Mysterious Les Paul in The Vault

After visiting Jimi Hendrix’s Flying V at the Handel House Museum, I headed across Mayfair to its usual home at the Hard Rock Cafe Vault. The Vault is in the basement of the Rock Shop and used to be the bank vault for the Piccadilly branch of Coutt’s bank. Serious security, and well worth it given the range of treasures they have down there.

I actually spent most of my time talking guitarists with the chap in charge (not a fan of Steve Vai, it turned out) so I didn’t really look too closely at the exhibits. But one thing that caught my eye was a Gibson Les Paul which wasn’t labelled and nor was it in a glass case as most of the guitars are now.

It was just a nice sunburst Standard, apart from the fact that the body was incredibly thin for a Les Paul. I asked whose it was, and got a question back in return – who is the most famous player of Les Pauls? Resisting the urge to say Les Paul, I replied Jimmy Page and this was apparently the right answer.

The story is that after years of playing heavy Les Pauls, Jimmy had a lighter one made to save his back. This is all very plausible except I’m sure it would be documented (the intersection of Les Paul enthusiasts and Led Zeppelin fans being pretty much the definition of obsessive) and I can’t find any reference to it. It’s not even mentioned in the Hard Rock Cafe’s memorabilia database although that may be because it’s newly acquired.

Surely it would just sound wrong anyway? I’m starting to doubt my eyes now. If anybody can help clear this up, the domain is and my name is phil, I’m sure you can construct an email address from that.

Hendrix In Britain

Inspired by his London flat now being their administrative offices, the Handel House Museum are holding a Hendrix In Britain exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. It’s only a small exhibition but they’ve gathered some contemporary programmes, posters and photos to illustrate his life and work in Britain, plus a couple of interesting manuscripts.

The first is a battered piece of Hyde Park Towers Hotel headed paper with partial lyrics for Love Or Confusion on the front and a self-penned caricature of Hendrix surrounded by various cartoons poking fun at himself and other pop acts on the back. The second is handwritten instructions – on Londonderry Hotel headed paper this time – to tell the model Kirsten Nefer how to get to the Isle of Wight Festival. Hopefully the pass was waiting at the main stage gate as promised.

There are two star exhibits. One is the custom left handed Gibson Flying V known as Flying Angel which Jimi played at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970. While this is a lovely guitar, it usually lives in the Hard Rock Cafe Vault across Mayfair where you can see it for free so it isn’t that much of an attraction.

Much better are the Westerner hat and Dandie Fashions jacket that Jimi wore for a shoot at Bruce Fleming’s studio in 1967 where he was also filmed performing an acoustic rendition of Hear My Train A Comin’ (and saying one of his most quotable lines).

[Note: This seems to be the best copy on Youtube at the moment but it still isn’t very good quality. The 2010 film Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child uses it in the original quality and the blues really zing. The film has lots of other fantastic footage too and, as of February 2018, is available on Netflix.]

The Westerner hat is a fine thing, with alternating cast rodeo riders and individual turquoise and silver pieces on the band. But the Dandie Fashions velvet jacket is the real standout. No picture could do justice to the vibrant colours, especially the deep blues which hardly even seem to be captured for some reason. The jacket syle is conservative by 1967 standards – single breasted with five buttons and a noticeable flare to the end of the sleeves – but the fabric doesn’t really need much embellishment.

Dandie Fashions was founded in October 1966 by Alan Holston and Tara Browne, the Guinness heir who famously “blew his mind out in a car” before the year was out. Although the shop had been in part an outlet for his tailoring business Foster & Tara, Browne’s death didn’t stop Dandie Fashions becoming for a while one of the elite scene outfitters in London, Browne’s share of the business having been sold to John Crittle, an Australian born tailor,

As well as at least two jackets for Hendrix, they produced custom jackets for Paul McCartney, clothes for various Rolling Stones and the original Major Tom silver suit worn by David Bowie during Space Oddity in his short 1969 film Love You Till Tuesday. In 1968, Dandie Fashions became Apple Tailoring and the relaunch party was John and Yoko’s first public appearance together. As with many Apple businesses, it wasn’t a success. Freddie Hornik, one of the other key members of the Dandie team, went on to breathe new life into a fading Granny Takes A Trip and made it a big success on the burgeoning glam scene and on both coasts of the US.

