Jimi Hendrix’s London (Part Two)
Continuing our tour of Jimi Hendrix’s London (please click here to view part one)
De Lane Lea Studios (now gone), 129 Kingsway WC2
Now covered by a modern office block and a Boots chemist shop, 129 Kingsway was once home to a branch of Midland bank, the basement of which harboured a recording studio.
Originally established by advertising firm, SH Benson as a workshop for capturing voice overs and catchy jingles, the studio was acquired in the 1960s by Major Jacques De Lane Lea; a French intelligence attaché who ran a side-line dubbing English films into French.
In 1965 De Lane Lea expanded his facilities considerably, installing a top of the range sound desk which soon began to attract some of the greatest names in music.
Jimi Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler was familiar with the subterranean studio having worked there during his time with The Animals, and on 23rd October 1966 he brought Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding to De Lane Lea Studios for the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s very first recording.
During the session, the tracks, ‘Hey Joe’ and ‘Stone Free’ were laid down.
Although the Kingsway facility has long since gone, De Lane Lea lives on at 75 Dean Street, Soho.
During the rare occasions when he wasn’t rehearsing and gigging, recording or partying, Jimi Hendrix took great pleasure in exploring London’s streets which he likened to a “storybook”, and took particular inspiration from the city’s parks, statues, churches and stained glass windows.
“One of the things I liked most about London was seeing window boxes filled with pretty little flowers,” he once said. “I really enjoyed being alone and getting in touch with my imagination, my actual thoughts. Music can be such a night-time thing, and the way I grew up, I was used to being part of nature.”
Also fond of bookstalls, Jimi once picked up a worn copy of Charles Dickens’, David Copperfield; “I read it on a plane one time and started crying, it was so sad in parts…”
The Marquee Club, 90 Wardour Street (now Floridita Restaurant) W1
Once one of London’s (and arguably the world’s) most important music venues, The Marquee first opened at 165 Oxford Street in 1958 (the location where the Rolling Stones made their live debut in July 1962) and moved to nearby Wardour Street, Soho in March 1964.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience played four gigs at the club, the first of which took place on the 24th January 1967. By this point, Jimi had developed a cult following and the queue to see him stretched all the way along Wardour Street, out onto Shaftesbury Avenue and up towards Cambridge Circus.
1,400 lucky people managed to squeeze into the club that night; a record for the time. Naturally The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck were all on the guest list.
A clip of the Jimi Hendrix Experience performing a private gig at the Marquee in March 1967 for the German television show, Beat Club can be viewed below:
The Finsbury Astoria (now the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God), 232 Seven Sisters Road, N4
When it opened in 1930, the Finsbury Astoria was one of the largest cinemas on the planet.
As well as offering films, the north London venue was also staging major concerts by the 1960s.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience wowed the crowd here on the 31st March 1967, and at the end of the set Jimi carried out the ritual of setting fire to his guitar on stage for the first time.
“It was like a sacrifice,” he later explained, “You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.”
Although scorched, the guitar (a 1965 Fender Stratocaster) wasn’t completely destroyed that night and was salvaged by press officer, Tony Garland who stashed the instrument away in the garage of his parents’ Sussex home…where it was quickly forgotten.
Rediscovered forty years later by Tony’s nephew, Jimi’s old guitar was auctioned at a Shoreditch gallery in 2008 where it fetched the handsome sum of £280,000… not bad for a piece displaying signs of fire damage!
Regent Sounds Studio, 4 Denmark Street WC2
With its numerous music shops and bohemian hangouts, Denmark Street– or ‘Tin Pan Alley’ as it’s also known- has been closely associated with the entertainment biz since the 1900s.
One of Denmark street’s stalwarts is Regent Sounds Studio which was established in the 1950s by Ralph Elman and taken on in 1961 by James Baring, an eccentric old Etonian and enthusiastic supporter of emerging pop acts.
Conditions in the early days were cramped and makeshift. When The Rolling Stones recorded their first album here in 1964 for example, the studio was sound-proofed with cardboard egg-boxes stuck to the walls!
Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding attended Regent Sounds over several days in October 1967 to rehearse and lay down some demo tracks.
Although Regent Sounds had accommodated many bands and musicians, it had never handled the likes of the Jimi Hendrix Experience before and on the 26th October staff at the neighbouring Labour Exchange lodged a complaint, stating that Jimi’s guitar riffs were so loud they could no longer hear themselves speak!
The group took the incident in good spirit and Jimi wound up the session with the words, “OK guys we’ve had a good rehearsal, we’d better find somewhere else to make our noise!”
Olympic Sound Studios, 117 Church Road Barnes, SW13
Olympic Studios in leafy south-west London was originally opened as a theatre in 1906 and later switched to a cinema.
In the 1950s the building was converted into a recording studio which, along with Abbey Road Studios, became one of the UK’s most important in the 1960s.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience worked on all three of their studio albums- Are You Experienced (recorded between October 1966 and April 1967), Axis: Bold as Love (between May and October 1967) and Electric Ladyland (December 1967 to August 1968) at the Barnes-based studio.
Senior engineer at Olympic, Eddie Kramer worked closely with Jimi Hendrix and had some fond memories, describing the guitarist as a surprisingly, “very, very shy guy…. Jimi was so focused. He had the most unbelievable amount of concentration on one idea.”
The Experience made a wealth of other recordings at Olympic, many of which have yet to see an official release. One batch, collected under the title, The Valleys of Neptune was finally made public in 2010.
Today, Olympic Studios has returned to its former role as a cinema and also boasts a fine café and dining room.
The Saville Theatre (now the Odeon, Covent Garden), 135 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2
When it opened in 1931 the Saville Theatre was one of London’s plushest venues and boasted seating for over 1,400 people.
One of the theatre’s original features- a grand frieze entitled ‘Drama Through the Ages’ by Gilbert Bayes– can still be viewed high up on the venue’s facade.
In the mid-1960s, Beatle’s manager, Brian Epstein initiated ‘Sunday Night at the Saville’; a weekly event in which the theatre was handed over for the showcasing of popular music acts.
Many of the concerts became pretty rowdy- when Chuck Berry (one of Jimi Hendrix’s idols) appeared for example, the excited audience stormed the stage and police had to be called to restore order.
Pink Floyd, The Move, Procol Harum, Fairport Convention,The Who,The Bee Gees and many more all appeared at the theatre, whilst The Beatles used the stage for filming their promo to ‘Hello, Goodbye‘.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience treated audiences to a number of electrifying performances at the Saville throughout 1967.
A concert programme from the time describes the Experience as having an “incredible gyrating dynamism that is both exciting and extraordinary. With fine lyrics, talented and professional musicians, a fresh original approach, and with you the audience, one lives the Jimi Hendrix Experience…”
On the 4th June 1967 and with The Beatles in attendance, Jimi paid tribute to his friends with a cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band– an extraordinary gesture considering the track and album of the same name had only been released three days previously.
Please click below to view a clip:
After the performance, the Experience headed to America where they went on to take California’s Monterey Festival by storm.
Swinging London had blessed Jimi Hendrix,and the USA was now eager to embrace one of Seattle’s most famous sons.
But Jimi’s association with London wasn’t over yet…
To be continued
Jimi Hendrix’s London (Part One)
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
Tales From the Terminals: Marylebone
Continuing my exploration of the history, trivia and hidden stories which lie behind London’s major railway terminals. We now arrive at:
Opened in 1899 and tucked away in a quiet backwater to the west of Regent’s Park, Marylebone is the youngest of London’s major railway terminals.
It is also one of the smallest; factors which ensure the station remains relatively peaceful and unspoilt. Trains from Marylebone run out to Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and on into the West Midlands.
Marylebone Station was originally constructed by the Great Central Railway; an evolution of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway which changed its name in anticipation of the London extension.
