The Jimi Hendrix Experience can be awarded the accolade of completely changing the landscape of music. In fact, in many ways, Hendrix and the Experience altered the face of populat culture with the swirling, kaleidoscopic journey which began when the guitarist formed his band during the early embers of the swinging sixties.
A landmark on that journey for Jimi Hendrix was always London. The singer and guitarist had made the English capital his home over the years of his meteoric rise and made special efforts to perform in the city wherever he could. While the notorious Bag O’ Nails club and the Regent Street student union may take the acclaim as more prominent places on Hendrix’s musical map, it is at the swanky Royal Albert Hall that he and The Experience enjoyed some of their best performances.
Touching down on British soil in 1966, Jimi Hendrix arrived on stage to deliver a performance that would shake the bones of every guitarist in the capital. Alongside his band The Experience, featuring bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, Hendrix had not only stormed the subculture bubbling away in London but he’d stormed the national charts too. Hendrix’s virtuosic guitar had guided the band’s debut record Are You Experienced? to number two in the charts and a psychedelic purple haze was spreading across the country.
It was a movement not missed by the bookers at The Royal Albert Hall who gave Hendrix and his band their Hall debut in 1967, just a year after bursting onto the scene from obscurity. On November 14th, the group would perform a rousing set alongside other big acts of the moment including, The Move, The Amen Corner, Nice, and Pink Floyd.
Two years later and with swathes of the globe all falling at the feet of the weird and wonderful guitar player who knew no bounds. It meant when the band returned to the Royal Albert Hall for two nights in February they were at the peak of their powers professionally, if not personally. In fact, at the time, tensions between Redding, Mitchell, and Hendrix were increasingly fraught, with Hendrix’s deteriorating relationship with his manager Mike Jeffrey making it an altogether torrid affair.
Jeffrey had begun to truly commercialise the work of Hendrix and, what’s worse, he did most of it without the musician’s knowledge. The manager had begun filming shows without Hendrix’s input and was also hoping to create a live album from the less-than-brilliant European tour, as well as another studio album before the Christmas season—money-making was now the top priority.
It was a notion that had begun to weigh heavily on the genius guitarist. He felt more and more isolated and even asked for his own engineer for the upcoming Royal Albert Hall shows as a sign of his growing alienation. During the rehearsals for the first show at the Hall, the sound was so bad Hendrix called his old manager and friend, The Animals’ Chas Chandler, to rush in and help out.
“It was a shambles,” Chandler told John McDermott in his book, Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight. “I ended up running both shows for him, trying to get everything right. I hadn’t been ‘hired,’ I was there to help out a friend.” While the sound issues had been worked out by Chandler and the rest of the team, they couldn’t prevent a lacklustre show from occurring on February 18th.
It was such a bad performance, with both Mitchell and Redding seemingly weighed down by their instruments, sluggish and uninterested, Chandler remembers losing his cool, “It truly was one of the worst shows I had ever seen,” he told McDermott. “Up until that point, I had been supportive of the group, because I thought that they made for a good unit. Now I felt it was time they got thrown out.”
The clips below show a different show altogether, it was The Jimi Hendrix Experience at their very best and it can likely be attributed to one move the band made. They threw out their setlist from the week prior and instead played “some of the old stuff, I guess. I don’t know. There’s nothing else to do.” They played several of Hendrix’s old blues songs including ‘Hear My Train a Comin’’, ‘Red House’ and ‘Bleeding Heart’.
It enraptured the fans to such a degree that they were putty in his hands. As floats between dialogue expressed with his mouth and his stunning guitar work, Hendrix captivates the crowd with almost every breath, nearly inciting a riot when he threatens to leave the show early.
From the annals of ‘The Official Jimi Hendrix Fan Club Of Great Britain’, Jane Simmons remembers: “The crowd then went absolutely berserk and shouted for more for about 4-5 minutes. Some people started to leave as it didn’t look as though they were coming back, but they did and then they went absolutely…well, there is no word for it! People were dancing in the aisles, Jimi went mad with the atmosphere and they did Purple Haze and Wild Thing. He played with his teeth and then on the floor…[the stage] was besieged [sic] by fans, police, bouncers, floor managers and practically the entire audience!’”
The show will go down in history not only as The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s final show on British soil but also as the band at the peak of their powers before Hendrix cut loose and found a new group in the Band of Gypsys. It may not have been the final show for Jimi on British soil but it was the final time he and his band, who had changed the country so much, would ever grace the stage again.
Below, get a taste of the simply stunning performance of The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1969, their final show on British soil.