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When Jimi Hendrix played South Shields – two years before Woodstock

Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix

Forty-six years ago this week, rock legend Jimi Hendrix was bringing the curtain down on one of music’s most iconic events – Woodstock.

Over four days (it was only planned to last three) 500,000 people gathered at Max Yasgur’s Farm, in Bethel, New York, for a celebration of peace and music.

For many, the highlight of that festival came on the last day, when Jimi Hendrix took to the stage with his then- band Gypsy Sun and Rainbows. Two hours later – and a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner – he’d written his name large in the annals of rock music history.

In the words of one music writer: “Woodstock 1969 defined an entire generation, and its effects on music and American culture can still be felt today.”

Yet just two years earlier, Hendrix had been thrilling a much smaller crowd, here in South Tyneside.

The gig took place on Wednesday, February 1, 1967, at The New Cellar Club, in town.

Hendrix took to the stage with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell – namely the Jimi Hendrix Experience – which went on to lay the foundations for much of the rock music we know and love today.

And it must have been some gig for those who witnessed it (come on, get in touch if you were there, I’d love to hear from you).

For it coincided with the growing popularity of the band’s first single, Hey Joe, which was making big in-roads into the charts.

It also came shortly after Hendrix and the band had recorded a session for the BBC and a promo film, in London, so they would have been raring to get back in front of an audience.

In an interview for Beat Instrumental (in April 1967) Noel Redding recalled: “We arrived a little late and we were in a bit of a rush.

“We were on the back of a revolving stage just getting tuned, ready to be swung round any minute.

“We had got these new 200-watt units and just as we were tuning, Jimi’s amp blew up. He quickly plugged into mine and I looked round for something to borrow.

“In the end I had to make do with a tiny amp which the other group (support band, The Bond) had been using, it must have been all of five watts.

“As we swung round we opened up and the sound was terrible. My bass was just buzzing like mad.

“Jerry came up, gave me the P.A. amp and put the vocals through this tiny thing.

“Of course, from then on we couldn’t hear a word except in the breaks where we were singing and not playing, even then we just heard a tiny whisper.”

Was the sound as bad as the bassist recalls?

Even if it was, it didn’t stop Jimi Hendrix going from strength to strength, culminating in his legendary performance at Woodstock.

Nor did it stop the Shields’ gig from going down in rock history. After all, it’s not every day that you get such a charismatic and influential musician playing on your doorstep.

l Please let me know if you were there. I’d love to hear your recollections of the gig and of the great man himself.