Saturday, 23 December 2006
Recording of Welsh National Anthem may be lost Jimi Hendrix masterpiece
When record producer Dave Chapman acquired the old Crouch Hill recording studios in London’s Stroud Green in 1994, he came across an old tea chest full of eight-track analogue tapes dating from the 1960s and 70s.
For want of a machine old enough to play the tapes, the tea chest sat in Chapman’s attic until 1998 when he bought an old Ampex tape recorder at an auction of professional recording equipment. He began listening to the tapes whenever he had time and, over several years, he catalogued the contents. As you might expect, all of the recordings turned out to be unremarkable demo tapes by largely unknown bands.
Then, one evening in May 2004, finally nearing the bottom of the chest, Chapman was listening to a track by a band called the New Flames. The only clues to the identity of the work were the name of the band and the date of the recording, 10th September 1970, which were scrawled on the tin.
Having heard enough, Chapman was going to turn the recorder off but left the tape running while he went to the toilet. Since he was the only one in the building at the time, he left the control room door open. As the New Flames tune ended, he discovered that a wild and emotional arrangement of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh National anthem, played on a guitar, had been tacked onto the end of the tape. Although Chapman was from Essex, the playing caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stand up, because it sounded like Jimi Hendrix.
In the Stapleton Hall Tavern, the pub next door to the studio, Chapman got talking to a local, Phil Goddard, a regular at the Stapleton since the 1960s. Goddard told him that the New Flames bass player, Vivian (Viv) Williams, originally from Crickhowell in south Wales, had lived for a while in a flat around the corner.
Chapman told Goddard about the tape and Goddard reckoned it was entirely possible that the recording was of Hendrix, since Williams had known Hendrix well. Williams had apparently auditioned for The Band of Gypsies, but didn’t get the gig.
Goddard went on to tell Chapman that one night shortly before Hendrix died, Williams had brought the American guitarist into the pub. The landlord provided a lock-in for his celebrity visitor and they drank into the early hours with a man fitting the description of Chas Chandler, Hendrix’s manager.
Hendrix played at a festival in Germany on 6th September and returned to London immediately afterwards. He jammed with Eric Burdon and War at Ronnie Scott’s on 16th September and was almost certainly in London when the New Flames recorded their track on 10th September. He died in his sleep at the Samarqand Hotel in London on 18th September 1970. He was 27 years old.
Dave Chapman died of a heart attack, aged 43, while skiing in Switzerland in February 2005, before he was able to find out more about the recording. He had, however, preserved it digitally and had made a copy for a Welsh friend he knew from the music industry, me.
Dave’s widow, Louise, very kindly gave me the track on the basis that, of his closest friends, I was the one who really appreciated it. I’ve embedded it in The Red Dragonhood website because the recording very much supports the free spirit of Wales and Welshness our brand embodies. Jimi was an American, of course, but this recording of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau is loaded with an emotion that only Welsh people will fully understand. He must have been able to appreciate the passion and beauty inherent in the tune.
If Hendrix really did make the recording, it would be a like finding a Turner sketch of Cardiff in the attic. The date would establish it as Jimi’s last ever recording. On the other hand, it might have been played by one of the New Flames to parody Hendrix. It certainly sounds like Hendrix.
I’ve been unable to discover anything more because every trail has gone cold. Jimi is dead, obviously. Chas Chandler died in 1996. Mike Ward, the owner of Crouch Hill Studios at the time the recording was made, died in 1998. Phil Goddard and Dave Chapman both died last year. My only chance is to find Viv Williams and I’m hoping someone in Wales might know his whereabouts. If you know where we can get in touch with him please let us know.
Click here to hear the ‘Lost Hendrix’ Welsh National Anthem Turn your speakers up LOUD!