The history of six UK venues that Jimi Hendrix played in and what they are now
Jimi Hendrix was a relentless performer. During his short career he played hundreds of shows and played for audiences all over Europe and North America. It’s almost 50 years since Jimi played his last show, and whilst his music is remembered, many of the venues in which he performed are not. In this article we will have a look at the venues which provided Jimi with something every performer needs – a stage.
16 December, 1966 & 27 January, 1967: Chislehurst Caves, Kent
The caves at Chislehurst, a man-made labyrinth of underground tunnels, are an important part of British history. During WWII these caves helped the locals survive the Blitz, but they are also important for many different parts of British culture from Shakespeare to Bowie to Dr. Who. The age of the caves is debated but around the 13th century is a good place to start. Though some scholars claim that the caves could date from as early as 4000 b.c.
In the late 60s and early 70s the caves became a trendy venue for jazz and rock bands like The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things & Pink Floyd. In December 1966 and January 1967 the site hosted The Jimi Hendrix Experience. During the band’s second show the strange and unusual venue was completely packed and most definitely over capacity. Famous sound engineer Roger Mayer, who gave Jimi some effects pedals to use, remembers the night: “Jimi said to me, ‘Why don’t you come down, I’m playing a place called Chislehurst Caves. They’re actually caves where people hold rock concerts, famous historical caves in Kent.” When I went down there I took some of the experimental electronics, some of the Octavia pedals I’d been working on. Jimi loved the pedals… so we got on like a house on fire.”
This venue would have been amongst the most unique that Jimi played in his career and must have been a memorable night for all those involved. The caves, covering over six hectares thirty metres below the woodlands above, are still open to the public as a tourist attraction (but as far as we know the psychedelic rock gigs are a thing of the past).
31 December 1966: Hillside Social Club, Folkstone
It was Jimi Hendrix’s first Christmas in the UK in 1966, and he accepted an invitation from Experience bass player Noel Redding’s mother to spend New Year in Seabrook, just outside Folkestone. This led to Noel Redding arranging a last-minute gig in his seaside hometown to practice a few songs and celebrate his 21st birthday.
Noel contacted the Hillside Social Club as he often played there and knew the owner well. Whether those present at the venue had any clue that they were watching someone who would soon be famous all over the world is doubtful but it’s gone down in history nonetheless. Despite the date, the band only played until 11:30pm. The licensing laws at the time didn’t allow for the show to go on any longer – not even for Jimi Hendrix on New Years Eve!
The club where the impromptu gig took place no longer exists but Folkestone, being Redding’s birthplace, has not forgotten this performance, and a plaque on the site (pictured above) was unveiled earlier this year.
11 February, 1967: The Blue Moon, Cheltenham
By 1967, The Blue Moon was a must-stop in Gloucestershire and hosted famous rock bands like Cream & The Rolling Stones. Before becoming a rock concert venue, The Blue Moon started out life as a soft drinks bar and ballroom. Jimi’s gig at The Blue Moon, on February 11th 1967, happened at a very interesting moment in his career. The club managed to book him for only £45, just before he got famous and Hendrix honoured the contract despite his rapidly growing status.
Mike Edwards, the photographer there that night, remembers Hendrix’s performance clearly: “Our ears were still ringing. It was much louder than anything we’d heard at the Blue Moon before and a type of music we weren’t prepared for. Something new and different. The average audience at the club was 250 but that night there were over 350. They queued along the high street and halfway down Regent Street to get into this cramped club with its low ceiling and heavy condensation”.
25 February, 1967: The Corn Exchange, Chelmsford
The Chelmsford Corn Exchange used to be, as the name gives away, a building where farmers met and agricultural produce was traded and exchanged. In the 1960s it became a popular music venue where bands such as Cream & The Who regularly played.
In February 1967, Jimi Hendrix and his band were to perform as part of the venue’s “Saturday Scene” night. The tickets were more expensive than other shows and drew a huge crowd as Shaun Everett, teenage attendee of the show, recalls: “Once in a while there came a ‘ten bobber’ which basically meant the entrance went up to ten shillings (50p in today’s funny money) and it was a large chunk of a then 19 year old mod’s wages from doing as little as he could get away with at work. It probably meant going without that Ben Sherman for yet another week, but what the hell it’s Hendrix’’. Dutch filmmaker Roeland Kerbosch managed to capture bits of the show on camera, the earliest known live footage of the band.
Check out this amazing clip of the earliest known live footage of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, from February 1967.Recorded three months before the release of their debut studio album, the clip features performances of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Stone Free”.
Posted by The GuitArchive on Saturday, 26 November 2016
The Corn Exchange, then managed by a couple of former wrestlers ready to cash-in on the music boom, was also infamous for being the site of many mods vs. rockers fights, as they both came for the shows. Unfortunately, the venue was torn down in 1969 to house a shopping centre.
14 May 1967: New Elizabethan Ballroom, Manchester
Manchester is a big name in musical heritage in the UK and venues of the past like the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Hacienda and Boardwalk are still remembered for their generation-defining gigs. Two intriguing but lesser known venues are the Kings Hall and New Elizabethan Ballroom at Belle Vue. These venues formed part of a large complex known as the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens that amongst other things, included a stadium, theme park and an Indian temple – the perfect day out! The site first opened to the public in 1836 with an aviary being the main attraction but it grew over the next 150 years eventually closing permanently in 1987. Whilst open, it hosted the 50,000 strong Great Liberal Demonstration of 1924, saw a gathering of the British Union of Fascists and was home to the Belle Vue Aces dirt track racing team.
When it wasn’t filled with liberals, fascists or dirt track racing enthusiasts, it was packed full of music fans. Amongst the long list of artists to play at the site were Elton John, The Who, T-Rex, Johnny Cash and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Throughout the 70s the complex became too costly for the owners and when the site started to close the community it sat within acutely felt the loss of such a cultural landmark. An old resident recalled, “When it closed, Belle Vue left a gaping hole in the heart of the region that has never been completely replaced. It gave people a focal point, something to be proud of, a place where they could take their families and be sure of a great day out at a reasonable cost.”
16 September, 1970: Ronnie Scott’s, London
Don’t worry, this place hasn’t been demolished or turned into a Bingo Hall; it’s still a music venue, hooray! Ronnie Scott’s is a legendary jazz venue in London’s Soho area that hosts a constant stream of musicians every night of the week. Ronnie Scott and Pete King founded the club in 1959 in a basement on Gerrard Street in Soho, before moving to the current location on Frith Street. Scott would often compere the evening’s performances and was known for his comedic introductions, like “Our next guest is one of the finest musicians in the country. In the city, he’s crap”.
It was here on September 16, 1970 that Hendrix played live for the final time. Jimi was playing with Eric Burdon who had been present throughout Hendrix’s career, playing on the same bill as him at the Monterey Pop Festival in ’67, a performance which launched Jimi’s career in the US. Burdon described this final performance in his autobiography: “The guys in War held their ground as we launched into a triple-time version of Tobacco Road… having Hendrix onstage made [War’s guitarist] play better than he ever had before. We slid into Mother Earth, a beautiful blues written by Memphis Slim. We ended the set with a burning jam. Jimi was flying. And then it was over.”