The Imperial Hotel , Darlington

Thursday 2nd February 1967

The Jimi Hendrix Experience came to Darlington on Thursday 2nd February 1967. The Venue was the Blue Pad Club which was part of the Imperial Hotel Complex on Grange Road. The previous night they had played at the New Cellar Club in South Shields. The show was advertised as "Don't miss this man who is Dylan, Clapton, and James Brown all in one". At the time Jimi's career was just starting to take off and Hey Joe (the bands first major chart success) was in the top five. The Jimi Hendrix Experience arrived to play to a sell out crowd and also walked straight into the pages of north east musical folklore with the theft of his guitar which local legend suggests still resides somewhere in the town.

200 people paid ten shillings a ticket to fill the venue to capacity. Many more people claim to have been there.

The club had signed a contract to stage the gig for £75, for two one-hour sets. However, prior to the gig taking place, Hey Joe had been released and it was now in the charts at number 4. Jimi's record company tried to cancel the gig, due to the single's success, and possibly because he could now command a higher fee. The R'n'B club however stuck to their guns and wouldn't release him from the original contract. The gig went ahead as advertised. Terry Scott who was involved with booking Hendrix said "Hendrix's record company offered us £300 to get out of the contract, but his manager Chas Chandler being a North-East guy, a straight guy, he insisted that he played."

The schedule had to be changed slightly as there were problems with the sound system which meant the gig had started late. So instead of doing two sets with an interval they played nearly two hours non-stop. There was no support band.

Noel Redding said in his diary that two amplifiers broke down and also the mains fuses blew but that the crowd was fantastic.

Photographer Ian Wright said "The performance lasted three minutes before his powerful amps blew all the fuses plunging the hotel into darkness."

Ian Wright photographed the band in the Bolivar basement bar moments before they went on stage. The photographs below are the only known photographs from this night. No live shots of the concert exist.

There are various conflicting stories of the show. Some people say Hendrix came on stage wearing colourful Carnaby Street clothes , one report says they were pink , another says he wore a black coat , another a black cloak. However , the photographs clearly show him wearing black trousers , black jacket , a grey shirt and his favourite waste-coat which he had also worn at the New Cellar Club the night previously.

Possibly because no-one knew him or his music beforehand, or simply that it was over forty years ago , not many people in the audience could remember what songs Hendrix played. This has been the case for all the gigs on this website. One person could remember "Like a Rolling Stone" (the Bob Dylan number), another said he played his new single "Hey Joe". The set list is likely to have been similar to the one discussed on the New Cellar Club page.

Afterwards, as the roadies were loading up a van, one of Hendrix's Fender guitars was stolen. On learning of the theft, Hendrix reportedly said: "I hope the dude can play." Now, 40 years later, there is speculation still about what happened to the instrument though there are many rumours that it is still in Darlington and there are people who claim to know somebody who has seen it. The story has become an urban legend.

Hendrix gave an interview to the local morning paper 'The Northern Echo' after the gig. He didn't appear to be very talkative, he mainly answered questions with one-liners. When asked about the British R'n'B scene, he said; "I just dig Spencer Davis and The Cream." He was asked about his gimmick of playing guitar with his teeth, he replied; "A gimmick is no good unless you have talent!" He finished off the interview with; "I don't like to stay anywhere long, but I hope to be back soon".

After the show the band went to Alexis Korner's show at the Club a Gogo in Newcastle then went to a party in Jesmond.  More details of this can be found on the "Jimi in Newcastle" page on this site.

Tony Carrington said he remembered “jamming” with Hendrix after the Darlington gig. He said: “We had a little tete-a-tete after the gig, a little jam, but he was 10,000 miles ahead of the rest of us in the way he played the guitar. "

Kathy Etchingham (Jimi's girlfriend) said "In the van Jimi and I got places of honour in the front seat and Mitch and Noel had to sit on the equipment in the back. We ended up in a place called Darlington, nobody took a blind bit of notice of him. When we got outside, the bloody van had broken down. We had to push it in the snow."


