PINK FLOYD, David Bowie, The Who, Genesis and Guns N’Roses are just a handful of the acts who owe a debt of gratitude to Harold Pendleton, the former chartered accountant who went onto to shape the music business more than most people realise.
Pendleton died on 22 September at the age of 93, after a career that gave aspiring artistes a platform in the centre of London’s music industry, Soho, and created the country’s first true rock festival.
Originally from Southport, he moved to London in 1948 and was soon promoting around 200 jazz concerts a year. He started hosting shows in the basement of the Acacdemy Cinema in London’s Oxford Street 10 years later, calling his club the Marquee.
“The whole place was designed along the lines of a circus marquee,” Pendleton told LIVE UK sister publication Audience for a feature in 2002.
“There was a carousel horse over the box office and when you went in it had the red, white and green stripes of a marquee. It was a beautiful place.”
The Rolling Stones played one of their first gigs at the venue, but it wasn’t until the Marquee moved to nearby Wardour Street in 1964, that things stepped up a gear.
The opening night at the new location featured Long John Baldry with Rod Stewart and Elton John, the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton, and special guest Sonny Boy Williams. Its capacity was somewhat fluid and although once limited to 400 people, it frequently packed in more than 1,000 for popular events.
“I enjoyed every moment of it, but if I hadn’t done it then someone else would.”
Over the next decade, the club would present some of the earliest performances by Pink Floyd, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Yes and Genesis, and TV specials by the Stones and the Faces. It was also here that David Jones appeared as David Bowie for the first time.
But the Marquee wasn’t Pendleton’s only enterprise, he also founded the National Jazz Festival (NJF), which would go onto become Reading Festival (approx cap. 40,000) in 1961, with his wife Barbara looking after the administration. He also set-up production rental company Entec Sound + Light in 1968, to support both the club and festival.
“I dealt with Harold in the very early days of my career and he was a true music man,” says agent Barry Dickins, co-founder of ITB.
“Harold managed Chris Barber’s Jazz Band which tended to blend both jazz and blues, and I think that Chris helped Harold start both his jazz club and the festival.”
Once settled in the Berkshire town of Reading in 1971, NJF attracted many of the biggest acts of the day and set new standards for festivals, with flushing portable toilets, security wristbands and the introduction of twin stages, enabling crews to prepare an act on one stage while another was performing on the adjacent stage.
“It’s remarkable he didn’t get more recognition for what he did, but he wasn’t seeking it,” says Nigel Hutchings, who worked at the Marquee between 1975-86 and became its general manager.
“He was a very charming man, very sophisticated and well educated. He was savvy and not shy of trying something new. I don’t think he got the praise he deserved, but he was very modest.”
Despite the success of the Marquee, the style of music at the venue was changing and perhaps moving too far away from the jazz influence that first drew Pendleton there.
“The punk phase brought people into the club with green hair and safety pins all over the place and they’d be spitting at each other,” said Pendleton in 2002. “I’d think to myself, what the hell am I doing here?”
He wasn’t the only one. Jack Barrie, the Marquee’s second and perhaps best-known manager – he became MD in 1976 and was succeeded as manager by Uli Prutz – had doubts too.
“After listening to the Sex Pistols for two support slots at the Marquee, I said to Uli ‘if that’s where music’s going then I’m leaving’,” said Barrie at the time and this month praising Pendleton’s “great foresight” .
“Having known him for over 50 years he was a fun and very knowledgeable man and a good business associate for 25 of those years,” Barrie tells LIVE UK.
In 1987 Pendleton sold the Marquee to Rod Stewart’s former manager Billy Gaff, and five years later Vince Power’s Mean Fiddler Music Group took over control at Reading, having revived the event through a three-year booking agreement.
Pendleton did however continue his work at Entec, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018 and where his son Nick remains chairman.
“He played a central role in the development of the modern music industry, and not only as founder and owner of the Marquee and Reading Festival,” says Nick Pendleton.
“He provided a platform to emerging talent, as a promoter, manager, club owner, publisher, festival owner and innovator. His 60-year career helped shape popular music culture and uniquely bridge jazz, skiffle, blues, R&B, folk, rock, mod, psychedelia, progressive rock, heavy metal, punk, new wave and world music movements.”
Being the man he was, Pendleton would never have dreamed of lavishing such praise on his achievements.
“I just happened to be there at the time,” he said. “I enjoyed every moment of it, but if I hadn’t done it then someone else would.”