Musician’s old bedroom at 23 Brook Street has been restored as part of permanent exhibition launching on Wednesday
The guitar legend moved into 23 Brook Street in 1968 – and more than 45 years later the bedroom/living room of the home has been recreated down to Hendrix’s two telephones – one old-school black Bakelite, one modishly angular – on the floor and the scallop shell ashtray on the bedside table.
When the display was almost complete, museum staff proudly demonstrated the results by Skype to their main adviser, Hendrix’s then girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham.
They were particularly proud of the slightly dusty lived-in look they had achieved. But Etchingham, who now lives in Australia, said: “All wrong, far too untidy.”
After his years in the army, Hendrix was obsessively neat, she recalled. The bed may have been draped in hippyish fabrics under a canopy made from an embroidered silk shawl, but it was meticulously made with hospital corners and the pillows and cushions squared up.
The Hendrix museum – tidied, dusted and opening on Wednesday – neighbours the former London home of George Frideric Handel. Both are the only homes of Hendrix and Handel that still exist.
Etchingham’s own domesticated nature eventually broke the relationship when the couple returned to the US, where she found the druggy music scene and the increasing crowds of hangers-on inimical. The flat was broken up and she retreated to suburbian Chiswick, which as she recalled “would have been regarded as way out in the country in the 60s”.
But before that, it was Etchingham who found the evening paper ad for the £30 a week flat the rising star once poignantly described as his first real home. The advert boasted that the flat came with a fully fitted kitchen and a modish pink bathroom suite. But Hendrix gave Etchingham £1,000 in cash, a fortune in 1968, to fill it with soft furnishings from John Lewis and Liberty, both a stroll away.
Hendrix took a keen interest in the interiors and Etchingham recalled how, occasionally, startled shoppers would recognise him in the fabrics department of John Lewis.
The kitchen was rarely used, with room service supplied by Mr Love’s, the restaurant downstairs, whose waiters carried regular orders of steak and chips, a bottle of Mateus rosé, and 20 cigarettes, up the narrow stairs. Nights were late and noisy, with the flat regularly filled to bursting with whichever musicians had been in that night’s club.
By the following afternoon order would be restored. “It was very tidy, very homely, not a mess at all – unlike my place,” the photographer Barrie Wentzell said. The beautiful black and white photographs he took for Melody Maker in January 1969 have also been used to help recreate the room.
Wentzell was in a darkroom when he first heard Purple Haze. By then Electric Ladyland had been released and Hendrix was well on the way to stardom. Nowadays, layers of managers, agents and PR people control access to stars, but at the time, Wentzell just phoned up and came round and knocked on the door.
“He was very pleasant, very laid back, we chatted and Kathy made us a cup of tea,” he said. “I’d been photographing Eric Clapton, and he said he thought Eric was the greatest guitarist – I laughed and told him Eric said he was. I only shot two rolls, it was all done in two hours. It must have been afternoon, because he was already up and dressed which wouldn’t have happened before about 2 pm, and it was dark outside when we finished.”
Another room at the museum has a wall of album covers, and an index of the music played on the Bang & Olufsen turntable. Remnants from Hendrix’s own collection are coming to the museum on loan this autumn, including a copy of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited stained with Hendrix’s blood from cutting his hand on a broken wine glass.
The albums include records by Acker Bilk, the Beatles, the Band, Ravi Shankar and Bob Dylan – whose track Like a Rolling Stone Hendrix said “made me feel that I wasn’t the only one who’d ever felt so low”.
Johann Sebastian Bach pieces that inspired Hendrix to use a harpsichord in later recordings, and music by Handel also feature. Hendrix, who was delighted to find out that Handel had once lived next door, insisted he had once seen the composer’s ghost step through the wall, “an old guy in a night shirt and grey pigtail”.
When the Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street opened in 2001, the neighbouring house was acquired and, once the party wall was knocked through, it served as an office and storage.
Hendrix’s bedroom became the main office space, but from the start a steady trickle of visitors knocked on the door pleading to be let in. A temporary exhibition five years ago was such a success the museum directors started to create the permanent museum with the help of a Heritage Lottery grant.
Admission is £7.50 for each museum, but deputy director Martin Wyatt said almost all the early bookers have gone for the £10 joint ticket. He said: “The Hendrix people know about Handel and vice versa – it’s music they all love.”
This article was written by Maev Kennedy, for theguardian.com on Monday 8th February 2016 17.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010