All of which is a long way of saying, get to the Hendrix In Britain exhibition before November 7th to see an iconic piece of London counterculture tailoring before it heads back to Seattle.

The Hendrix Flat

When the Handel House Museum in Mayfair announced back at the beginning of the summer that they were opening up one of Jimi Hendrix’s London flats to visitors for a short period, I was excited enough to buy a ticket on the morning they went on sale. They weren’t quite that sought after but I did feel disgracefully smug when overhearing numerous people being informed at the desk that they could visit the exhibition but the tickets for the flat had sold out weeks ago.

The composer George Handel lived at what is now 25 Brook Street for 36 years in the early 18th century and composed many of his major works there, including Messiah. When Hendrix’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham was looking for a place for them in the summer of 1968, the one she found was an attic flat on two levels at 23 Brook Street. For a while they thought they were in Handel’s house, the blue plaque being rather ambiguously located, and Jimi even bought some of his music to get a feel for his neighbour. Both houses are now part of the Handel House Museum with number 23 providing extra exhibition space and, in the case of Jimi’s flat, administration offices.

The first thing that strikes you are the steep and narrow stairs to get up to the flat – apparently a few of Jimi’s visitors returning after a night out came something of a cropper on them. The second, and main, thing that strikes you is how small the flat is. The larger room overlooks Brook Street and is a reasonable size but had to accommodate a double bed (which seemed to be the main piece of furniture rather than solely for sleeping), a TV and hi-fi (there weren’t really any adjacent neighbours, one of the attractions of the flat in the first place, since 23 was one end of the row and 25 didn’t have an equivalent attic extension) and various other items, more decorative than practical in many cases. The second room is much smaller and according to a (now disappeared) forum source was used for band jams. The top half of the flat, up even more perilous steps, wasn’t available to visit and has been extensively changed since the 1960s but would have housed the kitchen, bathroom and even smaller spare bedroom which was reputedly used by George Harrison on occasion.

The rooms are mostly empty, with just a small display case in the bigger room containing an ornate brass perpetual calendar – ironically only for the years 1954 to 2003 – and a glass ashtray, both of which were in the flat when Jimi lived there. On the walls of that room are also photos taken in the flat, including the one featured on the cover of the programme. But what really brings the place alive are Kathy Etchingham’s various recollections of their times there – visiting John Lewis to buy fabrics; having a late breakfast at the Indian Tea House across the street on the corner of South Molton Street; drinking milky tea and watching TV together, one of Jimi’s private pleasures being Coronation Street with Ena Sharples being his favourite character.

The smaller room just has a TV screen showing an interview with the Experience in the flat on January 7th 1969 for the CBC programme Through The Eyes Of Tomorrow (samizdat video of the interview playing in the flat, or here’s the full interview). During the interview, Jimi is sprawled on the bed in the main room with the glass ashtray visible and in use, while Noel and Mitch are interviewed together on the floor in front of the fireplace in the second room. The beginning of the end. :)

The flat didn’t have a doorbell at ground level so it really was a private retreat and, although it’s thought Jimi might have spent as little as sixty nights there, you believe Kathy when she reports Jimi saying it was his first (and as it turned out, only) real home of his own. The things in the exhibition downstairs are great, but the space he occupied – given just enough context by the exhibits – is actually much more evocative of the life he was leading.

The flat visits have now ended but the exhibition (more of which later, hopefully) is open through to November 7th 2010. The Handel House Museum would like to make the Hendrix exhibition, including presumably the flat, a permanent fixture but as ever the stumbling block may be finding the funding.

Alasdair Roberts – Spoils

I really should update this more often.

Apparently, last June (2009, that is) I was going to say something profound about Alasdair Roberts‘ album Spoils and specifically the track Hazel Forks. What that may have been I now have no idea, but his compelling, reedy vocals and deep and murderous ballads are always worth a listen. Buy an album or catch one of his relatively infrequent live shows, you won’t regret it. He’s currently supporting Joanna Newsom on a few dates in Italy and Israel to promote his recent album Too Long In This Condition.

What pan should I use?

A colleague asked me yesterday if I knew the best type of pan to use to minimise ingestion of toxins – she’d just found out that stainless steel pans have nickel content and that there have been health scares associated with nickel.