As the route ran particularly close to Lords Cricket Ground, the Marylebone Cricket Club were strongly opposed to the project and did their very best to prevent the railway’s progress, as the following Punch cartoon entitled ‘Lords in Danger’, from December 1890 illustrates:
Due to this rather sophisticated opposition, the Great Central Railway Company were required to fork out huge sums of money in order to fight their corner and, by the time the line reached Marylebone, they were pretty hard up!
Consequently they did not have much left to spend on the station building, hence its diminutive size and unpretentious nature.
When the terminal was unveiled in 1899, so too was the Grand Central Hotel, which stands opposite the station and is linked via a canopied walkway.
Today, the hotel is known as The Landmark and is one of the finest in London.
However, despite the five-star luxury, it is not without controversy.
In February 2010, a vicious murder took place in one of the hotel’s exclusive suites, when a Saudi Arabian prince beat his man-servant to death. After being tried at the Old Bailey, the prince was found guilty, and sentenced to a minimum 20 years in jail.
The line into Marylebone was the brainchild of Salford-born, Sir Edward William Watkin; an industrialist who devoted his life to the business of railways, both at home and abroad. As well as serving on the boards of several UK rail companies, he also become involved in the rail networks of Greece, Canada, the USA, India and the Belgian Congo.
By the time the Great Central Railway was being constructed, Sir Watkin was rather elderly. However, this proved no hindrance to his entrepreneurial spirit.
Initially, he’d envisioned the Great Central as a railway linking Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester to London… and then onto France. In other words, Watkins was one of the earliest advocates of a Channel Tunnel!
Perhaps inevitably, this overall plan never came to fruition, mainly due to economic and political reasons. Sir Watkin’s vision would have to wait 95 years, with London and Paris finally being joined by rail in 1994.
Sir Watkin wasn’t one to rest on his laurels and, whilst his Great Central Railway was being constructed, he had another project on the go- the ‘Watkin’s Tower’.
Also known as the ‘Wembley Tower’ and the ‘Metropolitan Tower’, Sir Watkin’s vision was inspired by the newly built Eiffel Tower (before this was decided upon, previous ideas mooted for the spectacle included a ‘Tower of Pisa’ inspired design, and a scale model of the Great Pyramid at Giza!)
Construction on the folly began in 1892, in the Wembley Park Area. It was hoped that the tower, which was a short train ride from Marylebone Station, would prove to be a popular attraction and sound revenue earner.
The planned design was grand to say the least.
The proposed eight-legged tower was earmarked to contain restaurants, theatres, ballrooms, exhibition rooms and a Turkish bath.
Standing at 1,200 feet tall, Watkin’s Tower would have been higher than the Parisian version (which is 894 feet high). In fact, Gustave Eiffel himself was invited by Sir Watkin to become the project’s chief engineer. The Frenchman graciously refused, stating that, if he accepted, the French people “would not think me so good a Frenchman as I hope I am!”
After Monsieur Eiffel’s refusal, the role was handed to Sir Benjamin Baker; the designer of Scotland’s magnificent Forth Railway Bridge.
Of course, if Watkin’s Tower had seen completion, it would now be a major London landmark, as famous as Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral, and visible from all over the city.
Sadly, as its present day absence suggests, the construction was doomed to fail.
As well as the inevitable financial problems which seemed to plague Sir Watkin, the only section which was built experienced difficulties. Built on marshy ground, the foundations began to shift and, when the design was downgraded from eight legs to four legs, the extra pressure exerted led to subsidence.
The maximum height the Tower reached was a pithy 154 ft. (the Parisians could rest easy!) and, although people were initially drawn to view the construction, visitors soon began to dwindle. Watkins died in 1901 and, a year later, the tower was condemned and labelled unsafe.
The folly faded into obscurity, disappearing for good in 1923, when Wembley Stadium was built over the site. In 2000, when the new stadium was being prepared, the concrete foundations of Watkin’s Tower were discovered beneath the pitch…
The magnificent arch of the new Wembley can be seen all over London- so, next time you get a glimpse, why not take a moment to imagine a huge, Parisian-style tower in its place!
