There were no helicopters to drop stars from the sky. Hendrix arrived in a Vauxhall Velux driven by the lead guitarist of a local band – the promoter had booked them to be sure of a crowd.
A letter from an old friend brings the past flooding back. Not the past as I like to remember it, but the past as it really was – or at least as it was reported in the newspaper we both worked for.
Sheila reminds me this is the 40th anniversary of Barbecue ’67 in the Summer of Love when a bulb auction shed in Spalding, Lincs rocked to some of the best sounds of the sixties. It was also the day I turned down the chance to interview Jimi Hendrix.
I know, it’s crazy. I cannot explain why – especially to my bolder sons – except that even then Hendrix was a legend and I was a very young trainee reporter on the weekly Spalding Guardian. Instead my mates Pat Prentice (one of his other scoops was the three-legged chicken of Gedney Drove End) and John Thorne (now semi-retired from BBC radio) went backstage while I stood at the end of the auction shed, in a home-made pink and purple kaftan, to take note of the behaviour of the crowd.(No voodoo child in this picture.)
We were all expecting more to happen than the music. Spalding had never coped with anything more challenging than the annual tulip parade before. The police sent for the cavalry and the entire staff of the Spalding Guardian and Lincs Free Press were out in force including Hugh the agricultural correspondant. And both photographers.
In some ways it wasn’t any more peculiar to stage a rock spectacle in Spalding than it is to plonk T in the Park in a field near Kinross. Rock festivals haven’t changed that much – not least because some of the old codgers still persist in playing: The Who were headlining T in the Park last year, for goodness sake.
There were screaming fans but the artificial fever of celebrity culture was unknown back in 1967. Jimi Hendrix was put up at the Red Lion pub – just imagine the Arctic Monkeys booking into the Jolly Beggars at Milnathort to be handy for the main stage at Balado. And there were no helicopters to drop stars from the sky. Hendrix arrived in a Vauxhall Velux driven by the lead guitarist of a local band – the promoter had booked them to be sure of a crowd.
All this detail comes from the souvenir issue of the paper Sheila sent me. To be honest, I don’t remember much beyond the sweaty excitement and the overwhelming sound. But it is one of those ‘I was there’ experiences that have become family legend and I like to picture myself as the cool (if timid) commentator on social trends. So what did this perceptive ‘Young Idea’ columnist have to say about the great rock event of the decade? She thought (and I quote):
“From the music angle, Barbecue ’67 was a mixed success. Geno has a football match effect. Jimi Hendrix (chief crowd puller) fits music to sensationalism; the Cream are good, to see the Move is to forget, to see Zoot Money is to see everything and to see Pink Floyd is to laugh.”
Dougal is incredulous when I show my cutting to him. ‘What were you dissing all these great bands for?’ After all, the only band he hasn’t heard of is Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band (a soul band who used to fill the Starlight Room at the Gliderdrome Boston of a Saturday night – and apparently reformed for the special 40th anniversary gig). Sheila and John turned in beautiful descriptive pieces; I guess I was determined not to be too impressed, way back there at the end of the hall.
But I wasn’t the only one who missed a trick. At the end of his set Jimi Hendrix set fire to his guitar and left it to fizzle out on the stage. From there (according to Colin Ward, the driver of the Vauxhall Velux) it was picked up with the rubbish and thrown into the council dump.
Or did someone save it for eBay?
[pssst: thanks for dropping in, readers who got this far might also enjoy Hendrix at Barbecue 67 and an exciting new installment How I missed Hendrix and Benjamin Zephaniah will follow as soon as I have caught up with the day job! xx Ed]
And, ten eventful years later…Barbecue 67 Revisited