The day a rising star called Jimi Hendrix hit Carlisle
The Lonsdale in Carlisle used to hold afternoon photo calls for the media with the artists who were performing that night. Jimi Hendrix played there 50 years ago.
Hendrix was not at the photo call. Myke Huggon knows why. “He was in the pub with me,” explains Myke.
The night he played in Carlisle, Hendrix was not yet a legend. Fourth on the bill reflected his status as a star on the rise. And what a bill it was: among the best the city has ever seen.
On Friday, April 7, 1967, one of the package tours of rock royalty that lit up the provinces stopped off at Warwick Road. Topping the bill were The Walker Brothers. Then came Engelbert Humperdinck, Cat Stevens, and Hendrix.
Early that afternoon Myke, then an 18-year-old part-time photographer, was on his way to do a shoot for Fringe Boutique on Botchergate, where the Ibis hotel is now.
He recalls: “There used to be a tailor on the corner of Botchergate, where Bar Solo is. I saw Mitch Mitchell [drummer with the Jimi Hendrix Experience] outside. I knew him from the Cosmo club when he played with Georgie Fame. I said ‘What are you doing hanging around here?’ ‘I’m waiting for Jimi.’
“The first I saw of him was his hair coming out of the underground toilets in front of the station. We got chatting. They were at a loose end. I invited them to join me on the shoot. On the way down Botchergate we decided a drink would be in order. We decided to wander into The Albion Tavern [now The Border Rambler].
“It was full of old guys in cloth caps playing dominoes and drinking halves of mild. I was fairly hip in those days. I dressed fairly outrageously for Carlisle. Then Mitch walked in, who was more outrageously dressed than I was. Then Jimi walked in.
This story is likely to provoke a similar reaction from many Cumbrians half a century on. Jimi Hendrix having a pint on Botchergate? What seems astonishing today was fairly routine for Myke, who was friends with many musicians.
“We were mostly chatting about music and equipment, talking about guitar heroes. All three of us had State Management Bitter. They liked it. We went in for one and we stayed for two hours. It wasn’t a massive session, I think we all got a round in. The pubs closed at three o’clock then.”
The trio then headed to Fringe Boutique where Hendrix and Mitchell became a major part of the photos, Hendrix pictured with sales assistants Yvonne Blackburn and Susan Gillespie, while holding the Marvel comic he’d brought with him.
“It was really quiet when we went in,” says Myke. “When we left we had a struggle to get out the door. You could see people hanging out of office windows across the road. There were streams of people coming down Botchergate.”
The attention was due to Hendrix’s rapidly growing fame and, says Myke, his chemistry.
The two musicians made the short journey to the Lonsdale at about five o’clock. Myke saw them on stage that night, and heard Hendrix dedicate Purple Haze to the Fringe.
Myke had invited Hendrix and Mitchell to the 101 Club on Botchergate where he was a DJ. “I said ‘Pop round after the show.’ But the bouncers told me ‘We didn’t let your mates in. They weren’t wearing ties.’”
Another photographer, Mike Scott, chatted with Hendrix in his dressing room.
Mike had gone backstage to photograph Engelbert Humperdinck, whose single Release Me was number one at the time.
Hendrix had first hit the charts just three months earlier with Hey Joe. Purple Haze was riding high when he came to Carlisle. His classic album Are You Experienced was released the following month.
Each act performed twice in Carlisle. There were shows at 6.15pm and 8.30pm. “Hendrix only played a few songs,” recalls Mike. “There’d be six or seven people on the bill. Hendrix was absolutely brilliant. You could tell he was a fantastic guitarist.”
A report in the Journal by Lorraine Walsh revealed the extent of fans’ enthusiasm. She wrote: “Soon the chants of ‘Jimi, Jimi’ drowned the compere’s voice and the curtain lifted to screams of ecstasy from the Cumbrian fans. One young girl ran down the main aisle and managed to vault over the orchestra pit into Jimi’s own arms. A Carlisle Corporation bouncer named Ginger Watson gently escorted her off stage and the Lonsdale ABC echoed to the haunting sound of Hey Joe, Jimi’s opening number.
‘In the following numbers only Purple Haze was distinguishable in the screams and cries of delight from the 2,000 fans. Jimi did a good impression of making love to his guitar on stage and then proceeded to pluck the strings with his teeth, at this stage, uppity St John’s Ambulance Brigade were busy reviving young girls who had either fainted or become hysterical.’
Calum Scott-Buccleuch, son of Lonsdale manager Norman Scott-Buccleuch, worked part-time as a stagehand there in the Sixties. He says of the line-up that night: “I believe it was the strongest bill we ever had. The Walker Brothers were just about to break up. Which I think they did at the end of the tour.”
And what of Hendrix? “I wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t my style. He was obviously a one-off. He smashed his guitar up at one point, much to my father’s disgust.
“Father couldn’t make head or tail of him. I never understood how they got round smashing up the guitars. Do they get a job lot?”
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had each played the Lonsdale twice in the previous four years. Hendrix was the last global legend to perform there. Music industry changes saw the pop package tours grind to a halt. The Lonsdale’s last live show was in March 1969, featuring Engelbert Humperdinck and Mary Hopkin.
Hendrix quickly rose and fell. His career culminated in playing to half a million people at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970. He died in London three weeks later, choking on his vomit in his sleep. He was 27.
The Lonsdale reverted to a full-time cinema. It closed in 2006 and was demolished in 2014. The site is now a car park for The Halston hotel.
Mike Scott says: “It’s strange to think that all these artists came to this place that only held a few hundred people. They used to come in Transit vans. You’d see some of them unloading the stuff themselves. I wish I’d documented all the pop groups that came to Carlisle.”
“You never thought it was going to end,” says Calum Scott-Buccleuch. “You got very blasé about it. My father would say ‘We’ve got a show in six weeks. It’s the Walker Brothers.’
Myke Huggon appreciates the afternoon he spent with Jimi Hendrix. Retired from the Rural Payments Agency, he lives in Carlisle with his wife Jean. She was also at the Lonsdale that night, a few years before she and Myke met.
“He was a lovely guy,” says Myke of Hendrix. “Really shy. Things were moving that fast, it had taken him by surprise. I think he just wanted to be a guitar player, not the superstar he turned out to be.”