When Jimi Hendrix walked onto the stage on September 6th 1970 at The Isle of Fehmarn Love + Peace festival in Germany, little did he or the audience know that this would prove to be his last official live concert. How sad then that it wasn’t professionally recorded, and though despite the inclement weather, and a hostile audience, Jimi, along with Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, managed to deliver an inspired performance.
Over the years no less than three different audience recordings have done the rounds among the collectors circuit, however Experience Hendrix, the curators of Hendrix’s legacy, acquired the tape made by the festival’s promoters, Christian Berthold and Helmut Ferdinand, both of whom were unwavering in their desire to capture the entire gig (what’s interesting is that a professional camera crew were not engaged. After all, it was a festival in the vein of Woodstock). And while hardly professional, at least by today’s standards, this two-track monophonic recording is probably about as good as it will ever get of this all important show. And why is it important? Because only 12 days later Hendrix would be found dead in his London apartment, an event that would send shock waves through the rock community (not to mention a one Mr. Miles Davis).
When Hendrix took the stage some audience members booed, telling him to ‘get lost’ and ‘go home’ (in German of course), however Jimi rose to the occasion and kicked off his gig with a fiery and ferocious version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”. Spanish Castle Magic”, which follows, is also rather spirited, and includes some very fine soloing indeed. That Hendrix chose to perform “All Along the Watchtower” can only mean that he must have been in something of a generous mood that day, as it was a tune he rarely played. A perfunctory “Hey Joe” is next, which segues into the blissful “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”, one of Hendrix’s most promising compositions, and one which unfortunately he never got to finish. The band storm their way though “Message to Love” (a theme no doubt lost on much of the audience) and “Foxy Lady”, before a fine rendition of “Red House”, which lasted for over ten minutes.
Jimi also decided to try out some more new material with “Ezy Ryder”, “Freedom” and “Room Full of Mirrors”, brave choices I must say, considering the crowd, although based on the applause between songs they seem to have settled down and focused on Jimi’s performance. There is an incomplete take of “Purple Haze”, due to the organisers having to change the tape over, before concluding with a nearly ten minute version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”, where Hendrix was clearly intent on giving the audience its money’s worth.
Jimi was forced to cancel the tour’s remaining shows due to Billy Cox’s drink being spiked with acid, resulting in him experiencing a minor breakdown and had to be flown back to America. As for Jimi himself, he flew to his old stomping ground, London, catching up with old friends, including Chas Chandler, and no doubt reflecting on old times as well as pondering over his next album. Following a wild night of jamming with Eric Burdon and War on September 16th at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, just two days later, Jimi was pronounced dead, due to circumstances that continue to fuel conspiracy theories to this day.
The historical significance of this concert cannot be underestimated, regardless of the poor sound quality. Yet one can’t have it all. The German promoters no doubt did their best in organising the three day festival, but bad weather, along with ill-tempered Hell’s Angels (hired as security), meant that the event itself proved to be something of a disaster (how unusual for a ‘70’s festival). Not only was the promoter’s headquarters set on fire, but even the stage as well. And when word spread that gunfire had been heard, Ten Years After wisely refused to go on (perhaps even forfeiting their fee as a consequence). Regardless, The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live at the Isle of Fehmarn is a worthy and fascinating release in its own right, and one which I’m sure will satisfy any long time aficionado or fanatic.