When the people behind the legacy of Jimi Hendrix announced that they were going to release a series of “official bootlegs” it was almost as if someone just announced that Christmas would now come twice a year. No longer would I have to pay exorbitant prices for shitty sounding illegal recordings, nor feel the bitterness at bootleggers for ripping me off with some crap soundboard or some other by this or that artist. This particular release apparently affords the listener a previously unheard performance by the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Woburn Pop Festival on 6th July 1968, Hendrix’s only English gig for that year, and their first since 1967. So there was naturally a certain amount of anticipation ahead of the concert.
The album opens with an introduction, which lasts for about a minute (Hendrix always liked to tune up before starting the concert proper), before launching into a brief “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The sound is a little rough to say the least, but then no doubt so was the gig itself, although not that unusual at such events. Next is a brilliant version of “Fire”, where Hendrix really does display his virtuosic chops, especially during the guitar breaks. Hendrix investigates his own inner jazz-rock predilections on the extended instrumental “Tax Free”, a style which he would explore in greater depth the following year. Unfortunately the recording is incomplete, as the end of the song is missing. Following on from this wah wah freak-out, is a ten minute version of “Red House”, another composition which provides Hendrix with the opportunity to apply his considerable instrumental talents throughout. It’s a fine version, and goes to prove that blues was just as important as anything else he played. A rather perfunctory “Foxy Lady” is next, although he does finish things off with an inventive and dramatic coda.
I must admit it’s exciting to hear an early live rendition of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, and the version presented here is as rough as guts, tough and visceral, just as it is on Electric Ladyland. Imagine hearing this for the first time. A sort of Mississippi blues meets heavy metal. The only thing is, heavy metal hadn’t actually been invented yet. Play this to many modern audiences and they’d probably want their money back. Such was the rough and tumble of rock festivals at their time.
The performance finishes with an almost three minute flourish of guitar extravaganza, before breaking out into “Purple Haze”, where towards the end of the song he references Cream’s “Outside Woman Blues”, followed by some rather wild feedback, bringing to a close what was undoubtedly an important moment for all those who were in attendance. If only one had their very own TARDIS to travel back in time and see all the things we can merely experience decades after the fact. How convenient that would be (not to mention turning up with a modern 16 track mixing desk wouldn’t be a bad bad either).
This album is not without its sonic flaws; that goes without saying. But this is a bootleg, let’s not forget. A warts and all production, and I for one am glad that the trouble has been made to preserve it. Because some moments cannot be repeated, and seem even more precious as the years roll by. Whether it be Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters, it doesn’t matter. It’s all interconnected.
Certainly the album is designed for the die-hard fan, who like junkies will sell their own step-mother for whatever scraps of previously unheard Hendrix they can find. As a long-time admirer myself, I wouldn’t necessarily be losing any sleep over this one if it wasn’t in my collection. In other words it will hardly change your life. But as a relic of audio archaeology, it is nevertheless an intriguing as well as entertaining article. And I look forward to hearing more.