The Stolen Guitar

After the gig, the roady was loading up the van with the bands equipment when someone picked an opportune moment and stole one of Hendrix's guitars. The theft was never reported to the Police. The identity of the thief and the wherabouts of the guitar remain a mystery though many claim a friend of a friend has seen it. Local stories say the guitar has changed hands several times , maybe even at one time being swapped for a stereo , and possibly even being stolen for a second time. It has also reportedly been repainted at least twice.

The guitar was a black Fender Stratocaster with a white scratchplate and rosewood fingerboard.  At the time Jimi played the Imperial Hotel he had four guitars three of which continue to show up in photographs after this date. The one which does not turn up is the black one. Some people say that it was red but this is untrue as Jimi did not own a red Strat until March 1967. Here are two photographs of the guitar taken at earlier shows :-

New Century Hall, Manchester, 7th January 1967, supporting "The Silverstone Set"

(this was less than one month before the Darlington show where this guitar was stolen)

Bag of Nails Club, London, 25th November 1966

(two months after Jimi first arrived in the UK)

There are various tales about how the guitar was stolen. One popular story is that it was stolen from the stage , another that it was smuggled out via a second floor kitchen then either whisked out down the fire escape or maybe even using a "dumb waiter". Which (if any) of these is true is a subject of contention. However , what we do know is that in the late 1960s it was very fashionable for young men to wear long army trenchcoats. The thief wearing one of these coats may have simply opened up his coat around the guitar , closed it and walked away with the guitar concealed beneath.

Some say Hendrix was cool about the theft commenting: "I hope the dude can play." Others say he appeared in the Bolivar bar, in the Imperial cellar, in a frenzy of rage.

An article in the Northern Echo in 2005 said that "overnight, the guitar had a paint-job. When Hendrix had played it, it had been black; the next day, it was cream - although if you removed the bolt that held the strap on, you could see the original black. It is said the guitar is still in the town. It has had at least one more coat of paint and may even have been stolen for a second time when it was in High Row."

Tony Carrington, lead guitarist with Jimmy Williams and the West Coast Promotion said in an interview with the Northern Echo in 2008 “We ran the club and we were downstairs drinking after the gig when one of the roadies came in and said one of his (Hendrix) guitars was missing. Hendrix didn’t seem that bothered. He was concerned about his white guitar, which was the best one. But it was his black one that had gone, and this was the one that was more or less used for show, to bang around the mic stand and the amps." Some time later Mr Carrington said he was approached at another gig and offered the black Fender Stratocaster, which had now been resprayed red. He paid £20 for it, selling it later for “between £20 and £30”. He said: “The guy who I had got it off admitted he had got it off someone who had ‘acquired’ it from Hendrix. I only had it a couple of months and then sold it onto another guy.”

Mr Carrington said he was not particularly impressed with the guitar. He said: “It was horrible. It had been used and abused and was not in a pristine condition. It could well have been the guitar that Hendrix knocked about. It did not even sound good. It was a dog as guitars go.” He added that he wished he had hung onto the guitar, but had no idea where it was now.


The Venue

The Blue Pad Club was Darlington's first R'n'B club. It was set up by local band Jimmy Williams and the West Coast Promotion who all came from the Eastbourne end of Darlington. The club ran in the upstairs ballroom of the Imperial Hotel complex on the corner of Blackwellgate and Grange Road. There was also a downstairs bar called the Bolivar.

The club ran on a Friday night. Jimmy Williams and the West Coast Promotion would play their own show one week then they would book a guest band to play the next.

The band formed in 1962 as The Vipers. Originally, there was Terry Scott on vocals, Tony Carrington on lead guitar, Allan Marwood on bass, Barry Marshall on rhythm guitar and Dave Wood on drums. Later Bob Pickersgill took over on drums. As the 1960s wore on, the Vipers moved away from the teenibop scene into more big band bluesy music, inspired by Otis Redding and Edwin Starr. With many more members, they changed their name to Jimmy Williams and the West Coast Promotion.

