When the Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Roundhouse on 22 February 1967, the band had yet to release an album or undertake a full British tour. Guest writer Christian Lloyd describes the legendary night.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience were in the middle of a frantic period of nightly gigging at tiny venues around the country, with late-night recording sessions for their first album, Are You Experienced, crammed in on their returns to London.
The Roundhouse date would be both a prestigious gig compared to the working men’s clubs the Experience were used to, and might attract an audience more likely to appreciate their experimental approach to music.
Jimi, who once said that London was a ‘kind of fairyland’, should have been at home in the venue that put on ‘all-night raves’ featuring the freeform sounds of Pink Floyd, and had an unofficial door policy of not letting in mods with short hair, who might threaten the ‘freaks’ in the audience.
In fact, as a proud American and former US Army paratrooper, Hendrix had an uneasy relationship to the emerging London counterculture. When asked about Pink Floyd by Unit magazine in 1967, he sneered: “I heard they have beautiful lights but don’t sound like nothing.” As for the supposedly prestigious venue, Roundhouse audiences in the early days often found their clothes were covered in soot when they got home!
The day of the Experience’s Roundhouse gig was freezing cold, but a packed schedule had been set up for the trio. In the morning they recorded a version of Hey Joe for BBC radio Parade of the Pops, before attending a press reception for their friends and support act Soft Machine at the Speakeasy Club, then on to Chalk Farm. Adverts in the music press showed the line-up for the gig which was set to last from 7.30pm-midnight. The Experience topped the bill, preceded by the Soft Machine, The Flies – then charting with their first single (“I’m not your) Stepping Stone”– and unknowns Sandy and Hilary.
The band wore their most flamboyant clothing: Hendrix in his famous dress uniform jacket and Mitch Mitchell sporting a cloak. All three members of the band had now grown their hair to huge Bob Dylan-influenced dos which made the audience, many of whom came in collar and tie, look quite outdated.
No set list has surfaced for this gig, but in this early period the Experience usually played a cover-heavy set with Hey Joe, Wild Thing, Like a Rolling Stone, Rock me Baby and Killing Floor all favourites, plus Jimi’s own compositions Stone Free and Third Stone from the Sun. This was by necessity because the band had only their debut single Hey Joe out, and were still writing the material that would make their names.
The band had, however, just got possession of their first 200-watt Marshall amps, and Jimi the Octavia pedal featured on Purple Haze, so they would have put out the loudest, weirdest sounds heard in the venue at that point. The venue’s light show would also have contributed to a memorable experience for the crowd, some of whom remembered the performance as ‘stellar’.
Ian Baldwin, bass player with the Flies remembers that Hendrix watched the support acts from the crowd and told them how much he liked the Flies’ harmonies:
“He also said that he had heard our Stepping Stone on the radio whist travelling to a gig and he then picked up our guitarist’s guitar and, turned it upside down, started to play the guitar riff from our record. That was amazing! Also whilst in the dressing room a girl came in asking for an autograph from Jimi, he gave her an autograph by writing his full name up the inside of one of her arms.”
After the gig, though, Hendrix discovered to his horror that someone had stolen his Fender Stratocaster from the side of the stage which fans had been allowed to sit on. This was disastrous, since a new Strat cost 186 guineas when the band was earning only 40 pounds per night, and pouring most of its income into recording costs. Their manager, Chas Chandler, had to save the day: “I was flat broke, so I had to sell my last guitar. I swapped my last bass for a new guitar for Jimi.” This may be why Noel Redding, the bass guitarist, deemed the gig “awful”.
Still, there were clearly no hard feelings as Jimi later went to a Traffic/Pretty Things gig at the Roundhouse in July 1968.