by Michael Canning
In 2014 I was given a recording of one of the earliest Jimi Hendrix Experience concerts in existence. It was recorded on the 4th of February 1967 at the Flamingo Club on Wardour St in Soho in West London. I’d known about this archive recording for a decade but this was the first time it came my way so I was pretty excited to listen to it, having a long-time interest in the sonic soaring and the syncopated grooves of the Hendrix Experience.
The quality is as rough as anything and sounds like it came from a mixing desk feed into a small recorder from a primitive PA system in the Club. The vocals are almost nonexistent with Mitch Mitchell’s snare and Hendrix’s guitar dominating the mix. However, with the specifics of the recording aside what an absolute piece of magical history to hear, but holy hell it must have been LOUD that night, the tape can barely contain the signal!
The loudness of course was part of the act and enabled Hendrix to pull out his feedback and sculptural tricks, which alongside others of the time like Blue Cheer revolutionized how rock music would be done and presented. Frank Zappa, who witnessed Hendrix early on at an Experience concert in New York said that Hendrix played so loud it made him feel sick.
The setlist of the Flamingo Club show only features two of Hendrix’s tunes, ‘Can you see me’ and ‘Stone Free’. The rest of the set consisting of three covers he was to make even more famous, ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, and ‘Wild Thing’, with blues standards ‘Killing Floor’, ‘Catfish Blues’, and a curious proto heavy metal version cover of ‘Mercy Mercy’. Hendrix introducing the latter somewhat sarcastically and/or stoned, “a little tune, a very straight, ha ha, top 40 rock and roll record, ‘Have Mercy’, have mercy on me, baby.” The ‘baby’ drawled with particular emphasis on the b’s.
It is a well known fact to how Hendrix was pushed and pulled in certain directions by his management during his brief career, and it seems highly likely that the inclusion of this popular tune at the time by the Dominoes would have been encouraged. An audio recording of an interview from the same year reveals Hendrix’s barely covered seething frustration and disdain at his management’s wishes for him to be an ‘Elvis Presley’. Hendrix was not a fan of some of the contemporary music of the time and is on record castigating on what he thought to be the ‘plastic sounds’ of Motown.
To what it must have been like in that small club in London that night 49 years ago though – this ragged recording certainly gives some clues. With what can be heard in the lo-fi murk the audience were going wild. They were seeing a new form of music being made in front of them, one that was perilous, heady, and a super-somatic experience with the band’s amps cranked to the maximum and Mitch Mitchell’s kick and snare drums thundering out. It had everything to do with the industrial scientific developments of the last war, and the social aftershock of the latter, that was still settling, not to mention another industrial slaughter going on in a place called Viet Nam.
The old order of the contemporary music world in London had effectively been kicked over during the first few performances by Hendrix in late ’66 and early ’67, and the pop cognoscenti of the time knew it. Little wonder that Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck formed a temporary support club, shaking their heads collectively, and wondering where they would fit into this new milieu with the Jimi Hendrix Experience having landed in London.
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