Quite how problematic the amounts of nickel ingested actually are is open to debate – a plausible study (since disappeared) on found that even in the worst case scenario of boiling acidic liquids for long periods (making chutney, since you ask), the amount of nickel leached was often below detectable levels and never anywhere near levels that would give concern.

But just because The Man says we shouldn’t be concerned doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned and I didn’t really know the answer to my colleague’s question, so I thought I’d have a quick look at the options and issues.

The first thing to note is that cooking over a flame pretty much requires the use of metal in order to withstand the direct heat. There’s likely to be some release of metal into food, especially when the pan is brand new or getting older and scratched. Higher temperatures and higher acidity will exacerbate that process. So you want to make sure your exposure is to less harmful metals, hence the move away from aluminium pans.

You can coat the metal internally in another substance, but in the case of non-stick coatings the substance can in health terms be worse than the metal – out of the frying pan and into the … ummm, you know what I mean. This page has a useful summary of the different materials and their risks. Good quality enamel comes out well (good quality as you don’t want it to chip and hence expose the underlying metal) but pans that are enamelled internally are often small milk and sauce pans. However Le Creuset‘s cast iron range uses and enamelled interior so I guess there must be others as well.

Stanless steel is an alloy, and pans will almost exclusively use 18% chromium content stainless steel. Nickel is used to add even more rust protection and to make the steel harder and shinier. Typically 8% or 10% nickel is used and so you might see references to 18/8 or 18/10 stainless steel. Stainless steel without nickel content is hence 18/0. You can get 18/0 steel pans but they won’t be as shiny and might be subject to rust spotting so will need more looking after and might not last as long. But they’ll probably be quite cheap as 18/0 is considered lower grade.

Another alternative is carbon steel. Carbon steel, blue steel, and black steel are all names for steel which been alloyed only with cafrbon. Advantages are that it’s generally inert, suitable for very high temperatures and relatively inexpensive. Disadvantages are that it will be slow to heat up, have poor heat distribution and will rust if not seasoned and then looked after. It might sound like the disavantages far outweigh any other considerations, but for frying and crepe pans they don’t matter as much. DeBuyer are one of the popular brands for steel pans, and I do in fact have two of their frying pans currently unused at home. I’m just waiting for the courage (and potato peelings) to season and start using them.

Jeremy Leggett at Sunrise Celebration

Sunday at the Sunrise Celebration was dedicated to the Transition movement and there were talks around the issues of permaculture, peak oil and transition towns. Jeremy Leggett, the chairman of Solarcentury, gave a talk on peak oil (which we didn’t see) and then one on solar energy, which we did manage to catch.

There are some interesting things happening in the world of solar energy. It’s now expected that the cost of solar energy will match the cost of fossil fuel energy by 2013 and will then continue to fall. This is being driven by various factors, notably increased efficiency in the manufacture of the materials needed for panels and the panels themselves, and economies of scale as larger manufacturers come into the market. The efficiencies also mean that modern PV panels will pay back their energy (as opposed to financial) cost in less than two years.

At the same time, companies such as Shell and BP are pulling out of the renewables arena and in the UK, EDF and E.On are recommending a nuclear strategy to the government. Expect to see their PR departments aiming their guns at solar and other renewable technologies. There’s an illuminating Financial Times article by Jeremy on this.

The UK government is also planning to introduce a feed-in tariff scheme, whereby surplus renewable energy is sold back to the grid at a premium thereby encouraging uptake and helping to offset the initial cost. The exact details of the scheme will dictate its success and Jeremy has some strong ideas, as you’d expect from somebody in the industry that stands to benefit. But they do seem like sensible and sustainable ideas, and he came across as an approachable and committed man at the head of a company that’s trying to do the right thing.

Seize The Day at Sunrise

We went down to the Sunrise Celebration festival near Frome for the day today. You could argue that not spending the whole weekend getting messy (in all senses) rather negates the festival experience, but it was a fun day out so I say “nyaah!” to your argument.

One of the attractions for us was that Seize The Day were listed as playing. Either they themselves or other people (never quite sure) call Seize The Day protest folk, which seems appropriate – certainly the most common two word phrase at one of their gigs in my experience is “Climate Camp”. They played a fine set even though their violin player Elizabeth was obviously not well and left the stage at various points, and went down so well with the admittedly partisan crowd that even they seemed slightly surprised at the reaction.

