Do you have a song? I don’t mean your favourite, or one that reminds you of a special time. But a song with your name in it? Lola by the Kinks, Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. You know the kind of thing. Well my song is actually a bit embarrassing. ‘Clair’ by Gilbert O’Sullivan, I remember my Mum bringing back a copy from the charity shop, saying “I’ve got your song!”. I got very excited but it is such a …. soppy wet song, it is not cool and and it is a bit weird really, you can take a look at some lyrics below.
Clair, I’ve told you before “Don’t you dare”
“Get back into bed”
“Can’t you see that it’s late”
“No you can’t have a drink”
“Oh, alright then, but wait just a minute”
Now my daughter is very lucky because she has a song by Jimi Hendrix as ‘her song’. ‘Izabella’, spelt slightly differently to my daughter’s name but still good enough. I am very jealous, she has a very cool song. Come to think of it my youngest gets in there too with ‘Hey Joe’ by Hendrix, a bit of subliminal planning must have been going on there.
Hendrix has always been there in the background, a star who burned too brightly for too short a time. When I was younger I was totally hooked on ‘Tour of Duty’ an 80s Vietnam war series, they often played his cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All along the Watchtower’, such an amazing song. I am playing it very loudly as I write this blog (it is okay my neighbour is a little deaf).
Even with a little love of Hendrix in my heart I wasn’t overly bothered about visiting the nearly opened recreation of his flat, after a £2.4m restoration programme. I often find recreations can be a little bit odd really, here is a man all about music and live performance, how do you get that from a small flat in Brook Street?
I couldn’t have been more wrong, after a few twists and turns we found Handel & Hendrix House tucked away down a side street. 25 Brook Street is an elegant Gerogian Townhouse where George Frideric Handel lived and worked for 36 years from 1723-1759, writing his greatest work, Messiah, there. Then in 1969 my musical messiah arrived. Hendrix took over the upper floors of 23 Brook Street from 1968-1969. It seems an incredibly short amount of time, but when you realise he was only 27 when he died and he packed in an amazing amount in that short time whilst staying in London.
The timelines and list of concerts from that short period 1968-1969 are a fantastic insight into the life of a rockstar, he gave many interviews from his flat, you can see the recreation faithfully coming to life on a number of YouTube videos. It was great to see some of my local venues mentioned in his performance listings including the Bromley Court Hotel and the Chislehurst Caves, it must have been amazing to see him there.
When we think of celebrities these days, we think of palatial pads kitted out in all the latest and most expensive gear. But here Hendrix ‘chilled out’ in his small London pad, it was his getaway. There was a great interview with his girlfriend at the time, Cathy Etchingham on BBC Front Row where she recalls how he loved a cup of tea and an episode of Coronation street. As you look around the flat you can spot a copy of Monopoly, the idea of a rock star turned on its head. The fact the room used to be used by the volunteers who worked at Handel House makes the transformation even more romantic.
It is such a weird feeling walking into the flat, we visited in the evening, and it was like he had just stepped out of the room. I walked over to the window and looked out on the London streets, I wondered what he would have seen when he stood here. Has the view changed much, no doubt the fashions have. The room doesn’t feel like a recreation, it has more of a homely feel. It does feel like stepping back into a time capsule and it makes you sad for the talent that was lost.
I really enjoyed leafing through a recreation of Hendrix’s record collection. We spent a while guessing what might be in each section and looking for influences we thought might have been represented, it was great to see a little bit of Jonny Cash there.
Beginning our tour at the top of the house we then took our time to wander down through the floors of Handel’s home too. The floorboards creaked and the history of the house came through with every step. This is where the unique nature of Handel and Hendrix House really comes alive, whilst Hendrix treated his flat as a retreat, Handel welcomed visitors and held regular performances. I wonder if the walls and wooden doors resonate with all that music.
Etchingham said in an interview that music students came to seek out Handel’s home and ended up being welcomed in by Hendrix. She even recalls Hendrix taking a trip to HMV to buy some music by Handel to see what all the fuss was about. Etchingham says Hendrix was all about the discovery of music in every form and that is why I love this house. It is such a unique place to have so much musical history performed, created, written and discovered here.
The education opportunities are really exciting, combining different styles and influences and with an eclectic and modern musical programme of events to compliment the wonderful musical nature of the house. It really is a must visit and I can wait to take my ‘Izabella’ and ‘Joe’ to discover their own songs and take a little bit of that musical inspiration away with them.
To find out more including opening times and ticket prices please see the website – http://handelhendrix.org
Handel & Hendrix House are open on a number of late nights – http://handelhendrix.org/whats-on/events/friday-late-2
Great YouTube video of Jimi Jammin’ 1969 at Brook Street – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWXrxqjP-pM
You can listen to Cathy Etchingham talk about Jimi Hendrix and the flat on BBC Front Row – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06zhhj5
Cathy Etchingham interview on Jimi Hendrix http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/he-liked-to-drink-tea-and-watch-coronation-street-a-look-inside-jimi-hendrixs-60s-london-flat