The Hospital Club Gallery, a relatively new venue just off Seven Dials in Covent Garden, is currently playing host to a Jimi Hendrix exhibition focusing on the guitarist's time in London prior to his appearance at Monterey, arguably his finest period and the one which produced his magnificent "Are You Experienced" album. The exhibition includes a dozen blues records from Hendrix's personal collection, several articles of his clothing that epitomise his distinctive sartorial style, a few original acetates of his songs, and some lyrics and drawings in his own hand. Prominently displayed are the remains of the painted and poetry-inscribed guitar Hendrix smashed onstage at the Saville Theatre just before leaving London as a sacrificial offering to the city that had launched his career. These are supplemented by a wealth of excerpts from contemporary music magazines and newspapers containing interviews, reviews, op-eds, and the like, as well as a documentary, portions of which are played simultaneously on half a dozen screens spread across the space.
Some of the items on display will be familiar to those who attended a not dissimilar exhibition at Hendrix's flat in Mayfair the year before last and there is little in the documentary that will be news anyone but the most casual of fans. In fact, I'm fairly certain it has been screened on television more than once in recent memory. While it is interesting to see Hendrix's own records, there is really only so long one can stare at album sleeves mounted on a wall. There is no audio, no liner notes, not even a track listing, so we really have to take the organisers' word for it that these recordings were influential for Hendrix's own music, something which could easily have been remedied by sticking a couple of headphones in the wall so we can hear for ourselves. And on the subject of headphones, the effect of the documentary is diminished somewhat by the fact that it is nigh impossible to distinguish the sounds coming from the various screens, all bleeding into one another. Why no-one thought to provide any sort of aid at all, I will never know. If headphones were too expensive, at least adding subtitles would have helped in a degree.
Surprisingly, this exhibit, which is sponsored by Marshall Amplification, focuses less on Hendrix's music than on his image and the cult of personality surrounding him. This is of course of an integral part of the Hendrix mystique, but given the sponsors, one might have expected it to explore by what techniques Hendrix achieved the utterly revolutionary sonic effects of his records, to say nothing of his compositional process. Admittedly, elements of this might have been covered in the inaudible documentary, but how much more engaging to set up a simple interactive program allowing visitors to, say, adjust the settings of a wah-wah pedal on a recording of the famous "Voodoo Child" riff and observe the changes to the sound? Just a handful of those kinds of stations and this would have been a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. As it is, it's mildly interesting. Where it does succeed is in illuminating the context of Hendrix's London sojourn. The wall displays provide a superb sense both of the musical milieu into which Hendrix arrived and of how he transformed it utterly through his songs and his unparalleled mastery of the electric guitar.
If you happen to be in the area, "Hear My Train a Comin': Jimi Hendrix Hits London" is certainly worth the time (and perhaps worth the fiver) to stop by for a look. If nothing else, it should at least inspire you to go home, dust off your copy of "Are You Experienced" and give it another long overdue spin. Dig those groovy vibes!