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Guest writer, Hugh Fielder, reveals the story behind one of our most iconic photographs

Jimi Hendrix at the Astoria, London in March 1967 © Colin N. Purvor

There are those who can pinpoint a Jimi Hendrix photo to within a day – and sometimes to within a few hours – from the clothes he is wearing. This picture (above) was taken by Colin N Purvor backstage at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria on 31 March 1967, the opening night of his first British tour supporting the Walker Brothers. That date is seared into the memory of all true Hendrix fans as the first time he set alight to his guitar on stage.

As if Hendrix didn’t already stand out on a bill that also featured Cat Stevens and – even more incongruously – Engelbert Humperdinck, his manager Chas Chandler organised the stunt to upstage the headliners. At the end of the final number in his set, appropriately titled Fire, Hendrix laid down his guitar, doused it in lighter fuel and set it ablaze. Needless to say the stunt monopolised all the press reports of the concert.

This picture, though, is the calm before the storm. For a start the picture is only available thanks to the efforts of the Rockarchive team who had to restore the water-damaged negative. It is also clear from shots of the show that night that Hendrix has not yet changed into his stage clothes. Most interesting of all though is that he is reading a book of sheet music for Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album. While Hendrix never learnt to read music he could certainly understand it from looking at the notes and chords on the score.

Jimi Hendrix in London in 1967 © Barrrie Wentzell

Hendrix’ affinity with Dylan dated back to Blowin’ In The Wind and his version of Like A Rolling Stone was a cornerstone of the first set that he worked up with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell after forming the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. More significantly, Hendrix’ cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower is reckoned by many to be the definitive version of the song.

Dave Mason, a founder member of Traffic, remembers going to a party with Hendrix around the end of 1967 at which someone had an advance acetate of the upcoming Dylan album, John Wesley Harding. He reckons that they listened to it twice and the following day they went into Olympic Studios and laid down the basic track for All Along The Watchtower with Hendrix using his cigarette lighter to overdub the slide guitar part. Hendrix said later that he felt the song “was like something I had written but could never get together. I often felt like that about Dylan”.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience captured backstage at the Granada Theatre, London in 1967 © Alec Byrne

Hendrix’ remarkable ability to memorise music and then reproduce it and even embellish it was already known on the London scene. In early June 1967 the Jimi Hendrix Experience played a show at London’s Saville Theatre and opened their set with the title track of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which only been released the previous day, in front of an astonished Paul McCartney.

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