The Imperial Hotel building still exists but is no longer a hotel.  The upstairs rooms are now offices and the ballroom where Jimi played is now an Italian Restaurant called "Joe Rigatoni's". The basement bar is still a bar but is called "Joe's Cellar Bar".

The Imperial Hotel Building   2008



Terry Scott said "Ninety per cent of people there didn't know he was coming on and probably didn't know who he was because he wasn't that big at the time. But he was fantastic, unbelievable - he could get notes out of a guitar that nobody else could. He crashed the guitar against the speakers and played with oscillation. He's probably the best guitarist the world has ever seen: it was an unbelievable night."

The Evening Despatch's Allene James said: "About 200 young people stopped dancing and crowded around the platform to see the man himself at work. One couldn't deny that this artiste is a colourful one, both in his dress and comments, and in an interview after his performance he told me: 'The group and I have only been together since September and, yeah man, we're pretty happy about our present position in the charts."

A couple who went to the gig say they have one of Mitch Mitchell's drumsticks. Carol Argyle caught the stick when it bounced off the rim of a snare drum into the crowd. Mrs Argyle and her husband, Peter, from Darlington, were only 17 at the time of the gig. They were not together then and were at the concert separately. Mrs Argyle said: "We never thought he'd come, he'd just been in the charts immediately before and we thought he might cancel. At the end of the night, they were throwing things up in the air and I caught the drumstick. There was quite a rush for the drumstick, but I managed to get up and was quite lucky. Everyone goes on about how loud it was, but the thing that stays in my mind was that we'd never seen anything like it before in Darlington. Here was a man playing guitar with his teeth. It was also the first time I realised Top of the Pops wasn't live as I saw him play Hey Joe on TV and then an hour later he was playing in Darlington."   Mr Argyle said "I know who nicked the guitar," he told The Northern Echo. "They swapped it for a stereo." And so the legend lives on.

