Jimi Hendrix fondly referred to 23 Brook Street, Mayfair as ‘the only home I ever had’. His former, girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham (see our interview with Kathy here), found the flat in an evening paper advertisement for £30 per week back in 1968. During the two years that Jimi lived there with Kathy, the flat became the backdrop for various interviews and photo shoots. The bed draped in sumptuous fabrics, crowned by a canopy made from an embroidered silk shawl together with its persian rugs, rich tapestries and glorious turquoise curtains, conjures up an exotic looking den with furnishings sourced from the souks of Morocco and the bazaars of Turkey. When in reality, the fabrics came from John Lewis and Liberty, a short walk away, and Hendrix, after his years spent in the army, was obsessively neat and today, and would make the bed complete with immaculate hospital corners.
Today, 45 years later, Hendrix’s former London flat opens as a museum. 23 Brook Street has undergone a £2.4M restoration with the help of money from the Heritage Lottery fund and private donors, becoming part of a permanent exhibition. Kathy Etchingham was a key advisor, and together with the museum staff, faithfully recreated the flat as it looked back then, down to Hendrix’s handwritten lyrics next to a bottle of the singer’s much loved Mateus rose wine on the bedside table.
Hendrix was super impressed when he found out that the next door flat was the former home of German-born composer, George Frideric Handel. Upon leaning this, he and Kathy visited the One Stop record shop in South Molten Street and purchased some classical albums, including Handel’s Messiah and Water Music. Hendrix also said that he thought he saw Handel’s ghost in the mirror one day, as Jimi described the apparition: “an old guy in a nightshirt and a grey pigtail”. The Handel House opened as a museum in November 2001, and visitors can now buy a joint ticket allowing them to access both homes of two musicians who lived 200 years apart.
Kathy Etchingham was also instrumental in acquiring an English Heritage Blue Plaque for the building in memory of Jimi which was erected on 14 September 1997, and is the only officially recognised Hendrix residence in the world.
Next to the bedroom, is a storage area displaying Hendrix’s treasured record collection reflecting his love of the blues, jazz, classical music (including Handel of course), Ravi Shankar and rock. There is even some pop in the form of the Bee Gees (Hendrix loved their harmonies). Jimi hated genres and he wasn’t discriminating about the vinyl which made it on to his state-of-the-art Bang & Olufson turntable. Visitors to the flat recall Hendrix playing along on his guitar to Handel.
In another room, there is a homage to his musical career with the highlight: his beautiful Epiphone FT79 acoustic guitar standing like an effigy encased in glass.
But here, it’s the small everyday items that have the biggest impact: the box of Quality Street, the shell-shaped ashtray, the packet of Benson and Hedges, and a dainty tea set (Hendrix loved PG Tips).
Exhibition designer, Catherine Halcrow, elaborated: “We wanted to give a sense of a real person rather than an icon. Brook Street was his first real home of his own.”
The Hendrix Flat opens on 10 February 2016.
For further information, please visit: www.handelhendrix.org