Take a Guided Tour of the Hendrix Flat with one of our volunteers
In climbing the stairs to the top of 23 Brook Street, a place once home to – in my mind – one of London’s most important modern musical invaders, my tour visitors would be forgiven in expecting to ramble into some sprawling temple of Mayfair grandeur. Of course, many meals have been made and stories spun about those rock gods of days gone by. From my usual seat in the exhibition, I often overhear visitors whisper and debate the kind of apocrypha that floods the mind with these vignettes of decadence. It may come as a surprise to some, then, that the modest, creaky top floor flat that awaits them at the summit was indeed once the humble home of rock icon, and guitar’s apparent god-incumbent, Jimi Hendrix. Not much of a cook and thus with no real need for his kitchen, it was primarily the cozy main bedroom he called home for the bulk of his time in London and, consequently, the bulk of his musical career.
Nestled quietly (though in reality, probably quite loudly) amongst office spaces and store fronts, Jimi managed to build a home that oozes with evidence of a humble, yet singular man. On the Fridays I spend there, I often find myself playing Sherlock with the exhibit; building a delicate picture of Jimi, pondering how he might have spent his time off stage. I always invite and encourage my tour guests to do the same when we enter the bedroom, because (to me at least) it is not just the objects that are of interest, but the tales that they tell. I see his comedy LPs, tucked away somewhere in between Dylan and Ravi Shankar, quietly reminding me that not every moment in his short life was one of gravitas. Some days my eyes might catch the BOAC bag by his bedside, or the traditional tea set, or the box television he’d watch (no word of a lie) Coronation Street on, and I’ll find evidence of a man embracing the culture of his new home and community. Hanging down from above meanwhile, an eclectic mix of fabrics and feathers tell me a little more about his heritage and background. Fitting of a man famous for pioneering cultural and musical fusions, then, that many of these exotic fabrics would have been sourced from a nearby John Lewis on Oxford Street.
These are just some of the wonderful tales that I’ve found this exhibit to tell about Jimi, from the anecdotal to the palpable. Still there is something more though, something ethereal, about the space. When I was fortunate enough to meet David ‘Tiger’ Taylor, Jimi’s musical contemporary and friend, the other month, he remarked to me how he felt that even in the late 1960s, there was a special air about the place. That air and spirit, preserved in this room-shaped jar, is what makes this exhibit such a special place to spend time.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing about what Jimi means to visitors from around the world, seen some amazing Jimi tattoos (special mention for the leg tattoo from Friday, 12th July) and witnessed as those who have no real prior knowledge of Jimi (there are still some, believe me) are introduced to him in such a uniquely exposing way: by quite literally walking into his bedroom.
I’ve fielded some great questions, too. Just last week, a very young and inquisitive visitor, clearly in need of answers, came up to ask me an important question of her own: “someone told me he set fire to his guitar. If this man liked his guitar so much, why did he burn it?”
Perhaps I could’ve vainly tried to boil down rock & roll culture as a means of contextualising the act, but something told me that up until this point in her young life, this kid was more interested in her ABCs than her AC/DCs (though I have a feeling today may have changed that…). OK, maybe I could have delivered some other examples of Jimi’s debauchery to illustrate that it was the kind of thing you could expect. Not quite. (a note: over the last six months, I’ve found that attempting to sanitise Jimi’s wholly 18+ lifestyle in real-time is a task not dissimilar to sneezing with your eyes open – and I didn’t have my PG-friendly edits to hand – so this certainly wasn’t a feasible option, either).
In the end, I simply drew her eyes over to that famous picture of Jimi Hendrix on his knees, ritualistically beckoning flames out of his Fender Stratocaster, as it fatefully slid into view on an exhibition screen behind her.
I think that manic smile told her everything there was to know.
It is moments like these that make the time I spend here such a wonderful part of my week. If you, reader, have any questions about Jimi or his life, I do encourage you to come and join us on a tour one Friday. Together, our discourse can help to keep Jimi’s legacy alive for another generation, some of whom might one day grow up to burn a guitar of their own.
Written by Handel & Hendrix in London volunteer and tour guide Robbie Wyness.
Public Hendrix Flat tours take place every Friday at 3.30pm.
Guided tours can also be booked throughout the week for private groups. If you are interested in booking a private guided tour with a group please email us about prices and availability.