was written in 1922 by Italian playwright, Luigi Pirandello.
Chosen for its simplicity and small cast (considerations which were driven by the tiny televisor screen), the short play is essentially a philosophical conversation in a café between a businessman who has just missed his train and another fellow who is suffering from a cancerous throat.
A preview in the Times described the drama as being “a forbidding study of emotion in the shadow of death.”
The actors, who performed the play live at Long Acre, had to have their faces painted yellow, with navy blue shading around the eyes and nose. This bizarre makeup was intended to enhance their image on the shimmering receiving screens, which glowed a characteristic reddish-orange colour.
In 1967, The Man with the Flower in His Mouth was painstakingly remade in an attempt to emulate what audiences back in 1930 would have seen. The recreation was supervised by the play’s original producer, and also includes the original artwork and gramophone music.
If you’re wondering what the box had to offer in those days, the whole play can be viewed below:
By late 1930, Baird Television’s Covent Garden studio was beaming 30 minutes of programmes in the morning; Monday to Friday and 30 minutes at midnight on Tuesdays and Fridays.
South of the River
In July 1933, Baird Television left Covent Garden and moved to Sydenham in deepest South London.
Here, at the Crystal Palace complex, a new studio was established, with the antenna attached to one of the glass palace’s towers.
John Logie Baird also made his own personal home in the area, on Crescent Wood Road, a short walk from the Crystal Palace studio.
However, the hard luck which had plagued John in his previous business ventures was about to come back and haunt him…
On 30th November 1936, the Crystal Palace burnt down, taking Baird Television studios with it.
Two weeks later, before the ashes had even cooled, the BBC- who were now really starting to get into the T.V thing- announced that they were scrapping Baird’s system in favour of more modern equipment which had been developed by Marconi-EMI.
The BBC moved their T.V wing to Alexandra Palace; the North London twin of the now vanished Crystal Palace.
Television continued to remain an ultra-expensive luxury and, on the 1st September 1939, following a Mickey Mouse cartoon, test card and a preview of up and coming programmes, the service suddenly went off air; closed down by the government in anticipation of the World War which was about to erupt; the fear being that enemy aircraft would use the television signals to hone in on their targets.
The first few years of television had come to an end, and the medium would not be seen again until 1946.
Despite the cruel setbacks, John Logie Baird’s appetite for invention remained as strong as ever.
The ingenious Scotsman went onto experiment with high definition colour, large-screen televisions, video recording devices and even made early ventures into infra-red. It is believed that, during WWII, Logie Baird carried out important work on the new radar network.
John Logie Baird died at the age of 57 on June 14th 1946.
This final clip, from 1937, shows the great innovator with the machine he forged in his Frith Street attic. Today, a working model of his revolutionary device can be still be viewed at the Science Museum in South Kensington.