“I INTERVIEWED Jimi Hendrix in his bedroom,” remembers Allene Norris who was on the “Beat” music beat for The Northern Echo 50 years ago. “He was staying at the Imperial Hotel and he had a white poodle on the bed.

“He could certainly play the guitar, but I thought he was quite unassuming. He was actually quite shy – he wasn’t one of the many show-offs that I have interviewed in showbusiness.”

Ian Wright was the Echo’s photographer that day, and he was phoned by Hendrix’s manager, Chas Chandler, who invited him over for the soundcheck.

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In his diary, Ian wrote: “Hendricks, Jimi, popular artist, snowing, Chas Chandler 4pm.”

“It was upstairs in the ballroom at the Imperial, which was then the local venue – I remember next day I had to go there for a Rotary dinner,” says Ian, who now lives in Las Vegas and got the only two known photographs of the day. “They started the soundcheck, and it was a bloody racket. It was indescribable. After a few minutes they blew the fuses in the amps, then they blew the fuses in the lights. It all went black and I went off.”

The Northern Echo: FIRST THOUGHTS: The Evening Despatch interview, by Allene Norris (she was then Allene James), of Jimi Hendrix

The Evening Despatch interview, by Allene Norris (She was then Allene James), of Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix had been booked late in 1966 by the Blue Pad Club, a rhythm and blues club which met in the Imperial, for £90 after a venue in Middlesbrough refused to commit to the unknown guitarist. By late January 1967, with the debut single Hey Joe climbing the charts, the record company offered the Blue Pad £300 to buy Hendrix out of the booking, but the club, supported by Geordie lad Chandler, refused.

Reports of the quality of the gig vary. Few people recognised any of the tunes – he probably played a Dylan cover and he must have played Hey Joe – and some people, who had turned up expecting Beat dance music, were rather dismayed by the guitar noise. Other people say that, because of the problems with the wiring, he didn’t play much guitar, but instead took to the drums, flicking drumstricks into the crowd.

In her review in the Evening Despatch newspaper, Allene noted how everyone stopped dancing and crowded around the stage to see his virtuoso guitar work.

Allene says: “I think people were very excited by him coming because it was clear he was going to be someone. The Imperial was very, very crowded and it was a very, very smoky atmosphere.”

The evening ended controversially when the black guitar went missing. The most common story is that it exited via the fire escape, was sprayed cream overnight, was sold next morning on High Row and has never been seen since (someone whispered to me recently that he had it on good authority that it is currently in an attic in Middleton Tyas).

Stories vary about Hendrix’s reaction to the theft. The best version is that he was phlegmatic, saying coolly: “Well, I hope the dude can play.”

But a few years ago, Kenny Beagle, the well known Darlington publican, told Memories that Hendrix had stormed angrily into the Imperial’s cellar bar known locally as the Bolly.

"He went down the Bolivar and was really kicking off about it, going berserk,” he said. “People were trying to pacify him, but he was very volatile."

This may have been because he’d learned that his little tour van had broken down and needed to be pushed in the snow to get it going. Then Hendrix, his two bandmates, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham and manager Chandler all left Darlington. They were spotted later that night at the trendy Club a Gogo in Newcastle, where Alexis Korner was playing, before ending up at a party in Jesmond with the Moody Blues.

HENDRIX’S North-East dates in 1967: Jan 15, Kirklevington Country Club, near Yarm; Feb 1, The New Cellar Club, South Shields; Feb 2, Imperial, Darlington; Mar 10, Club a Gogo, Newcastle; Apr 21, Newcastle City Hall; Dec 4, Newcastle City Hall. Where you at any of these dates?

IF Jimi Hendrix’s night at the Imperial isn’t the greatest date in Darlington’s music history, what is? Could it be Van Morrison at the Majestic, or Long John Baldry, possibly with Elton John on piano, at the Skerne Park Hotel? Where you at any of these? Or is there a different, bigger night?

Chris Lloyd