In late September 1966, a young and ambitious guitarist by the name of Jimi Hendrix moved to London in hopes of being discovered. A couple years later, whilst moving into his new apartment on 23 Brook Street with his DJ/ hairdresser girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, Hendrix took notice of a bronze plaque adorning the building façade that proudly stated German composer George Frederic Handel had lived there some two hundred years previously. Hendrix eclectic musical taste certainly encompassed the classical genre – “I dig Strauss and Wagner, those cats are good” – and, excited to be sharing his home with the late icon, went out and bought Handel’s Messiah and Water Music on vinyl. Hendrix had, however, misinterpreted the historical sign. The plaque, placed in-between two apartments, was actually referring to the place next door, 25 Brook Street. This is where the legendary composer had moved in circa 1710, at a time when the apartment sat at the very edge of a younger and smaller London, and a view from the window featured green landscape instead of a bustling city centre.
I dig Strauss and Wagner, those cats are good
Today, decades since Hendrix and centuries since Handel checked out of the same building, both apartments have been recreated to look and feel exactly like they did when the two musicians’ inhabited each one respectively, reconstructed with the help of photographs, films, anecdotes and scraps of information. The apartments opened to the public in 2016 as alternative, interactive museums, designed to provide the visitor with an altogether immersive and multi-sensory storytelling experience. The spaces provide a new and more intimate portrait of the musician’s everyday lives and ways-of-being, weaving a musical and historical narrative from the environments within which these legends wrote, rehearsed and listened to music in the comfortable sanctity of their own homes. Allow me to set the scene.
Hendrix’s apartment is strikingly similar to his music: colourful, eclectic, sensual – draped in luscious textiles, velvets and silk, and washed in a warm and vibrant palette of 1960s hues. According to Hendrix’s girlfriend Kathy, life in the apartment revolved almost exclusively around the bedroom, with the other rooms serving mainly as storage space for clothes and musical equipment. Kathy even recalls how they used to keep their wine bottles on the bedroom window sill for chilling so as to avoid leaving the room for a trip upstairs to the kitchen. In here, the overlapping Turkish rugs cushion an already carpeted floor while Persian fabrics and colourful scarves decorate the walls and hang from the ceiling.
A heavy set of turquoise curtains used to help Kathy and Hendrix sleep all day after working all night, frame the large window. An overflowing ashtray of smoked cigarettes sits atop the TV set and a pair of black leather boots hide behind the door. All the while an atmospheric soundscape featuring the strums of an acoustic guitar intermingles with rich aromas of sandalwood, whiskey and cigarette smoke. The eccentricity, diversity and tactility of Hendrix’s bedroom makes it easy to imagine Hendrix in 1968, sitting lazily on the bed scribbling music on scrap pieces of paper, as Kathy recalls him so often doing.
Hendrix’s apartment is strikingly similar to his music: colourful, eclectic, sensual – draped in luscious textiles, velvets and silk, and washed in a warm and vibrant palette of 1960s hues.
Handel’s apartment is a comparatively conservative affair, which is arguably an appropriate reflection of a man who, despite the fame he enjoyed in his lifetime, was extremely reserved, and left very little behind with which to imagine his private life. Although he was a considerably wealthy man who spent his social time mingling with royalty and cultural elites, Handel’s home is a quaint and cosy, modest abode. The walls are a demure shade of blue-grey, and tough, practical fabrics take the place of exclusive silks. Little natural light makes its way into the dark corners that Handel would have illuminated with nothing more than the yellow glow of burning wax candles.
Handel was, according to the little information available about his life, allegedly quite reclusive, and generally uninterested in intimate human relationships. He was never married, which has led some historians to speculate he might have been a closeted homosexual or asexual; others, however, argue that Handel lived alone because he was already married, to his music and his work. Perhaps Handel’s home, in its material simplicity and sparsity, is a reflection of this unadulterated loyalty to his craft, and his disavowal of anything that might distract him from his devotion to music.
This brings us to the best part about ‘Hendrix and Handel in London’, which goes one step further than simply opening the apartments for visitation. This alternative museum maintains the building’s musical tradition and spirit by using it as a concert venue, effectively turning Handel’s and Hendrix’s apartments into historical home-concert venues. They introduced a series called Hendrix Flat Sessions, a collection of films featuring musicians live performances in Hendrix’s bedroom, as well as guitar workshops where you can “learn to play like Hendrix”.
They also host a variety of live music events in Handel’s ‘Music Room’, where the composer allegedly spent most of his time, both writing and rehearsing music, sometimes even squishing his entire 30 to 40-person opera ensemble into the small space. These events include a weekly baroque concert, as well as open rehearsals featuring young musical performers every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. Once again, music can be heard pouring out of the windows on 23rd and 25th Brook Street.
As Handel’s and Hendrix’s apartments demonstrate, our homes, like our art, become expressions of our selves. Our bedroom walls, living room sofas, bathroom mirrors and dining room tables bear witness to our most private, vulnerable and essential selves, and by observing and absorbing our everyday lives they slowly come to take our shape, moulding like a worn glove or a favourite pair of old jeans. The apartments and their stories are evidence of this phenomenon; an illustration of the powerful and spell-binding storytelling experiences that music can evoke in the intimacy of a personal and private space. These are home-concerts, the Handel and Hendrix way.
For more home-concerts go check out the exciting upcoming Low-Fi events, featuring talented artists in Copenhagen.