Entertainment & Arts

Jimi Hendrix house retuned for future

Image copyright Barrie Wentzell
Image caption The house where Jimi Hendrix and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham lived has until now only been open for special events

They're two properties side-by-side in one of London's most exclusive districts. By coincidence each address housed a famous name in music - though Handel lived in Brook Street, Mayfair 240 years before '60s rock god Jimi Hendrix.

Now the adjoining buildings have become a combined Handel and Hendrix museum in London.

Jimi Hendrix and former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham moved into the apartment at 23 Brook Street in the summer of 1968. She's been back before, but now the lower half of the space they occupied has been refurbished in exactly the way she decorated it 48 years ago.

"It was barely furnished when we took it but I thought it could be ideal for us," she says. "It really does look the way we fitted it out.

"The fireplace is the same and the shelves and the cupboard. The windows and the woodchip paper and the wonky floors - it's all the same."

Until now, the space where Etchingham and Hendrix lived has only been open for special events. Now it's become a permanent part of the reorganised and extended Handel and Hendrix in London exhibition.

It takes in what was previously known as Handel House at 25 Brook Street next door.

Image copyright Barrie Wentzell
Image caption Jimi Hendrix 'worked a lot here but I always disappoint people by admitting I'm not sure exactly which songs he wrote where,' says his former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham

Etchingham says it wasn't the first place she and Hendrix lived together. "I met Jimi in September 1966 and we'd already lived at addresses in Upper Berkeley Street and Montagu Square.

"But this was the first time it was just the two of us. The only big difference today is that you can't get up the stairs to the floor above, where we had another room.

"There had been other flats I tried to rent through agents, but as soon as I mentioned Jimi people would get nervous. But a friend spotted an ad for 23 Brook Street in the old London Evening News, and the landlord said he didn't care who moved in as long as they paid the rent.

"It cost us £30 a week, which at the time was a lot of money. But it was a great place to live because it was central but there were no neighbours."

Michelle Aland, director of the newly combined museum, says: "It's great finally to have the whole house devoted to music. Visitors will probably arrive as more of a Hendrix fan or as a Handel fan, but we hope most people will want to learn about both sides of the exhibition.

"Handel lived here for more than 30 years and it's a beautiful house in its own right. Jimi Hendrix was at number 23 for a much shorter time, but he and Kathy made it their own."

Etchingham says living so centrally was a delight. "We could go shopping in Oxford Street or wander down South Molton Street. There was Fenwicks across the road. And we could walk to all the music clubs, which were more plentiful then.

"It was the swinging sixties but I think that's something people only identify in retrospect: I don't think Jimi and I ever saw it in those terms. The flat was pretty private - I liked the fact there was no bell downstairs, for instance. It felt like a cocoon.

Image copyright Michael Bowles
Image caption Kathy Etchingham: 'Coming back reminds me of so many happy memories - we were young and it's always good being young'

"A typical day for us here probably started at 3pm or later - we weren't early risers. In the evening we'd get something to eat from the restaurant downstairs, listen to music, watch the black-and-white TV: very ordinary things.

"Jimi would play his guitar but he didn't plug it in. Often we didn't go to bed until 5am. He worked a lot here but I always disappoint people by admitting I'm not sure exactly which songs he wrote where."

A side room at the new exhibition tries to list the Hendrix collection of vinyl. It ranges from Handel albums to Johnny Cash and the Beatles, as well as the blues and R&B you might expect.

In the main room the curators have assembled a further small collection of albums which stand next to the turntable, as though Hendrix might return to play them at any moment.

The room has been furnished with reference to old photos, to Etchingham's own recollections and to details commented on by journalists at the time. There are a couple of big Lowther speakers (not the originals) and a double bed Etchingham says isn't as comfortable as the one they had.

Her relationship with Hendrix started to fade as his career in America took off. After he left London she stayed at 23 Brook Street for a time but then moved out.

Hendrix died in London in September 1970, at the age of 27. Had he lived he would now be 73.

Etchingham finds it hard to think how Hendrix's life might have turned out. "I think he would have married, had children and had a happy life. I don't know how he would have developed as a musician, but he had a real talent and it would have developed."

In the decades since Hendrix died, has Etchingham grown tired of being known only as his girlfriend? "I'm a married woman and I don't use the Etchingham surname in my daily life. I am careful to control how much I expose that part of my life, and occasionally if a journalist asks a question that's too personal I let them know that.

"Lots of people who know me now, don't know about my life in the 1960s. I can cut it all off for years, if I want. But coming back reminds me of so many happy memories. We were young and it's always good being young."

Handel and Hendrix in London opens to the public on 10 February.

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