You wouldn’t think it to look at me but I was supposed to meet Jimi Hendrix once. I know. Me, huh? Overweight, grey and wearing the finest ASDA has on offer, in the company of rock and roll royalty. Hard to imagine, but it’s true.
I was a journalist for Melody Maker, back in the late sixties. I’d hung out with Clapton, Lennon – right awkward, that one, he was a right miserable bastard – and a few other legends, but it was always Jimi that mattered. I would have given my legs to interview Jimi.
Well, in July 1970, I was told I’d get my chance in August, at the Isle of Wight Festival. I nearly wet myself. When you’re a rock journalist you’ve got to curb your enthusiasm a little. You can’t go running up to these guys screaming like a teenage girl. You’ve got to be tactical, even when you’re only 18. I got some pretty good by being natural. Clapton saw I was nervous when we met. He told me to chill and put me at ease. Afterwards he said it was just like hanging out with his mates at the pub. I was fine after that. Thanks to that interview, the issue sold by the bucket load. I liked Eric.
Lennon hated me. It was 1969 and The Beatles were at breaking point. Lennon and McCartney were heading in different directions, George was pissed off he wasn’t getting his songs on the album and Ringo… Well, Ringo was just off his tits. If you listen to those late records now you can hear it. Hindsight’s great, isn’t it? I kept asking about ‘tensions’ in the band, and I could see Lennon sneering. I kept pressing and he kept sneering. By the end of the interview they were giving one word answers, and Lennon called me a ‘cunt’ on his way out.
I released a collection of my work in 1980 when I quit being a music journo. I was going to call it: ‘Give Cunt a Chance’ in reference to the Lennon incident. Then Mark Chapman shot him and it didn’t seem funny anymore. It ended up as: ‘12 Years in the Front Row’. I hated that title.
Anyway, July 1970. Like I said, my Editor tells me I’m covering the Isle of Wight festival in August. Then he tells me I’ll have ten minutes with Jimi after his performance on the 30th. I held myself together long enough to get home to my folks. My folks thought I was mad. They were jazz fans. Hendrix was nothing compared to Charlie Parker.
My friend Mark drove a yellow Ford Cortina, and in return for a free ticket I got a ride down to the festival with him. It looked like a half-rotten banana, but it got us there and back alive.
I turned up in Newport more excited than I’d ever been. I’d gone all out in the fashion stakes. I loved Italian shoes, and I’d bought a pair of Stemar’s. God, they were beautiful, and brand spanking as the company had only started up the year before. I can’t remember how much they cost, but I remember my Mum closing her eyes and crossing her chest when I told her. She didn’t get it, and I doubt God did either.
I wanted to stand out, so I went for the denim jeans-and-jacket combo, with a long-sleeved brown Western plaid shirt. The idea of wearing flowery shirts and those Mexican style jackets made me cringe, although Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper pulled it off in ‘Easy Rider’.
My 1969 Levi’s 70505 ‘Big E’ Third Edition Jacket was my prized possession. I had it until about five years ago when we moved house. It got lost in the transition somewhere. I was devastated. Still am.
I looked great. I’d had my haircut the day before, a little shorter than I was used to. It was similar to Bowie’s in the ‘Space Oddity’ video. I remember that it was short enough to tickle the back of my neck, and I didn’t like the feeling. I kept rolling my shoulders to stop it, and my friends thought it was hilarious. I soon forgot about it when the bands started to play. As much as I couldn’t wait for the music, it was Jimi I was looking forward to. I made scribbles about the event and the line-up, but I couldn’t motivate myself for anyone but Jimi. Jimi, Jimi, Jimi, fucking Jimi!
When he arrived, I took a sharp intake of breath, like when you see the girl of your dreams for the first time. My eyes welled up and I felt anxious for the first time in my life. I’d never been star struck before. I honestly believe that – to this day – that moment was my first experience of love. I never belittle anyone who says they ‘love’ a star, even if I don’t agree with their choice. I know exactly how they feel. Most people never find true love. What better substitute is there than a God with a guitar?
Jimi came out and played ‘God Save The Queen’, just like did at Woodstock with ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Such a dreary national fucking anthem, but Jimi made it sound cool and relevant. And this was seven years before the Sex Pistols.
Halfway through the set, Mark handed me the biggest joint you’ve ever seen. I didn’t want to get wasted as I had so much to ask Jimi and so little time to do it. A ten minute window can close very quickly if you’re so fucked up you can’t even speak. I should have had my head examined before puffing on anything handed to me by Mark. You know Danny from ‘Withnail and I’? Yeah? Multiply it by ten and you’re still not even close. He smoked weed like your Nan drinks tea and took more pills in one night than the NHS handed out over a decade. I remember that his hair was so long that his shades were worn over the hair that had grown over his eyes. He looked like Cousin It, only cool as fuck.
A few tokes on Mark’s joint and I was wasted. I felt like every bone in my body had been removed and my flesh was floating on a cloud. In short, I was fucking fucked.
The next thing I remember was Mark slapping my face and waking me up. He’d taken me to one side and looked after me after I’d apparently started dancing wildly and barking like a dog. I asked him what the time was, noticing the stars in the sky above his head.
“It’s time to get you back to civilisation, Mr Journalist!” he joked.
I jumped to my feet as soon as I noticed that the only sound I could hear was that of the crowd dispersing.
“Where’s Jimi?” I shouted. “Where’s fucking Jimi!?”
“Oh. Yeah. Well, he’s finished,” Mark said.
