German born composer, George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759) and American guitarist and all round rock legend, Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) were next door neighbours in London …albeit 200 years apart.
The two musical greats lived at 23 and 25 Brook Street respectively; two Georgian Mayfair houses, which when Handel moved in to No. 25 in 1723 at the age of 38, was brand spanking new. Hendrix and girlfriend Kathy Etchingham occupied a bedroom and had the use of a kitchen at No. 23 Brook Street, between July 1968 and March 1969.
Hendrix’s bedroom has recently been restored from photo shoots that took place in the room and input from Etchingham herself. It can now be visited as a companion piece to Handel’s house next door, where the composer lived and worked.
I decided to visit Handel’s house first, a typical 5 floor Georgian town house. There weren’t many visitors so was able to bend the ear of the incredibly helpful attendant who enthusiastically showed me how Handel’s staircase was widened to allow for his harpsichord to be carried up and down. Hendrix’s staircase however remained unaltered.
I began in Handel’s composition room. He was a pretty speedy composer, and could knock off an entire opera in 40 days, then start another straight afterwards, His Oratorio, ‘Messiah’ was written in just 24 days.
I then headed to the exhibition space (next door) which puts Handel’s life in to a bit of context and explains a bit about the London that Handel would have known and the places he regularly visited. Incidentally, he was very much involved with Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital, another small London museum, well worth a visit. The house on Brook Street was of course close to the theatres around Covent Garden, the developing area of Soho and the Royal family at St James’s Palace. Just like today, Handel had a plethora of coffee houses on his doorstep …and gin palaces.
Handel basically turned his dining room in to a music room and rehearsal space, which the museum use for the same purpose today giving recitals, open rehearsals and even have a current composer in residence.
It is thought that Handel died in his bedroom. The attendant there explained that the bed was short, not because Handel was particularly diminutive, but because people apparently slept sitting up, as it was believed to aid digestion.
I was a massive Hendrix fan when I was a kid and it was obvious from visiting the museum that there are far more fervent Hendrix fans than myself.
The bedroom itself is just that, a room. It is festooned with paraphernalia from the swinging sixties, and the only original item from when Hendrix and Etchingham lived there, is an oval mirror. Still, it’s a faithful recreation and really captures the feel of how it would have been, even if not …the smell.
The room next door is a small museum which as you’d expect charts Hendrix’s journey from a U.S Army paratrooper to session musician for Little Richard (amongst others), a move to London, the formation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience to become what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describe as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music” …all within a decade.
Hendrix died in September 1970 (not at this flat) at the age of 27.
Handel and Hendrix in London is a must for music lovers and especially for Jimi Hendrix aficionados visiting London. I couldn’t help but wonder what Jimi would have thought about a flat he rented for a short period in London becoming a shrine to himself, but I think it’s great that both these two very different musicians have not only been able to bridge the gap between their two very different genres, but also the centuries. London, for me, is a city where 2000 years of history constantly rub shoulders, which Handel & Hendrix in London opitimises.
It is fitting also that upon learning that Handel had lived next door, Hendrix went with Kathy Etchingham to the One Stop Record Shop on South Moulton Street and bought Handel’s ‘Messiah’ and ‘Water Music’ on vinyl.
You can find Handel & Hendrix in London at 25 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HB. It is open Monday to Saturday (11am – 6pm). Last admission 5pm.
Bowl Of Chalk
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