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Reading, Marquee Club founder Harold Pendleton passes

Legendary British live music business figure Harold Pendleton has passed away aged 93.

The news was announced today by production company Entec Sound & Light, which Pendleton set up with his wife, Barbara, and Pat Chapman in 1968.

Pendleton – a music journalist, concert promoter, venue owner and festival organiser best known as the founder of London’s Marquee Club and Reading Festival – died on 22 September after a short illness, the company says.

The following tribute to Pendleton, who is survived by Barbara and his son Nick, now chairman of Entec Sound & Light, was shared with IQ by Entec. His family welcomes donations to Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity “close to Harold’s heart”.

Harold and Barbara Pendleton


Born in Southport, Lancashire, on 17 June 1924, chartered accountant Harold’s love of jazz lit the fuse of one of the world’s most influential music business empires, giving birth to Soho’s iconic Marquee Club and Studios, Reading Festival – the world’s longest running rock music festival – and Entec Sound & Light.

Throughout his 60-year career, Harold fought to establish platforms for showcasing new talent and helped shape popular music culture. He was at the centre of a unique period in music history, both prompting and witnessing the impacts of the jazz, rock and punk revolutions in the UK and beyond.

Arriving in London in 1948, Harold began a lifelong friendship with renowned jazz musician Chris Barber and was instrumental in establishing the genre as a profession. “Up until then, the jazz world was populated by enthusiastic amateurs with day jobs,” he once said. “There wasn’t any recognisable business foundation but there was potential for the better musicians to forge a genuine career out of their talent.”

Throughout the 1950s, he successfully fought cliques and prejudice to bring jazz music into the mainstream. His drive and organising talent saw him become president of the National Jazz Federation (which he shortened to NJF), manage the Chris Barber Jazz Band to worldwide success and promote a legendary series of concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. Working in partnership with Barber, he also brought American blues greats including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to the UK for the first time. Six years earlier, Harold’s National Jazz Centre was also the first club to host a skiffle night – the musical craze triggered by ‘Rock Island Line’, a recording organised by Harold, and featuring Barber and his banjo player, Lonnie Donegan. Blues and skiffle would go on to inspire the next musical revolution.

“Up until then, the jazz world was populated by enthusiastic amateurs with day jobs”

By 1958, Harold had launched the Jazz News publication and was promoting around 200 concerts a year. Looking for a new regular London venue, Harold seized the opportunity to host jazz nights in the basement of the Academy Cinema at 165 Oxford Street. The Marquee Club, the world’s most famous music venue, as voted by Q magazine, was born here on 19 April 1958 with the first Jazz at the Marquee event.

It was Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated residency in 1962 that fuelled the R&B revolution: in the audience was a young Eric Clapton, who was inspired the next day to ask his grandparents to buy him an electric guitar. The Rolling Stones, a young outfit named after a Muddy Waters record, debuted shortly afterwards.

The Marquee’s status amongst rock audiences, however, owes much to its relocation in March 1964 to Wardour Street, where The Yardbirds recorded their debut album on the opening night and The Who began their career-defining Tuesday night Maximum R&B residency. Over the following ten years, the club would host era-defining events including some of the earliest performances by Pink Floyd, Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin and Yes, and TV specials by the Stones and Faces. It was also here that David Jones appeared as David Bowie for the first time and, in 1973, gave his final Ziggy Stardust performance.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the Marquee continued to adapt and reflect in-vogue styles, and also host a number of special appearances and famous ‘secret’ gigs. Punk, prog rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movements all adopted the club as their spiritual home. The Sex Pistols were famously banned on their Marquee debut, while Marillion and Iron Maiden’s shows launched the bands into the mainstream. REM, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses all played their first UK/European gigs at the club. In 1985, Wham! chose the Marquee as the location for their ‘I’m Your Man’ pop video.

At the rear and above the club, the business expanded with the addition of an artist management company, an agency and Marquee Studios, where no1  hits, from The Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now’ to Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’, were recorded.

The club would host era-defining events including some of the earliest performances by Pink Floyd, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Yes

Open-air innovation
As the music scene expanded in the late fifties, Harold hit upon the idea of bringing touring bands together in a festival environment. He gained his first experience of outdoor events in 1956 when Lord Edward Montegu invited him to organise the UK’s first open-air jazz festival at his Beaulieu, Hampshire, estate. Fired up by its success, Harold persuaded the owners of the Richmond Athletic Association to allow him to hold the UK’s first annual National Jazz Festival (NJF) on its grounds on 26–27 August 1961, with his new wife Barbara looking after the administration.

Using the Marquee Club as a barometer for rising talent, the festival played a crucial role in bringing jazz, blues, R&B and rock music to wider audiences, as well as introducing festival culture to the masses. After five successful years, the festival moved to Windsor where, in 1966, Cream made their official debut.

Ahead of the 1968 festival, Pat Chapman, who traded under the name of Crab Nebula Lights, approached Harold with the suggestion of using his lighting services to lend a new, exciting edge to the festival stage. Harold set Chapman up with a workshop in the Marquee Club’s basement that became the basis of a new business: Entertainment Technicians Ltd, later abbreviated as Entec.

The festival eventually settled at the Richfield Avenue site in Reading in 1971, when the line-up included Lindisfarne, Wishbone Ash, Rory Gallagher and a relatively new act called Genesis. Soon, the National Jazz, Blues & Rock Festival became known as Reading Rock.

As well as attracting the world’s biggest acts, Reading was a hub of invention

As well as attracting the world’s biggest acts, Reading was a hub of invention. Behind the scenes, Harold and his team were creating new standards such as backstage showers, flushing portable toilets, trackway and security wristbands that were inspired by the NHS hospital patient ID system. Another innovation was the introduction in 1972 of twin stages, a shrewd move enabling the crew to prepare an act on one stage while the other stage was active. Reading was also the first festival to introduce video screens and experiment with lasers.

This, however, was not the only festival to be blessed with the Pendleton touch. When The Police headlined the NJF/Marquee Group’s first Rock At The Bowl concert at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1980, it was the site’s first major foray into live summer events. In 1982, when Peter Gabriel and the company behind WOMAD faced ruin from the high costs of its first festival, Harold and Barbara agreed to promote him and the remaining members of Genesis for a single show that rescued the enterprise, making it possible for further WOMAD events to take place. He also found the WOMAD festivals a home in Reading where they would stay for 18 years.

In 1987, Harold sold the Marquee Club. Five years later, the Mean Fiddler Group took over sole control at Reading, but not before Harold made history with a final festival featuring Nirvana’s legendary 1992 performance – the band’s last in the UK.

Harold’s achievements were celebrated in 2003 when he and Barbara were presented with TPi magazine’s Lifetime Contribution Award by Paul Jones and Tom McGuinness, whose band, Manfred Mann, played the Marquee Club more times than any other act.


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