Hendrix: The Gigs That Changed History – #6 Blaises club

“Come and say hi to Jimi…” Chas Chandler led me through the crowd here to celebrate Chas’s birthday. We were partying in Ringo Starr’s flat, in Montague Square. And crouched on the floor, looking sad and lonely, was the future of rock’n’roll, Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi held out his hand but looked confused, surrounded by all these noisy English guys. Chas, the ex-Animals bassist who had become Hendrix’s manager, had set him up with a group to rival Cream and The Who, and told me excitedly: “They’re called The Experience, man. You’ve gotta see them. And Jimi is fan-tastic.”

Jimi and his new friends Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding began jamming at London clubs soon after I met Jimi at the party, which took place just two days after the release of Hey Joe, on Sunday, December 18. Also welcoming Jimi were Eric Burdon, Zoot Money, Andy Summers, Brian Auger, Alan Price and Bill Wyman. Chas had invited “just a few friends” and 40 people had turned up. (Chas got thrown out of the flat the next day.)

Three days later I saw what at all the fuss was about when The Experience played at Blaises Club, Queensgate, on December 21. The gambling casino in a hotel basement was reached by a narrow flight of iron steps. As I hurried past tables full of serious-looking dudes in eyeshades, dealing cards, I found a low-ceilinged room with barely enough space to swing a guitar. I had been to see The Who at the Upper Cut, an East End club in Forest Gate earlier that evening, and already been blown away by a ferocious My Generation. Now I was about to be wiped out by my first exposure to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Gone was the shy guy I’d met at the party.

Hendrix with The Who

Hendrix with The Who

Instead there was “a fantastic American guitarist who blew the minds of the star-packed crowd”, as I wrote later in Melody Maker. Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Jeff Beck stared in wonderment as Jimi tore into Third Stone From The Sun. There was no stage, just Mitch Mitchell’s drum kit set up in a corner of the room, with Noel Redding hopping about in his granny glasses and frizzy hair, next to Jimi with even wilder masses of curls. “Hendrix has great stage presence and an exceptional guitar technique which involved playing with his teeth on occasion and no hands on others,” I wrote at the time. “Jimi looks like becoming one of the big club names of 1967.”

After this astonishing showing, the entire London in-crowd fought their way into the ensuing string of club dates, including a sensational press launch at the Bag O’Nails in Kingly Street on January 11, 1967. It was in yet another basement, but there was a proper stage and the club was packed with stars. As I fought to buy a Scotch and Coke, I found myself pushed out of the way by John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Brian Epstein.

Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and sundry Small Faces looked on, while a phalanx of awestruck guitarists including Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton realised this was the Master come to teach them all a lesson. As Hey Joe and Wild Thing roared into our battered ears, I wished I had a cassette recorder. Sadly such a thing hadn’t been invented yet.

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Chris Welch

Chris Welch is a music journalist, reviewer and critic who joined Melody Maker in 1964, a publication famous during the 1960s and 1970s for reporting on the rise of such bands as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Traffic, If, Cream, Jeff Beck and Jethro Tull. During that time he also reported on the UK jazz scene and was a fan of groups led by Graham Bond, Georgie Fame, Jon Hiseman and others. He has written books on several rock music personalities, including Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Steve Winwood, Black Sabbath, John Bonham, Led Zeppelin, Peter Grant, and Cream. He has also written liner notes for many rock albums.