Purple Haze

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Purple Haze over Ilkley

Purple Haze over Ilkley

Jimi Hendrix died 25 years ago this week at the age of 25. His early death helped him become one of the world’s most venerated pop stars alongside the likes of Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Jim Morrison.

Unknown to most people, the man who headlined Woodstock in 1969 had two years earlier played a single date in a town called Ilkley. With the help of an exclusive interview with Noel Redding, former bass player of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Matthew Catling describes how the legendary band threatened to take the roof down.

Today it is hard to equate Ilkley with Jimi Hendrix. The former is a quiet and deeply conservative Dales town, and the latter a figure of fabulous flamboyance and excess. This is the man whose explosive virtuosity made contemporaries like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Pete Townsend feel pathetic. He was simply better, louder, more original and outrageous than anything they had seen.

On stage Hendrix could play his guitar effortlessly with his teeth or behind his back and might then smash up the instrument before setting fire to it. This was after blitzing an audience by peppering his songs with flashy improvisations and bursts of feedback, from which was able to suddenly snatch haunting but beautiful refrains.

If his talent and act were otherworldly, so were his striking looks. He was born in America of black, white and Cherokee blood. With his frizzed up hair and taste for flowery shirts and brightly coloured clothing he was an icon for the psychedelic sixties.

His charisma and sexual allure were considerable and Hendrix soon developed a reputation as the British music scene’s stud. And his appetite for drugs, particularly hallucinogens like LSD, became equally famous. Much of this legend had not yet been established in early 1967 when the Jimi Hendrix Experience set out on a tour of small venues in the north of England.

The itinerary included a night at the International Club in Leeds on Saturday March 11 followed the next evening by a gig at the Giro Club in the Troutbeck Hotel, Crossbeck Road, Ilkley, now the Troutbeck Nursing Home. At this point the trio - completed by Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass - had just started their meteoric rise to fame.

Few Venues

Their first single, Hey Joe, was slipping out of the charts having peaked at number three some weeks earlier. The next single, the ground breaking Purple Haze, was set to be released a few days later and the band were rehearsing and laying down tracks for their first album, Are You Experienced? Despite the fact these were the early days it is still hard to see how, from the perspective of 1995, Ilkley could attract somebody like Hendrix.

The answer is that in the 1960s' venues for rock gigs were few and far between. Yet there was an explosion of interest in the music and an emphasis on playing live created by financial necessity and audience expectation. Against this background places like the Troutbeck Hotel and Stoney Lea Hotel in Cowpasture Road found a place on the circuit for bands which had not yet made the big time.

Although Hendrix had not yet shot to superstardom the buzz created by Hey Joe and the rave reviews of his first London gigs preceded him. Those in the know flocked to Ilkley in the hope of witnessing a legend in the making - some travelled from as far away as Newcastle.

The Troutbeck was consequently packed when the Experience stepped on stage in its ballroom. Sketchy and conflicting reports of what happened next were carried in the Ilkley Gazette and other local newspapers.

The Yorkshire Post trumpeted ’700 in uproar at beat club after police stop show’. The Gazette quoted a ‘national paper’ whose ‘Pop Fans Ran Amok in Hotel’ story had 800 teenagers running riot after police halted a pop concert ‘in mid verse’. The report continues: “They ripped off doors, pulled out electrical fittings and smashed furniture after a police sergeant stepped on stage and stopped pop singer Jimmy Hendrix half-way through a number.”

All of the newspapers agreed that the police had pulled the plug on the gig halfway through the second song, because of the number of people in the ballroom flouted fire regulations. But the Gazette questioned the truth off the riot by quoting a spokesman of the Troutbeck. He was surprised at how ‘quiet and orderly’ the fans were and said limited damage had been caused simply because there were so many of them.

A police officer confirmed this by telling the Gazette that no official complaints of vandalism had been received. He explained the officers were initially called to the hotel by residents because nearby roads were blocked by cars belonging to Hendrix fans. It was then discovered the ballroom was seriously overcrowded and the decision taken to stop the concert in an attempt to reduce the audience to its legal limit of about 250. Chaos ensued and the concert did not resume.

Until today this was the extent of all documented accounts of the incident. So what really happened? Vince Philpotts of Steeton and Peter Dobson of Ilkley were in the Troutbeck Hotel on the night. At the time both were members of local soul band Moldy Warp. Mr Philpotts, then 20, played saxaphone and Mr Dobson, then 21, played bass.


“It was one of the high points of my youth. It was a night I wouldn’t have missed, short as it was,” said Mr Philpotts. “The ballroom was designed for about 200 people but by my estimation there were about 450 inside - even standing on the windowsills and tables. As soon as Hendrix made his appearance the place went wild. There was shouting and jumping - it was a thrill to watch this fellow walking on stage.”