These memories were received from "Keith" via email......
"Hi, I was there that night. I was a regular at the Imp or r 'n' b as it was known. Also used to go through to Kirk but wasn't there when Hendrix appeared.
There's a lot of urban myth about the gig - almost as many stories as people who claim they were there - you could have filled Newcastle City Hall with the 'supposed' audience. Here's what I remember about the run-up and the night.
Firstly, the r 'n' b (Imp) was a soul club. Everyone was into the various brands of soul - there were three types - the 'sweet' Motown sound, the independents (the rare stuff) and the brassy Stax/Atlantic sound. Personally I was into the more blues based Stax/Atlantic and that was mainly what Jimmy Williams & The West Coast Promotion used to play with their brass section. I believe Barry Marshall of J.W. was the main man for actually booking the bands who played alternate gigs. Hendrix wasn't his first coup - for some reason Family actually played the r 'n' b. The favourite band were from Leicester I think - T.D. Bacchus and the Powerhouse, a bit like Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.
The audience, therefore, were basically mods. I even remember that at the time there was a 'competiton' as to who had the longest centre vent in the back of their jackets (about 29 or 31 inches I think). There were some great bands on the nights that J.W. & W.C.P. weren't playing but we had never seen an American band (I think Geno Washington was around then but he, although O.K., was a demobbed U.S. serviceman who hung around the Flamingo in London). I was at the r 'n' b when it was announced that Hendrix was coming. I've heard this stuff about being advertised as 'Dylan, Clapton etc. rolled into one' but I honestly don't think that was true. I remember very well it being announced and it was 'We've got a great SOUL singer coming from America called Jimi Hendrix.' No-one had heard of him, even Jimmy Williams members and to be honest if he had been advertised as anything approaching a blues artist nobody would have turned up. It was firmly a soul club, and I remember not too long after, when the r 'n' b closed and moved to the Flamingo Club, that most of the audience walked out when Spooky Tooth played because it wasn't soul. I stayed - they were amazing. And that is a clue as to what really happened that night at the Imp.
The booking at the r ''n' b came about because the then girlfriend, later wife, of Bri Deighton, the bass player with J.W. was, at the time secretary to John McCoy of Kirk and she gave the recommendation to Bri - and he was cheap, so they 'took a chance'.
There was no mass surge to buy tickets for the night that I can remember, I don't know if I even had a ticket or just turned up and paid on the door as usual. Nobody had heard of him when it was announced and the main attraction was that we had an actual American soul singer coming instead of British sound alikes. Remember that this was before MTV and countless radio stations and, of course, we heard 'Hey Joe' and were aware that we had perhaps struck lucky but without the mass coverage didn't know any background and still expected a soul artist. On the night itself I called in for a pint at The Cleaver, a long gone pub which used to be about opposite where the 'Quaker Bar' alley is in Priestgate. Hendrix came on the T.V. (Top of the Pops) - not sure - I think Hey Joe was about No. 7. I was watching him and tried to match my expectations of a soul artist with what I was looking at. I then moved on, had a drink in the 'Bolly', under the Imp, and went upstairs.
Hendrix came on stage and there was immidiately a bit of consternation. Most of the guys were in either mohair suits or Levis and Ben Shermans, Hendrix looked 'weird'. Like most people I can't remember which songs were in the set - we'd only ever heard Hey Joe. What I do remember, and you will never find anyone who will admit to it but it is nontheless true, is that when Hendrix struck up and it became apparent that Hey Joe was quite mild to the sounds that were coming from the stage - and it certainly wasn't soul, many, many people walked out. They were mods, they were soul men, what Hendrix was playing was symptomatic of what was starting in the non-pop underground scene, the erosion of soul and the rising of rock/psychodelia, whatever you want to call it, and they were not happy (or hippy). I was intrigued - a lot of what was happening seemed to have no set structure, it was sounds rather than a melody but somehow it grabbed you and even though he probably didn't want to be there Hendrix was intense when playing. Yes there was the teeth stuff, I think he set fire to the guitar too, but strangely the one thing I really remember is that there was a birthday request. Hendrix, when not playing, was totally relaxed, smiling and happy. He played Happy Birthday To You and with the use of the wah wah the guitar actually 'said' Happy Birthday To You. I was stood on a stool holding on to a light fitting and I was mesmerised. I came away perhaps as much puzzled as anything - I'd never heard anything like it. I was heavily into blues and r n' b from Leadbelly right through to Otis Redding etc. - mad about music, quite a lot of Hendrix's lead breaks weren't conventional 'music', it was a soaring mixture of seemingly random sounds that somehow still gelled.
Great memories, but I always smile when I hear people claiming they were there and how they immediately recognised they were watching a musical phenomenom - Bullshit.
And so to the greatest urban myth - the missing guitar. I'm not going to spoil things - let it remain a myth. I know who nicked it and who inherited it and yes I'm sure it was swapped for a music system, or amp or something after being sprayed and I am just about 100% certain that nobody knows where it is now. I will add what I am just about certain is true about how it 'disappeared'. There was a double guitar case belonging to someone else and Hendrix's guitar was simply placed on top of the one guitar that was in the case and carried out. Simple."


Further Reading

Read the Northern Echo article about Tony Carrington's brief ownership of the guitar by clicking here


Further Listening

Two days after this show on 4th February 1967 The Jimi Hendrix Experience played at the Flamingo Club in London. An audio recording of this show was made and it can be listened to on Youtube using the link below. Its not the best quality but it will give you an idea of what the shows may have been like at the Imperial Hotel and also the New Cellar Club the day before.

Set list :
1. Killing Floor 
2. Mercy Mercy
3. Can You See Me
4. Like A Rolling Stone
5. Rock Me Baby
6. Catfish Blues
7. Stone Free
8. Hey Joe
9. Wild Thing

Click here to listen to the show on Youtube