After a disaster last year (a river burst its banks meaning they couldn’t get people in, leading to the festival to all intents and purposes being called off), the Sunrise Celebration has bounced back smaller but more focussed. This year, it was on a farm site in Somerset (no, not in Pilton) which was fine for the size of festival, the sun shone all weekend and everyone seemed to be having a whale of a time.

“Continue reading” for a few photos of the festival and more of Seize The Day.

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Easter road trip: Tir Penrhos Isaf

After leaving Cae Mabon, we headed across (well, around) Snowdonia to Chris and Lyn Dixon’s permaculture smallholding Tir Penrhos Isaf, where we’d arranged a guided tour. This was the part of the trip I think we were most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. The photos I took, however, aren’t that great. Hey ho.


Chris and Lyn bought the farm in 1986 and the permaculture design started then. At the time it was seven acres of tired sheep pasture with a derelict barn in a valley clearing in the woods. Their first planning application to create a sustainable residence and establish a permaculture smallholding was made in 1989, a time when “sustainable” and “permaculture” weren’t part of planning language – arguably permaculture still isn’t.

They were keen to establish a precedent for permaculture so persevered, while living on site in a caravan with a series of three year temporary permissions, for over fifteen years until finally having to accept planning permission for a barn conversion in 2006. They were understandably disappointed to have to accept a compromise and not establish the precedent, but Lyn had suffered two bouts of cancer and they needed to get on with their lives without the threat of eviction.


And along the way, Chris has exposed a lot of planning officers and councillors to his ideas, and established a library of planning documents on his website for others to refer to. He used to post copies out to people so the web has definitely transformed that part of his life. :)

Chris gave us a fascinating tour of the property, I think it was supposed to last two hours but we ended up being there for over four. We started in the wooded area which he originally fenced off from the sheep in 1986 and then, as is the principle of permaculture gardening, observed before making minimal interventions. One of the stages it went through was heavy gorse cover and, as a result, Chris has developed something of a fascination with the plant.


We then went through the core gardens area and looked at how that had developed over the years before finishing with some of the water management techniques he’s currently experimenting with.

All this was put in the context of permaculture principles and Chris really expanded our idea of what permaculture is, specifically the idea of multiple primary income streams with secondary ‘hobby’ income streams which have the potential to become primary when required or if particularly successful.

One of the income streams at Tir Penrhos Isaf is Lyn’s horse training business – they have stables and a large horse pen so they can house and train horses (and their owners, one suspects). The idea of multiple income streams is actually best expressed in Lyn’s Permaculture Design and Horses document which she prepared for one of the planning applications.


The farm was featured in the recent BBC Natural World documentary A Farm For The Future in which wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future. The whole programme is available in a very blurry copy on Youtube.

Apparently the BBC crew were at the farm for three days to get the three minutes of footage that was used. Chris was keen to point out that the farm has never been completely self sufficent in food as was suggested.

At their highest production, they were probably theoretically self sufficient for ten months of the year. Currently due to the amount of time and energy being put into the conversion of the barn which Chris is doing himself, the figure is a lot lower than that.


So that was Tir Penrhos Isaf. A real inspiration and we hope to run into Chris again at the permaculture design course run by Sector39 at Llanfyllin Workhouse.

I’m sure there’s a lot more fascinating detail to add to this but I’ll leave that as a challenge for Theo since she took the notes.

Easter road trip: Cae Mabon

Our Easter road trip was intended to draw some inspirations for how and where we may want to live. One of the main destinations was Cae Mabon where we planned to help for a day of their Easter working party, and also to find out just what Cae Mabon is.


The tale starts in the early 1980s when storyteller Eric Maddern, an Australian by birth who spent the latter years of his childhood in the UK, returned from travels to California, Alice Springs and beyond to settle in North Wales.

Twice he saw the cottage in the woods above Lake Padarn but failed to secure it: the third time he made it his. And in the more than twenty years since then, he has transformed the site into a retreat and education centre – but so much more.

The site itself is very lovely, that of course is why he was drawn to it so strongly. The small cottage is at the top of the plot which then falls steeply away down to the lake (which technically it doesn’t front on to being separated from it by the Llanberis lake railway). A fast flowing stream rushes down one side of the property and there are plentiful trees.

