Harold Pendleton, the founder of the legendary Marquee Club and the Reading Festival, has passed away at the age of 93 after a short illness.
By Mary Karmelek
The path to great rock ‘n’ roll venues can take strange and unexpected turns. Look at CBGB’s, which started out as a biker bar but, after Hilly Kristal transformed it in 1973, became the birthplace of American punk music.
The same holds true of the Marquee Club in London, thanks to Harold Pendleton. A lifelong jazz fanatic, Pendleton always dreamed of starting his own club. Though trained as an accountant, he connected with renowned jazz musician Chris Barber in 1948 and, soon after, quit his day job to become the Secretary of the National Jazz Federation. There, he worked to establish jazz as a profession and widen the reach of the music to the mainstream.
Pendleton saw an opportunity to turn the struggling Marquee Ballroom in the basement of Oxford Street’s Academy Cinema into a music venue. Renamed the Marquee Club, the venue opened in 1958 and featured jazz, skiffle, and R&B acts. Forced to move in 1964, the club reopened at 90 Wardour Street. It was here that Pendleton began including rock bands into the line-up. Many of the most legendary music acts of the twentieth century would get their start at the Marquee Club, including the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Yes, The Police, Def Leppard, and The Clash.
In 1961 Pendleton, inspired by the Newport Jazz Festival, founded the National Jazz Festival, which would be renamed the Reading Festival in 1971 when it moved to its permanent home. What began as an all-jazz line up would turn into one of the seminal rock festivals of all time, and was the first to headline punk and new wave with bands like The Jam, The Stranglers, and The Ramones playing in the late 1970s. The Reading Festival is the currently the longest-running rock music festival in the world.
Pendleton impacted the careers of numerous bands during his 60 years in the music business, seeing many beginnings and ends. At the Marquee Club, the Rolling Stones played their first live show together in 1962, the Yardbirds recorded their debut album live in 1964, and in 1973 David Bowie performed his final show as Ziggy Stardust. Cream played their debut live show at the National Jazz Festival in 1966 and twenty-six years later, Nirvana played what would be their final UK gig.
A legend in the industry, Pendleton leaves behind a legacy that spans decades and genres. His knack for promoting emerging talent and ability to forge connections between jazz, folk, rhythm and blues, rock, punk, and new wave helped the music scene of the 1960s and 70s to flourish, cementing his place among the biggest influencers in the history of rock.