Separated by a wall and 200 years are the homes of two musicians who chose London and changed music.
I wish I could tell you I had dreamed up that line myself. But I lifted it from the advertising of the Handel and Hendrix House in London. It describes perfectly the building at 25 Brook Street in Mayfair. The idea of converting Handel’s house into a museum had been floated several times in the 20th century, but things didn’t line up until the mid-1990’s with the Handel House Trust, and money was raised to refurbish this building which was essentially in disrepair. In 2000, the Trust Fund signed a lease for both 23 and 25 Brooke Street (the upper where Hendrix resided for several months, and the lower 2 floors where Handel lived for 36 years). The Handel House Museum opened to the public in 2001, while the Hendrix Flat opened in February 2016.
German-born Georg Friedrich Handel spent the bulk of his career in London. He was the first occupant at 23 Brook Street in the summer of 1723 and resided there until his death in 1759.
The area was an upper middle-class neighbourhood, reflecting his court appointment at the Chapel Royal earlier that year. It’s also near Soho and Covent Garden where still now are artistic and music communities. Nearby is St. James Place where the composer performed his official duties. Handel composed and rehearsed operas and oratorios here. In keeping with the idea, the museum regularly hosts concerts as well as lectures and educational and special events.
I thought the volunteer staff to be rather knowledgeable of all things Handel. When I was told I was standing in the very room where The Messiah was composed, my knees nearly buckled underneath me.
Although none of Handel’s furniture has ever been found, an inventory of his possessions was made following his death. The museum has used this as a guide to recreate the composer’s surroundings. From the master bed to musical instruments, the house gives the visitor a good idea of Handel’s home.
The museum also includes original manuscripts and correspondence, prints, paintings, early editions of operas and oratorios and even sculptures.
Climbing the old stairs to the top floor, you reach the Hendrix flat. For as interesting as Handel House is, honestly, I paid the admission for the Hendrix flat.
Like Handel, Hendrix had relocated to London. Where he couldn’t get a break in the USA, within months of his move to London, he was an international star. In his few short years in the city, he lived in several flats, including a flat owned by Ringo Starr on Montagu Square from which he was eventually evicted (it was at Montagu Square that Hendrix wrote The Wind Cries Mary for his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham).
From the summer of 1968 to the spring of 1969 Hendrix and Etchingham resided at 23 Brook Street. She was instrumental in getting Hendrix a Blue Plaque at this location in the late 90’s. Like the Handel House, the Hendrix flat – specifically the bedroom/living room where he spent most of his time while at home, has been painstakingly recreated. No detail seems to have been missed. With Etchingham involved in the recreation, and by using stills from a famous photo session in the bedroom, you feel like you’re walking into 1968. Upon moving in, Hendrix gave his girlfriend 1000 pounds to decorate the flat. So no one was more qualified to advise the museum than Etchingham.
Although he didn’t spend that much time here, Hendrix loved the flat, describing it as his first “home of his own”. What’s more, 23 Brook Street is within walking distance to all the hot 60’s London clubs such as The Marquee, The Speakeasy and the Scotch of St. James which Hendrix liked to haunt looking for a jam session.
Although I didn’t find the volunteer guide particularly knowledgeable (she hadn’t heard of the Experience Music Project in Seattle, which I was also fortunate to visit. The EMP is the ultimate Hendrix museum), she indicated that the only original pieces which actually belonged to Hendrix in the flat was the oval mirror and an Epiphone guitar.
Everything else from the record collection and stereo system, to the telephones to the furniture to the ashtrays and scarves and clothes is a re-creation mirroring the original room. It’s a comfortable room, you want to sit here for a while, maybe lay on the bed! You can easily imagine assorted visitors and musicians like George Harrison climbing the old stairs and hanging around.
The Hendrix Flat includes a short introductory type film about Hendrix. Also to be found are some guitars replicas, pictures, his eclectic record collection – he was tickled that Handel’s Blue Plaque was on the building, and purchased a couple of albums. There is also an interactive section explaining some guitar effects which he certainly helped pioneer in the 60’s.
Whereas museums generally showcase “the real thing”, whether art, or bones, or what-have-you, the Handel and Hendrix House are probably best described as replicas of what was with a couple of real gems thrown in. But it is an ongoing project, and well put together. Certainly worth a visit for any music lover in London. And it’s easy to get to by tube. From Bond Street Station, walk a block south along the pedestrian-only Molton Street to Brook Street, and there you are. You should give yourself a good hour to tour the exhibit. And don’t miss the gift shop to pick up a Hendrix Bobblehead!
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Dianne & Mike