According to their combined recollections Hendrix was wearing a brown suede waistcoat, a purple scarf, boots, black pants (trousers) and possibly a black hat. He also did not appear to be ‘under the influence’ of anything illegal. “It wasn’t my impression that he was drugged up. He was just so laid back and a charismatic character just by his demeanour,” said Mr Dobson.

Mr Philpotts continued: “He came on that stage and he was as lucid as you or me. He started off with one hell of an instrumental. Noel Redding started with a bass line then Mitchell came in on the drums. It was just a huge bang straight into the set. It was loud and excellent.

The next thing this suicidal plain-clothed cop in a gabardine gets up on stage and tells Hendrix to shut up and says the place was in breach of fire regulations, everyone had to go home. He just got everybody’s back up. It was the way he did it.”

Mr Dobson added: “There was trouble. It was a case of having your dinner put in front of you and then taken away.” The policeman’s lack of diplomacy is backed up by the Gazette report which quotes Stuart Frais, a disc jockey at the Giro Club. “When he began ‘Listen boys and girls’ there was bound to be trouble. After all everyone in the audience was over 18,” he said.

In Mr Philpotts recollection the audience started booing and shouting. Meanwhile Hendrix’s reaction was to repeatedly back into his amps, thus drowning the policeman’s words with feedback. The officer then started ‘rushing around’ to find the switch which would turn the amplifiers off, but initially only succeeded in fuelling chaos by turning the lights in the ballroom on and off.

Eventually the band agreed to leave the stage and retreated to their dressing room. But members of the audience decided to express their unhappiness, by dumping items of furniture in a pile in the bar as they filed out. The allocation of refunds at the front entrance was thrown into disarray when a fire door at the back of the building was opened. As a result some fans doubled their money by simply walking around the building and re-entering the queue.

“It wasn’t vandalism or the rioting that we know today. Things were just thrown there to show their objection,” said Mr Philpotts. “We actually saw Hendrix as we walked past, he was sitting in the kitchen. We asked him ‘Hey Jimi, what’s up?’ and his answer was something like ’The pigs won’t let us play.’ I think it would have gone straight through and there would have been no hassle at all. People weren’t interested in drinking, they were there to see Hendrix,” he added.

Mr Dobson reached the same conclusion, but threw a slightly more sinister light on what followed the appearance of the police. He remembers that some tables were wantonly smashed and that some fans had arrived at the hotel drunk. He recalls talk that the use of ‘illegal substances’ among the audience had spurred the police into action.

In an exclusive interview from his New York home Noel Redding, former bass player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, told the Gazette he could still remember the night in Ilkley. His version of events adds weight to that given by Mr Dobson and Mr Philpotts. He explained that at the time the band did much of it’s travelling in a van and would have probably arrived in Ilkley during the afternoon with their road manager, Jerry Stickles.

Mr Redding continued: "A lot of the time we would just pile into the van. I used to go and lie on top of the equipment in the back. Jimi sat in the front. He loved England, especially the travelling about and going to different parts. I knew the country so I used to be the tour bus guide. We didn't have any women with us in those days - we didn't have enough room. There were only about twelve people at the Leeds gig the night before - I don't think everybody up north had heard of us yet.

It was also a bit of a rough area. We still played our 45 minute set to them. They enjoyed it. As far as I can recall there were just too many people at the Ilkley gig. I probably started off with a bass riff and then Mitch would join and then Hendrix would start and then we would go into Killing Floor. We never had a list. We would just follow Jimi. The second track would have been Stone Free."

Mr Redding couldn't specifically remember Hendrix drowning out the policeman with feedback. But he commented: "That would be Hendrix. None of us were very fond of the police really because those were the days of reefers.” After the curtailed gig Mr Redding remembered going down the road to a pub with Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell.

Jimi loved the country pubs. In between things he and I would without fail go and find a nice little pub and then have a couple pints of bitter - he liked bitter. that was about it at the time, reefers and bitters. The harder stuff didn't come until about 1969," he said.

The band spent the night at the Crescent Hotel in Brook Street, then owned by Crest Hotels, part of the Bass Brewery's empire. According to the owner of the time they arrived late at night. Upon finding the front door locked, Hendrix, no doubt feeling the effects of three or four pints of bitter, walked to the back and urinated against the wall. Mr Redding could not confirm this had occurred but said it did 'ring bells'.

Early next morning the most famous pop star to visit Ilkley hit the road, probably for London where photo shoots and studio sessions had been booked prior to a tour of Germany which began four days later.

Jimi Hendrix tragically died in 1970 on the morning of September 18th.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience were paid £60 for their Ilkley gig. Two years later they were paid $18,000 to headline Woodstock. The band's manager at the time of the Ilkley visit was Chas Chandler, a former member of The Animals.

If you or any of your friends, family, acquaintances can remember the above, or attended the gigs at the Troutbeck or International Club in Leeds, I would like to here from you/them. Can you remember other rising stars who played at the two venues. Who were they and when?

Dashed board