What Eric has done to it has only added to the magic. To support its use as a retreat centre, various accommodations have been built. And what buildings they are: an Iron Age style roundhouse; a small existing barn which has been extended and converted into the kitchen and meeting/eating area; a cob (earth) cottage started as part of an onsite course in cob building techniques run by Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley of the Cob Cottage Company ; and dwellings for visitors to stay in – a hobbit house with a round door, a Swiss chalet, a straw bale hogan, and a cedar cabin.


Several of the buildings incorporate interesting energy saving techniques: a rocket stove built into an internal bench so the smoke heats it up rather than venting wastefully straight up a chimney; a cob storage radiator behind a full length south facing window so that it absorbs heat during the day and gives it out during the night; and turf roofs of course.

The sustainable living ethos doesn’t end there. The cottage and studio barn are fed by mains electric but the rest of the buildings are lit solely by solar-powered LED lighting. I think Eric was probably driven to fit this after the shock of the first roundhouse burning down due to a stray candle.

The toilets are composting. The kitchen waste water is filtered and fed back into the stream and lake. There’s a vegetable garden and chickens on the site (as we would find out when we came to the work party). There are creature comforts as well, notably a wood-fired hot tub next to the stream.


We arrived there on Good Friday evening and were sorted out with accommodation by Alison, who was doing a fantastic job of fitting people in. I guess at this stage there were two dozen people on site although this would swell to closer to three dozen by Saturday night. Eric holds a working party for two weeks over Easter to get the site ready for the summer and hopefully progress a few projects as well.

Some people were travelling or volunteering their way around the country or world, some were working party regulars or friends of Eric (the distinction blurs over time of course), and some were curious newbies like ourselves. All were friendly. Dinner was simple but tasty – there’s a £5 per day contribution towards food.

After dinner, Theo took advantage of the hot tub while a fire was being stoked up in the roundhouse. Everybody gathered, some songs were sung by Eric and then a couple of the volunteers talked about the permaculture course they’d attended at Findhorn, a longstanding community in the north of Scotland. When they’d finished we slipped away to bed.


After breakfast, the morning meeting took place in the studio barn where Eric went through all the jobs that needed doing and people bagsed what they fancied. We decided to help out in the garden. I tidied up the shed while Kestrel and The Fairy helped with weeding, planting seedlings and harvesting some greenery for lunch.

The Fairy and I then settled into our main task, levelling out an area for a polytunnel to sit on. This involved wheelbarrowing a pile of small rocks (sieved out of the soil which had been used for the vegetable beds) and using them to build up the lower edge of the patch against a retaining stone wall – the area used to be full of slate quarries so stone is not in short supply. It didn’t seem like a big pile but it kept us busy until lunchtime.


After lunch, we took advantage of the sunshine and had the catch up meeting in the outdoor circle. Being a storyteller, Eric has a fondness for extravagant gestures, although I have no idea why the subject of aeroplanes appears to have come up during the meeting.

Anyway, the net result as far as we were concerned was that Kestrel and I would continue levelling the area for the polytunnel. Meanwhile The Fairy would help with some decorative painting in the Longhouse, a bunkhouse which had just had a fresh coat of paint inside.

After we’d finished the levelling, I wandered down to the Longhouse to find The Fairy, Mandy and Kevin carefully filling in the swirls they’d pencilled on the ceiling and walls – especially carefully since normal house paint isn’t the best material for detail work! But it looked fantastic and even by association, it felt very satisfying to leave such a permanent mark on Cae Mabon.


From there, we helped cook dinner for ever growing number of people – throw some more vegetables into the sauce and put more pasta on! – before a quiet night chatting and reading in the studio barn. We had to be away early the next morning.

Cae Mabon is a hybrid. It isn’t a fully fledged community, it’s essentially Eric, Keith and various helpers running a centre. But for the period of the work party it does function like a permanent community and it was really interesting to see how that can happen. Understanding the dynamics of group living and working is an important part of permaculture.


Cae Mabon really flourishes due to the goodwill people feel towards Eric and the place he’s created. One of the volunteers is a permanent resident at the Centre for Alternative Technology and he’d cycled over to spend his Easter weekend helping Eric, and this wasn’t the first time. And he wasn’t the only skilled and talented person making a similar commitment. That speaks volumes for what people think of the place.

We were similarly charmed by Cae Mabon the place and Eric the person. I’ve no doubt we’ll be back at some point.