Jimi Hendrix in Norwich!?

imi Hendrix photographed by Richard Snas
Photo Richard Nasdell

I wonder how many people realise as they pass by Nando's restaurant on Red Lion Street in Norwich, formerly the Orford Arms pub, that the legend that is Jimi Hendrix got his first big musical break here in England, and that the cellar below was one of the places pivotal to that success?

Reached by rickety wooden stairs, the Orford Cellar was capable of cramming in 300 people, creating an atmosphere so hot and steamy that the walls streamed with condensation and labels were apt to peel off the beer bottles! In this unlikely venue, the likes of Pink Floyd, The Small Faces, Eric Clapton, Geno Washington and of course The Jimi Hendrix Experience, performed as they toured the provinces, no doubt hoping for bigger things. 

Hendrix had played with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers before going it alone, being introduced in New York to Chas Chandler, bassist for The Animals who brought him over to a London music scene thirsting for the blues. But it was a chance meeting with a sonic wave engineer from the Ministry of Defence that enabled Hendrix to make adjustments to his cheap early Hofner guitars, giving him the added ability to bend edgy, savage sounds that blew the mind and helped turn him into a music magician.

Hendrix came to England in September, 1966 and made his first appearance in Norwich in January 1967. As the Orford Cellar had given him his first big break, he honoured an agreement made before climbing the music charts,  returning to play for the original fee of £39. 

Tickets cost 7/6d, and after opening sets by Geno Washington and the Ram Jam band, at 10.30 pm  'Mr. Phenomenon' took to the stage to to shred his way through a repertoire of blues and rock interpreted and played  like no other.  (Other appearances in East Anglia were at The Tavern, since renamed The Wellington, in Dereham  and at the Barbeque Festival in Spalding in the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall in May, 1967). Sound quality was often poor in venues unsuited to loud music but flamboyant Jimi, sometimes apparently playing with the help of his teeth, always made an unforgettable impression!

Aged only 25, American Hendrix who had made his home in London and who by now had three top ten British hits, Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary, returned to America and growing fame, rapidly becoming the world's highest-paid performer. He headlined Woodstock in 1969, playing to a crowd of 200,000 people even though due to technical and weather conditions, his slot had been re-scheduled for 9.00 a.m. on the Monday morning!

 

Credited now with being perhaps the best guitarist of all time, he wrote, 'I don’t want anyone to stick a psychedelic label round my neck. Sooner Bach or Beethoven.' Having seriously studied great composers, he had plans to return to America to try different approaches to his music. Sadly, he died in London in 1970 at the young age of 27 before his dreams could be realised.

I lived in Norwich at the time Jimi Hendrix played here but was too taken up with home-life and babies to be aware of the local music scene. Strangely, years later Hubby and I had a business in Orford Yard where occasionally visitors would enquire if it was the site of the famed Cellar. Sadly, it was not.

 

There is a blue plaque commemorating Hendrix's visits to Norwich and the Orford Cellar on Red Lion Street.

                     Granny Bonnet

artpark_sculpture_linda_rose_preece_jimi
Portrait bronze for sale at https://www.artparks.co.uk
orford_arms.jpg
The Orford Arms, Red Lion Street, Norwich