Recreated bedsit where Jimi Hendrix jammed along to Handel

Brook Street home affords priceless insight into talismanic musician as a young man

Kathy Etchingham: Former girlfriend of US guitarist Jimi Hendrix sits in the flat she once share with him in London. Photograph: EPA

Kathy Etchingham: Former girlfriend of US guitarist Jimi Hendrix sits in the flat she once share with him in London. Photograph: EPA

 

When Jimi Hendrix lived in London at the end of the 1960s, the rock guitarist made his bed neatly every morning and liked nothing better than watching Coronation Street and drinking a nice cup of tea.

His former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham recalled Hendrix’s domestic habits as the Mayfair flat they shared opened to the public this week after a £2.4 million restoration that has painstakingly reconstructed the interior.

“It’s like travelling in a time capsule back 45 years,” she said.

The bedroom, which doubled as a living room, is strewn with Persian rugs, has a television set on the floor and a record player on a low table nearby.

On the bedside table stands a bottle of Mateus Rose, the couple’s favourite wine; a corkscrew; a pack of Benson and Hedges; a shell ashtray; a matchbox; a cassette recorder, and the handwritten lyrics of Voodoo Child. An acoustic guitar lies on the bed.

Hendrix was 25 and Etchingham 23 when they moved into the Georgian house on Brook Street at the end of 1968. Hendrix had failed to break through as a musician in the United States but his manager Chas Chandler believed that if the guitarist succeeded in Europe, he could return in triumph.

The plan worked and with his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, he had worldwide success with instant classics such as All Along the Watchtower and Voodoo Child.

But Hendrix had little time to enjoy success before he died following a drug overdose at a Kensington hotel on September 18th, 1970, aged 27.

Christian Lloyd, whose book Hendrix at Home is published next month, says the Brook Street flat offers an invaluable insight into Hendrix as a young man. 

“We look at Hendrix down the wrong end of a telescope. You see this finished icon, everything is known about him, everything is decided about what he means, his music is so familiar. And what this tries to do is kind of de-familiarise him,” he said.

“When you look back on his life now it looks like it was inevitable, that he was a genius, he was going to do this and do that. But you see him as someone who was kind of lost. He was thinking what to do next. He really didn’t know what to do next.

“He was struggling professionally. His band was playing badly, having awful rehearsals and things.”

After a troubled childhood and a fugitive life as a musician in the US, this was the first time Hendrix had a home of his own and he enjoyed the freedom it offered, getting up at about 3pm and often going to bed after 5am.

Friends such as George Harrison and keyboard player Billy Preston would visit but Hendrix lived quietly much of the time, listening to music and writing.

It was not until he moved in that he realised the composer George Frideric Handel had lived for 36 years in the house next door, composing many of his greatest works there. Handel’s house has long been a museum and Hendrix’s flat has been incorporated into a joint museum called Handel and Hendrix in London, celebrating the lives and work of the two musicians.

Continuity of spirit

The blue plaque for Handel was on the wall between the two houses and Hendrix thought at first he was actually living in Handel’s apartment.

“He immediately went out and bought the Water Music, two versions of the Messiah and Belshazzar . . . so he had four Handel albums. Kathy actually said he’d jam along to Handel sometimes . . . so he was proud of that and I think he did feel a kind of continuity of spirit and that this was a house of music and that he could continue that,” Lloyd said.

When classical music students knocked on Hendrix’s door by mistake he would show them around and often offer them tea and one night, the rock guitarist came face to face with Handel’s ghost.

“The bathroom was up some narrow stairs above the main bedsitting room and he went in there and Handel’s ghost appeared in the mirror and he came downstairs sort of freaking out in fear and the others just laughed and said you’re drunk.

“He had some knowledge of voodoo so he believed in the world of spirits but you can make of that what you will,” Lloyd said.

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