A glimpse into Jimi Hendrix's life

American rock star Jimi Hendrix’s old London flat has been re-created in exact detail.
American rock star Jimi Hendrix’s old London flat has been re-created in exact detail. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • "It's like travelling in a time capsule," enthused Jimi Hendrix's former girlfriend, marvelling at their old London flat which has been painstakingly re-created to look exactly the way he left it in the swinging Sixties.

The apartment where Hendrix and Kathy Etchingham lived between 1968 and 1969, which opens to the public today, reveals the ordered domestic life behind the extraordinary American rock star's mind-blowing music.

Using photographs, Etchingham's crystal-clear recollections and original items, their bedroom has been restored precisely as it was.

The music he listened to is stacked up by the record player, while the acoustic guitar on which he sketched out the riffs that shattered the boundaries of rock guitar stands close by.

By chance, the third-floor flat is next door to the townhouse of 18th-century baroque composer George Handel, a musical groundbreaker in his own era.

Following the £2.4-million (S$4.85-million) restoration project, funded by National Lottery money and private donations, visitors can now visit both homes, separately or on a single ticket.

"It's pretty much as it was," Etchingham, then London's first female disc jockey, said as she returned to the 23 Brook Street flat in central London's plush Mayfair district.

In 1966, Hendrix's career took off in Britain, where top musicians were awestruck by his dazzling ability on the guitar.

Apart from being shocked at the lack of restaurants, Seattle-born Hendrix adapted well to life in Britain.

He avidly watched the popular soap opera Coronation Street and thought it was "hysterical", said Etchingham.

"He never had tea before he came here, but here he had no choice," the Englishwoman added. "Milk and two sugars."

After taking up residence on July 4, 1968 - paying £30 a month in rent - Hendrix and his girlfriend set about furnishing their flat, choosing red carpets and turquoise curtains.

"Jimi was neat and tidy. He was in the army and used to making his bed. He was a perfectionist," Etchingham said.

The couple had a cat called Pussy, which brought back rats and pigeons.

An ambiguously placed plaque on the outside wall meant people - Hendrix included - thought Handel had lived at number 23 rather than 25.

Oblivious to who Hendrix was, "music students used to knock on the door. Jimi showed them around. Then they would sit and chat about Handel". "Jimi thought he'd better listen to this guy's music," Etchingham said.

The bluesman bought Handel's Messiah masterpiece, which was composed on the other side of the wall 227 years earlier.

Formerly the Handel museum's office, Hendrix's bedroom - the only proper living space in the flat - has been re-created in exact detail.

The room has Persian rugs, a tea set, two telephones and a television on the floor; a guitar on the bed; a Bob Dylan LP on the turntable; the board game Monopoly on one of the big speakers and feather plumes on the mantlepiece.

The mirror and coffee table are original.

On the bedside table are a handwritten page and a portable tape recorder.

Hendrix would typically work out riffs and scribble down lyrics in the room.

"I used to pick up the pieces of paper and shove them in the cupboard under the stairs," Etchingham said.

"He would go through them every now and again and pick out one and finish it or add some more to it.

"A lot of it was thrown away when I had a big tidy-up."

The exhibition on Hendrix's London life, in what was Handel's servants' attic, contains his lefthanded strung sunburst Epiphone FT79 acoustic.

"It's probably his best surviving guitar. He often destroyed his guitars on stage," said Mr Martin Wyatt, deputy director of the museum. "This is the guitar he wrote his songs on, very much his behind-the-scenes working guitar."

Hendrix moved out by October 1969 and died on Sept 18, 1970, aged 27, following a sleeping-tablet overdose.

Given the flat's size, only 20 people can visit an hour, on timed £7.50 tickets.

A ticket for the joint Handel and Hendrix visit costs £10.00.

Ms Michelle Aland, chief executive of Handel and Hendrix in London, said: "We hope fans will find new things and we'll find new fans too".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'A glimpse into Jimi Hendrix's life'. Print Edition | Subscribe