Harold Pendleton, Reading Festival & Marquee Club Founder, Dies at 93

Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock
Barbara and Harold Pendleton at Reading Museum in Sept. 2005.

The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones first made their names in the 1960s at the legendary London venue.

Harold Pendleton, the founder of Reading Festival and London’s legendary Marquee Club -- where The Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones first made their names in the 1960s -- has died at the age of 93, after a short illness.

Born in Southport, England, in 1924, Pendleton trained as a chartered accountant before moving to London in the late 1940s. His passion for jazz music saw him quit his day job and join the National Jazz Federation as secretary, helping regulate the sector and bring jazz and blues into the mainstream.

However, it was Pendleton’s decision to take over and transform the Marquee Ballroom from a cinema basement into a forward-looking jazz club that would have his most profound impact on popular culture.

Opened in April 1958, the venue -- which relocated to nearby Wardour Street in 1964 -- hosted a number of era-defining R&B and rock artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including the first-ever gig by The Rolling Stones in July 1962. Pink Floyd, Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, Rod Stewart and Yes also performed some of their earliest shows at the club, while The Yardbirds tapped the venue as the recording site for their 1964 U.K. debut album, Five Live Yardbirds.

The venue holds an equally important place in the history of The Who, who began their career-making Maximum R&B residency there in December 1964, as well as David Bowie, who gave his final performance as Ziggy Stardust at the Marquee in 1973.

Other acts who played the notoriously cramped and sweaty venue (which closed in 1995, having been sold by Pendleton several years previously) include Queen, Genesis, The Jam, The Sex Pistols, The Police, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Motörhead, Dire Straits, The Clash, R.E.M., Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, among many others.

As well as giving a leg up to scores of soon-to-be-famous artists, Pendleton’s legacy continues in the form of Reading Festival. Inspired by the Newport Jazz Festival, he first launched Reading as the National Jazz Festival in 1961 and remained involved until 1992, when Nirvana headlined what would be their last ever U.K. gig.

“Throughout his 60-year career, Harold created platforms to showcase emerging talent, as a promoter, manager, club owner, publisher, festival owner and innovator,” reads an obituary published on Entec Sound & Light -- the Northolt, Middlesex-based production services company that the versatile entrepreneur founded in 1968.

“He helped to shape popular music culture and uniquely bridged jazz, skiffle, blues, R&B, folk, rock, psychedelia, progressive rock, heavy metal, punk, new wave and world music movements,” continues the statement, which says Pendleton’s love of jazz “lit the fuse of one of the world’s most influential music business empires.”

Harold Pendleton, who died on Sept. 22, is survived by his wife Barbara and son Nick. They ask that donations are made to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity that was close to Harold’s heart.


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