Although the area around Marylebone Station is pleasant and peaceful, the tranquillity was shattered in December 1975 with the ‘Siege of Balcombe Street.’
Balcombe Street is a quiet, residential road which runs parallel to the station. The siege which took place upon it was carried out by Hugh Doherty, Martin O’Connell, Edward Butler and Harry Duggan; members of an IRA cell who were carrying out a bombing campaign on the British mainland at the height of the Northern Ireland troubles.
The event began in Mayfair; at Scotts Restaurant on Mount Street; an exclusive eatery which the IRA considered to be a ‘ruling class’ establishment, and therefore a plausible target.
The terrorists had already attacked the restaurant the previous month; hurling a bomb through the window- an act which resulted in one death and fifteen injuries.
On their second attack, the gang used a stolen Ford Cortina to carry out an audacious drive-by shooting; firing gunshots through the window of Scotts.
Plain clothes officers, who had anticipated the attack, were lying in wait. However, they had no means of transport, and had to flag down a taxi in order to give chase (quite possibly the most alarming case of ‘follow that car’ that a cabbie has ever been asked to do!)
The pursuit sped for several miles across the West End, before the IRA members abandoned their vehicle and fled on foot; firing at the police as they continued their chase.
The terrorists eventually found themselves on Balcombe Street; a stone’s throw from Marylebone Station, and they proceeded to force their way into a block of council flats.
The apartment in which they sought refuge was home to an elderly couple; John and Shelia Matthews. Apparently, the pair were engrossed in an episode of the popular 1970s detective drama, Kojack, at the time, and didn’t realise that the echoing gun shots were coming from the street outside- they thought the noise was emanating from their TV set!
John and Shelia were held prisoner in their own home for the next six days, whilst the IRA demanded a plane to fly them to Ireland. However, the siege began to take its toll and, along with a number of psychological tactics employed by the police (including deliberate misinformation being broadcast on the BBC), the IRA cell surrendered, releasing the hostages unharmed.
It transpired that O’Connell, Butler, Duggan and Doherty had been responsible for a large number of attacks across London; strikes which resulted in the deaths of 15 people.
The IRA gang also claimed responsibility for the notorious 1974 Guildford Pub Bombing, and instructed their lawyers to draw attention to the fact that a number of innocent people (i.e. ‘The Guildford Four’) were serving “massive sentences” for the bombing. Despite this, the Balcombe Street gang were never charged in relation to the Guildford blast, and the innocent parties remained in prison.
In 1977, the Balcombe Street Gang received hefty life sentences for their actions, but were released in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
On a lighter note, Marylebone Station has been used many times over the years as a filming location for both film and television.
Episodes of Spooks, Gavin and Stacey and Dr Who have all utilised Marylebone as a set… as has the U.S, Tom Selleck vehicle, Magnum P.I!
In a 1985 episode of the detective show, Dempsey and Makepeace, Marylebone was used for a rather macabre scene, which reminds us how, in the old days of ‘slamdoor’ trains, with their compartments and corridors, sharing an isolated booth with a creepy looking stranger was always a hazard…
A similar sinister event occurs at Marylebone in the brooding, 1965 espionage movie, The Ipcress File (starring Rotherhithe’s very own Sir Michael Caine).
During the film’s opening scene, a government scientist is driven to Marylebone Station to board a train. However, once on board, he is kidnapped (in order to have his mind wiped), and his bodyguard killed.
But by far the most famous movie to be filmed at Marylebone Station is undoubtedly the 1964 Beatles comedy, A Hard Day’s Night.
In the film’s opening credits, the Fab Four are chased by fans along Boston Place (a road sandwiched between the station and Balcombe Street), before diving into Marylebone in an attempt to board a train.
With their ‘Beatle-Mania’ crazed fans in hot pursuit, the loveable scousers are forced to employ all manner of deceptions and dodging around Marylebone in order to make their train in time.
The famous scene, with its images of milk-vending machines and bee-hive haired waitresses is a wonderful depiction of the station as it appeared during the era of ‘Swinging London.’