Absolutely no problem at all finding something for H in my music lexicon: the incomparable Jimi.
Anyone even half-seriously interested in rock music could almost have been forgiven for becoming blasé about guitarists before Jimi came along, breaking through in the UK before his native USA really caught on to him.
By late 1966 there were plenty of estimable British exponents of the electric guitar, many of them coming through the proving grounds of the Yardbirds or John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – people who could play lead on electric blues with fluency and panache.
Jimi could too, of course, but he just took the instrument to another dimension. He went far beyond flashy fingerwork. His reversed strings Fender Stratocaster created sounds that had never been heard before and, even when you did hear them, you thought would be impossible. Maybe for anyone else they were…..
But it wasn’t just the pyrotechnics. The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first album ‘Are You Experienced’ is still, in my opinion, one of the greatest records ever released anywhere by anyone. Two lines summarise it – the first from the title track : “not necessarily stoned but…beautiful” and the second from ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ the trance-y, trippy classic that would get in my Top Ten any day of the week: ‘And you’ll never hear surf music again’. After that, you wouldn’t need to.
The prospect of seeing Hendrix was the main reason I made the trek to the Isle of Wight in 1970. That performance, only a few weeks before his death, was rather subdued, but still a piece of history. And a year earlier he’d already given a master class on stretching the potential of the electric guitar to its absolute limit, re-imagiinng The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock:
I must confess that I have never owned a Hawkwind album. Probably the best shorthand description of their sound would be ‘space rock’ – evocative of outer space, largely thanks to the swirling keyboards, but underpinned by hard-driving rock. Hardly surprising given that in their early years the bass guitarist was a bloke called Lemmy. I like ‘spacey’ music and I’m surely not averse to hard-driving rock but I was never entirely convinced that the two really go together. I’m more the Pink Floyd slowly-unfolding starscape type.
However, I did see Hawkwind, in very intimate surroundings, in 1970 – they set up in the corner of the junior common room of my college at the University of Kent, during Freshers’ Week. Afterwards, a few of us had a very nice chat at the bar with Dave Brock; I wouldn’t be surprised if my companions, also straight out of school, felt just as grown-up as I did.
The occasion was notable, too, for being the first time I saw a strobe light in action. Now that was weird.