In early July 1968, Jimi Hendrix (1942 Seattle – 1970 London) moved into a rented flat at 23 Brook Street, W1. It had been procured by his then girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, and they moved in together. Clearly delighted, the guitarist described it as the first proper home of his own. The couple had previously lived in various shared digs, no longer suitable for a man who’d become a superstar since moving to London barely two years previously. “For the first time we could wander out from the bedroom without having to get dressed,” said Kathy.
They decorated it themselves with the help of nearby Messrs John Lewis, who sent some men around to measure up. Similarly, cultery, crockery and all manner of domestic accoutrements were obtained from the same Oxford Street emporium.
In a vain quest for privacy, the couple had no doorbell. They valued their private time, which was rare. When not being pestered by the film crews, reporters, photographers, documentary makers, Jimi spent much time in the recording studio and on the road fulfilling a pitiless, brutal concert schedule over which he had little control. But during home time Jimi and Kathy would typically listen to records, loudly: Jimi’s collection was eclectic indeed, encompassing jazz, blues, rock and classical. Jimi also practised guitar and wrote songs, constantly. They drank either Mateus Rose or Lowenbrau. Beer and wine wasn’t easily and widely available in the late 60s except in pubs and clubs. Too lazy to go to the upstairs fridge, they kept the bottles cool on the windowsill. Jimi was also partial to an occasional dram – usually Dimple (is that still going?) – which he’d usually pick up duty-free when on tour.
Everyone smoked, of course. Benson & Hedges, Rothmans or frequently something menthol such as Cool. Menthol was very ‘in’ at that time. Jimi’s Englishness extended to enjoying milky tea and watching Coronation Street, which he adored, mainly because it seemed so alien to an American.
Jimi and Kathy split up in April 1969. He moved his stuff out gradually between then and October. They had spent less than a year at 23 Brook Street. A year later Hendrix was dead.
Legacy: Jimi’s Place
Almost 45 years later – this Wednesday – the rooms of Jimi Hendrix’s London flat open to the public as a permanent attraction. It comprises three rooms: an exhibition space; a recreation of Jimi and Kathy’s bedroom; and a small room between them to represent Jimi’s record collection. It has become part of the Handel House Museum which next door at Number 25*, was the composer’s home for over 30 years in the 18th Century. The combined attractions of these musical superstars are now known as Handel and Hendrix in London.
The process started when a blue plaque was affixed to Number 23 in the late 90s. More recently, with Heritage Fund support, a long lease was acquired on the upper storeys of the building and the work began to create a permanent London memorial to a man whom many consider the greatest rock guitarist who ever lived.
* Hendrix himself thought that he’d moved into the same building as that occupied by Handel. On the strength of this he bought his own copies of the Messiah and Water Music.