Armed with a homemade press pass, a 35mm Pentax SV, a 55 mm lens and the confidence of a second year photojournalism student at the Regent Street Polytechnic just a few weeks short of my 21st birthday I, Miki Slingsby, turned up on 8 October 1967 at the stage door of the Saville Theatre (now the Odeon Shaftesbury Avenue). Met by a uniformed door-man I asked if it would be possible to meet and perhaps photograph Jimi Hendrix the American guitarist that was causing such a stir on the European and British music scene. Security was a very different matter in the 60’s and he was not gone long before he returned to say that Jimi would not mind at all.
I took all this in my stride at the time not realizing just what an evening had begun. I was led into a largish, dingily lit backstage room where Jimi, Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding and fellow act Arthur Brown of “Fire” fame were sharing the space. The atmosphere was lively and I was just accepted as being there. This meant that I felt little pressure to rush the photography and could work at my own pace.
I must have worked with available light. I had plenty of time to get what I wanted and after watching a lot of larking about and photographing Arthur’s make-up I left them all to it.
I assumed, correctly, that I would be allowed to photograph the set from front of stage and so when Jimi got going I was well-placed to get the action shots I wanted. There seemed to be no other photographers present or else I was just oblivious to them. From the photographs it is clear that I was using flash. The front of house shots show just how shabby the stage could be with trailing cables, loose curtains etc.
After several songs I was surprised to be offered an empty box upstairs from where I could get shots showing a very different angle of the stage. I used 4 rolls of 35mm film all of which I must have processed at college in the following days. While I was happy with some of the results in the dressing room I did not think my other pictures were up to the standard of the many studio and press photos of Jimi available at that time. Thus I only used a few to put in my portfolio. The larger part of the negatives were packed away more or less unseen at the bottom of my negative collection.
1. The Wind Cries Mary
2. Burning of the Midnight Lamp
3. Hound Dog (Big Mama Thornton)
4. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, (blues or Bob Dylan?)
5. Un blues : “Catfish Blues” or “Red House” ???
6. Purple Haze
7. Foxy Lady
8. Wild Thing (The Wild Things)
About the photographs
When Jimi died in September 1970 we were all shocked and although I was aware of the shots I had stored, I had no reason to believe that they were anything special. In the meantime I left them in the care of my friend Hag for him to make use of if he needed.
Many years later Hag made plans for a project to produce Jimi Hendrix posters from high-res drum scans obtained from his hand-printed and retouched prints. This project never came to fruition although the scans of seven Jimi Hendrix images now existed. Coincidentally, as a result of being asked to photograph what turned out to be Jimi’s hand-painted Gibson Flying V, seen in some of my live shots, I realised that both the owner and guitar expert Tony Bacon, both massive Hendrix fans had never seen Jimi live. When I told them about my evening in 1967 they were obviously very surprised and I began to see that people might be interested to see them as well.
In November 2003, Handel House Museum decided to put on a show to celebrate their two famous residents, George Frederic Handel and Jimi Hendrix. The seven images were framed and included in a mixed Show which drew public attention to my images. They were considered to be gentle studies of a young, talented man, with a wild, sexy image. This was my impression in 1967 and remains so to this day. Early in 2012 Hag scanned all the remaining 35mm negatives providing a complete set of images that document that evening of 45 years ago revealing much detail that had previously been unseen.