Jimi Hendrix experience at Handel museum

The Handel House Museum is marking 40 years since the death of Jimi Hendrix, the composer's neighbour separated by time

Not only is it a smart address – Brook Street, Mayfair – but for Jimi Hendrix it was extremely convenient for the cat-about-town fashion shops of Carnaby Street, the sleazy bars of Soho and, just as importantly, John Lewis.

The reassuring revelation that Hendrix shopped at John Lewis was made at the launch today of an exhibition at London's Handel House Museum marking the 40th anniversary of Hendrix's death. Composer George Frideric Handel lived and died in 25 Brook Street while, 200 years later, Hendrix lived and died next door in number 23, now used as administrative offices for the museum.

The exhibition opens to the public tomorrow and includes some fascinating Hendrix memorabilia such as his 1968 work permit, an elaborately sketched self-portrait and programmes from gigs at whose line-ups you can only marvel. One April evening at the Ipswich Gaumont was headlined by the Walker Brothers followed by Hendrix, Cat Stevens, special guest Engelbert Humperdinck, the Californians and much-underrated doo wop group The Quotations.

There are also plenty of photographs and one of Hendrix's most famous guitars, a Gibson that he called the Flying Angel from which, with his big hands and long fingers, he produced some of the best guitar music ever made.

Martin Wyatt, the museum's deputy director, who curated the show, said: "When I took the job here I never thought I'd spend 18 months researching Jimi Hendrix, but it's been fascinating.

"He's such an interesting, mixed character. Off stage he was quiet, respectful, approachable, couldn't say no to anyone. But as a performer he was completely different."

Hendrix moved into the flat with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham in July 1968, renting it for £30 a week, and fell into a life of domesticity he clearly enjoyed. After his childhood, 23 Brook Street was the only place he called home.

Not that there weren't parties. Today journalists at the flat were urged, time and again, to be careful on the narrow stairs. Clearly the museum did not want a repeat of an incident in the late 1960s when Chris Wood, from Traffic, was drunk and fell from top to bottom before crashing through a plate glass window.

Hendrix died on 18 September 1970 aged 27 and, as part of the 40th anniversary events, the museum plans to move out its administrative staff for 12 days in September so the public can see the flat for themselves.

Etchingham said Hendrix would have been "amused and flattered" at sharing joint billing with Handel. "The flat was the ideal place for us – at the heart of London at a time when the city was the centre of the music world – but we were still somehow able to spend very relaxed days there, away from the limelight."

Wyatt said there were parallels between Hendrix and Handel beyond the view they saw when they opened their bedroom curtains (which Hendrix rarely did). They were both musical geniuses, both immigrants and both lived and worked hard in swinging times.

A timeline shows the phenomenal amount of gigs Hendrix performed in one year, 1966-67. He toured everywhere from the Ricky Tick in Hounslow to the Club A-Go-Go in Newcastle to Barbecue 67 at the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall in Spalding, Lincolnshire. Wyatt said: "We hope it shows the sheer amount of work he did – two shows a night, travelling the country in the back of a van, not an air-conditioned tourbus with catering and a waterbed. It was tough work."

Hendrix in Britain is at the Handel House Museum from 25 August to 7 November. The Hendrix flat can be seen, by pre-booked ticket, from 15-26 September.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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