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A Look at the Life and Career of Marquee Club Founder Harold Pendleton

Harold Pendleton, the founder of London’s iconic Marquee Club and the Reading Festival, passed away at the age of 93 on 22nd September. The death was first reported by NME on 16th October. The news was not entirely unexpected, as Pendleton was ill, but it is tragic nonetheless: it serves as a sad reminder of how important it is to help preserve the legacy of a time in music history that is bound to have less and less first-hand witnesses in years to come.

Pendleton was born in Southport, North West England in 1924. He moved to London in 1948 as an accountant. At the time, his main musical interest was traditional jazz. While frequenting London’s clubs, he became friends with Chris Barber, musician and founder of the National Jazz Federation. Pendleton became a secretary at the Federation and started helping organize concerts featuring British jazz musicians.

They were promoting hundreds of events a year, but did not have their own regular venue. The Marquee Ballroom in Oxford Street had been hosting jazz nights for some time, which Pendleton took over. As a result, the concert schedule became more frequent, and they began inviting American musicians to perform on occasion. They also gradually expanded the range of genres: they added blues acts to the programme, notably having Muddy Waters on.

Pendleton started managing the Ballroom in 1958, rebranding it the Marquee Bar and Cub. The new venue officially opened on 19th April 1958 and became home to regular rhythm and blues nights from 1962 onwards. Among other groups, they hosted the Rolling Stones; although Pendleton was not a fan of their music, he could tell that they had potential, and therefore often invited them back. As rock music was getting popular, the club became one of the most famous music venues in the world.

Marquee Club in the 60s (Credit: BBC)

The Marquee moved to its legendary location at 90 Wardour Street in Soho in 1964, where it saw performances by the likes of the Who, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, the Faces, Status Quo and Queen. It eventually closed down in 1996 after moving locations several times, followed by a handful of so far failed attempts to resurrect it.

Pendleton was also involved in founding the National Jazz Festival, the first of which was held in 1961 at London’s Richmond Athletic Ground. Similarly to the Marquee, the annual event also began introducing blues and rock bands. After being organized at several different locations, the festival found a permanent home in Reading in 1971, and was subsequently renamed Reading Festival. Pendleton remained part of the team until 1991. He also established Entec Sound & Light, a live entertainment production company that has worked with some of the world’s most famous artists.

Harold Pendleton at Reading Festival in 1980

First and foremost, Pendleton is noted for having provided a platform for countless musicians and thus contributing to their rise to mainstream fame. But his achievements go beyond being a successful concert promoter: he is also credited with technical and visual innovations in live music, such as video projections and multiple stage setups. He and his team also introduced new standards in the festival industry, like backstage showers, flushing portable toilets and security wristbands.

He is survived by his wife Barbara. They have one son, Nick. The family has requested that those wishing to make a donation in his memory should support the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

4 comments on “A Look at the Life and Career of Marquee Club Founder Harold Pendleton

  1. Kudos to a pioneer of live music. The Marquee was surely the most famous live venue ever and inspired countless musicians like yours truly who first went there as a teenager starting in ’66 to see people like Davy Jones (later Bowie), Timebox and Patto and ended up playing there myself in various pop, rock and punk bands. I cannot count the times my mind was blown by the shows I saw there. RIP, Mr HP!

    • Thank you for sharing your memories. I’m sure he will be remembered for many generations to come.

  2. so many bands passed through there, henry scott irvine has so much visual archive on the marquee

    • That’s actually a good idea for a separate article. Thank you for the tip!

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