Album & DVD review: JIMI HENDRIX – Hear My Train A Comin’/Miami Pop Festival

Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin'

Sony Music [Release date 04.11.13]

It’s several years now since the Hendrix back catalogue was acquired by Sony Music and since then together with the Hendrix Estate (Experience Hendrix) they have been reinventing the legendary performer via a series of careful reissues.  Whilst hardened Hendrix-ites may well have tracked down some of these gems via bootlegs over many years, this reinvention does make available – legitimately and in best quality – previously shady releases, shady in terms of both recording quality and packaging.

Jimi Hendrix - Miami Pop Festival

The Miami Pop Festival of May 1968 is a case in point.  This first official issue cleans up the soundboard recording and whilst there are no surprises in terms of the setlist (which was pretty much fixed at this time) it does give a further indication of the intensity of a Hendrix gig.  This marked the first live outing for ‘Hear My Train A Comin’ and ‘Tax Free’.

The band played two gigs as part of the Festival so it is interesting that only 9 tracks appear on the album plus two alternate versions from the second show.  ****

Miami is also included as bonus footage on the DVD Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin which purports to be the definitive documentary.

Where it scores against previous packages (for example the original film presentation ‘Jimi Hendrix’ in 1973) is not just the HD picture and audio.  Interviews with three key Hendrix ladies – Linda Keith (the Englishwoman who introduced him to Chas Chandler), Fayne Pridgon and fashion designer/friend Colette Harron (nee Mimram) – provide yet another angle along with new interviews with more familiar suspects such as Paul McCartney and Steve Winwood.  And,  yes, that regular talking head David Fricke is here for better or for worse.

Archive footage provides the continuity, including interviews with Mitch Mitchell, Noel Redding and Chas Chandler.  Although the Hendrix story is well-known, the film reiterates again that it was a unique combination of circumstances that brought the guitarist to the UK where he was to achieve his initial success.

Hendrix was soon jettisoned back to his homeland where – after his Monterey Festival performance in June 1967 – he achieved massive recogniton and success.  After  a late-1967 UK ‘package’ tour, with the exception of Woburn (July 1968) and the Royal Albert Hall (February 1969), he wasn’t to return to a UK stage until the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970.

The film also reiterates the importance of the Electric Lady studio that Hendrix set up in August 1970 and which would satisfy his need to constantly create in the studio.  It was this single-mindedness, the endless retakes and the sonic sculpting made possible by advancing technology, that miffed Chas Chandler and ultimately ended their creative partnership. It is rather poignant, therefore, that on the eve of his death Hendrix contacted Chandler with a view to working together again.

What this film confirms is that Hendrix needed continuity and stable friendship to see him through tumultuous times.  He had it with his bandmates, including latterly Billy Cox, but all we can say  – through of all this – is thank God for Eddie Kramer, a sort of George Martin-mainstay type figure behind the mixing desk and his comments are always insightful as you would expect.

Together with Miami Pop (which is set in context by interviews with Festival organiser Michael Lang and Kramer), there is unreleased bonus footage from New York Pop Festival in July 1970 which shows Hendrix in pre-IOW mode.  The audio quality is excellent which begs the question why it is not yet available commercially. Only half the tracks from the performance are featured.

The four tracks from the Isle Of Fehmarn Love & Peace Festival in Germany  were recorded 12 days before Hendrix’s untimely death and are probably the most significant inclusion here, married up to the festival promoters’ amateur soundtrack audio.  The amateur film footage evokes very well the atmosphere of a wind-wrought, hippie-heavy rock festival of this period.

How does this stack up against previous DVDs? Fans will want them all of course, and this latest offering  contains more unreleased – previously unseen – material in best possible quality and produced by the award-winning American Masters biography series for PBS.   It also runs for over 3 hours (the bonus material alone makes up an hour).

In short, it’s probably all you’ll ever need as a comprehensive overview of Hendrix the man and musician, in the eyes (and ears) of those who worked with him and with the demonstrable evidence of incendiary live performance.

However, don’t overlook the DVD version of ‘West Coast Seattle Boy’ which contains the acclaimed documentary ‘Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child’  (by the same director Bob Smeaton) which tells the story from Hendrix’s perspective using his words and artefacts.  Both releases complement each other and both continue to handsomely perpetuate the franchise and the legend.  *****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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