“He did a fantastic version of ‘Sgt. Peppers’. Didn’t you meet John Lennon once?”
I felt my stomach tighten, like a giant had burrowed his hands into my gut and tied my insides in a knot. Then I started to cry.
Mark calmed me down, this time without the use of his industrial strength weed. I couldn’t be angry with him, all the fight had been taken out of me. A lot of tears were shed on his shoulder that night.
When I got back to London I was sacked from Melody Maker. From what I heard, Jimi waited two minutes for me, and then dived into the back of a black Chevy.
Goodbye, you beautiful bastard, and good luck…
19 days later, Jimi was found dead in a flat in Notting Hill.
I took Jimi’s death pretty well. I think as a journalist I’d found a cooler story in my festival experience than I ever would have in meeting him for those ten minutes. The hardest part of losing Jimi was that there would be no more music.
The great ones always die young, and it hurts. Marc Bolan, Tim Buckley, even Lennon – 40’s no age to snuff it. But Jimi was at his peak, we never saw how far he could go. I believe he would have got better. Fucking drugs…
I carried on as a freelance music journo, ending up at the NME from 74-80. I was 26 when punk exploded, but I was too old for it. I remember giving the first Clash album a bad review, saying it was “a load of noisy racket and slogans”. My Editor looked at me like I’d walked into his house and shit on his kids.
I turned up at the gigs, listened to the music and interviewed the bands. But it felt like a chore, a conveyor belt of gig-interview-feature-gig-interview-editorial meeting-gig…
Punk started to die on its arse around 1980, but that smugness was written all over my face and my Editor was done with me.
“You’re no longer NME material. We’re here to capture a mood, and you’re becoming too negative. For your last piece, I’d like you to write your Jimi Hendrix story.”
Typical, ay? All those years being battered at gigs and festivals, being called every name under the sun by members of The Beatles, and my claim to fame was still being the kid who fell asleep and missed Jimi Hendrix’s final festival performance.
Thankfully, I’d built up a big enough profile over the years to jump straight back into work whenever I wanted. This would have been great had the New Romantic movement not been around the corner. The first time I saw a New Romantic I stopped wanting to be a music journalist – stopped wanting to fucking live, if I’m honest. I started writing about film instead.
My first feature was ‘Easy Rider’. How could it not have been? I was so lucky with it. I met up with Dennis Hopper and talked for hours about the whole movement. I told him my Jimi story over some of the biggest cigars you’ve ever seen. I think each one cost more than I made in a year. He laughed at my story and then told me his account of making ‘Apocalypse Now’ with Coppola, Brando, Sheen and a shit load of madness. Right now Hopper’s in heaven, sitting on a cloud with Brando smoking a stogie. Enjoy it, Hopper. You earned it.
The career change came the same year as Ben was born. The greatest thing that ever happened to an idiot like me, that lad. These days I make sure he knows that every single day. I was away a lot during his formative years, and, I can admit it now, cheated on his Mother constantly. I couldn’t let go of my independence, or didn’t want to. Maybe I just matured late. All I know is that I treated the people I loved like shit for a long time, and I’m trying to make up for it now.
Ben was a great kid, always smiling. I expected some battles as he got older. The ‘fuck you, Dad’ phase. But it never came. I think he understood what I was doing.
He inherited the bug. Became the only person in my family’s history to go to university. Journalism and Media studies. I went to his graduation and I cried like a baby. All the guilt I felt for not being around just poured out of me, and I was proud as fuck. My wife held my hand throughout the whole thing, tighter than ever before. It was… lovely. Yeah, it was lovely.
Last year, Ben wrote an article for the Guardian about my Hendrix debacle. I can never escape that story, and I never want to. Everyone deserves a moment in the sun, even if my moment in the sun was literally lying in the sun and missing the opportunity of a lifetime. It was nice to sit down with Ben and give him a screenshot of my life.
Mark once told me: “Your parents are the people you learn the least about. Everything you learn about them is blinded by your love for them. They’ve already lived a life before you come into it.”
I always remembered him saying that to me. It was after my Father had died. I remember what I said back to him, too: “I was around him my whole life, but I never felt like I knew him.”
After that day, I was always honest with Ben, for better or worse. I can tell him anything, and I do. Sometimes I tell him things that hurt him, like all the playing around I did after he was born. He understood, and I think it strengthened the bond between us. It definitely strengthened the bond between him and his Mother.
We’ve been married 25 years now. She stood by me where others wouldn’t’ve. She’s the best person I’ve ever met and I’m in awe of her every day. She chose a twat like me over everybody else, and on our wedding day, when she answered ‘I do’ to all those questions, she meant them and she meant them for life.
We’re going to the Cambridge Folk Festival this summer, for our anniversary. It’ll be a different experience from the Isle of Wight days, but I’ll be keeping my ears open, listening to the old vagabonds telling their stories.
I’m writing a book about the history of folk music. It came as a surprise to my publishers, who are constantly asking me to sell my ‘Meeting Jimi’ story to Hollywood and play up to the ‘bad boy journalist’ tag. If they’d seen me bawling my eyes out at Ben’s graduation that tag would fall away pretty damn fast.
Ben’s a good writer, better than I ever was. He’s level-headed and smart as a button. He’s settling down with his missus and planning to start a family. I feel like he’s the grown up and I’m the kid. All the lessons I’ve learned about being a good man I learned from him.
He gives me shit about the Hendrix incident to this day. I just tell him: “You can laugh, but your CV will never be as sexy as mine!”
After all, John Lennon never called him a cunt, did he?