DURING the 1960s, there were few cosier corners in the world of television than BBC Light Entertainment. Middle-of-the-road singers such as Val Doonican, Petula Clark, Nana Mouskouri, Bobbie Gentry and so on would host formulaic shows where they performed in front of a robotic invited studio audience before joining in a final duet with their ‘special guest star’.
Lulu, a 20-year-old Scottish popstrel with a few hits to her name, was awarded her own BBC series for some reason and all went swimmingly until the beginning of 1969 when the guest act on Happening For Lulu was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Whoever decided that Jimi and Co belonged on this show was either an anarchist or an idiot.
There can be few more surreal TV moments than that 50 years ago when Hendrix, bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell launch into Voodoo Chile on early-evening, safe-at-home TV. The boys and girls among the audience look on nonplussed as the band deliver their full-blooded assault, Jimi playing the guitar with his teeth at the end of the song.
Cut to Lulu, sitting somewhat awkwardly in the front row. ‘That was really hot,’ she says. ‘Yeah. Well, ladies and gentlemen, in case you didn’t know, Jimi and the boys won in a big American magazine called Billboard the group of the year.’ (Cue blast of feedback from the stage). Trying to ignore the interruption, she goes on: ‘And they’re gonna sing for you now the song that absolutely made them in this country, and I’d love to hear them sing it: Hey Joe.’
Back to the stage, where 26-year-old Jimi and the boys begin a brief jam session that sounds nothing like Hey Joe. At last they move into the song, doubtless to the relief of Lulu, who is expecting to duet with Hendrix for the last couple of verses. He has other ideas. He delivers a brilliant solo then, just as she is about to shuffle up on stage and join in the vocals, the number grinds to a halt.
‘We’d like to stop playing this rubbish,’ says Jimi, ‘and dedicate a song to the Cream, regardless of what kind of group they may be in. We dedicate this to Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.’ At which point they begin an instrumental version of Sunshine of Your Love by Cream, who had recently broken up.
One can only imagine the consternation of Lulu and the production team as their show is hijacked. Hendrix is clearly loving the mayhem, exchanging mischievous grins with his two bandmates and, towards the end, announcing: ‘We’re being put off the air.’
Redding takes up the story in his memoir Are You Experienced? The Inside Story of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
‘This was fun for us, but producer Stanley Dorfman didn’t take it at all well as the minutes ticked by on his live show. Short of running on to the set to stop us or pulling the plug, there was nothing he could do. We played past the point where Lulu might have joined us, played through the time for talking at the end, played through Stanley tearing his hair, pointing to his watch and silently screaming at us. We played out the show. Afterwards, Dorfman refused to speak to us.’
Lulu managed to overcome the emotional scars of the Hendrix experience and a couple of months later was joint first in the Eurovision Song Contest with her slow blues classic Boom Bang-a-Bang. She is still going strong at the age of 70 and last year took a starring role in the West End musical 42nd Street. In a recent interview, she said: ‘It doesn’t matter where I go in the world, I will always get asked about that TV performance with Jimi. I’ll always be connected to him through that moment.’
Hendrix was reportedly banned from the BBC for his reprehensible conduct. He died in London, aged 27, in September the following year, RIP. To watch his historic assault on the Lulu show half a century ago, click here.