Remembering Harold Pendleton

British music industry legend Harold Pendleton, the founder of London’s iconic Marquee Club, Reading Festival and Entec Sound & Light, died Sept. 22 at the age of 93.  

Harold Pendleton
– Harold Pendleton
at Reading festival 1971

Pendleton’s career spanned 60 years, during which he helped shape popular music culture. He was born in the English town of Southport and first arrived in London in 1948. A jazz enthusiast, he played an important role in establishing the genre as a profession.

Throughout the 1950 he fought to bring jazz into the mainstream, becoming the president of the National Jazz Foundation, promoting a concert series at London’s Royal Festival Hall and managing the Chris Barber Jazz Band to worldwide success. He maintained a close friendship with Barber his entire life.

Together both men brought US blues icons such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to the UK for the first time. “By 1958, Harold had launched the Jazz News publication and was promoting around 200 concerts a year,” his former colleagues at Entec remember in an obituary.

Pendleton was in search of a regular London venue and found on in the basement of the Academy Cinema at 165 Oxford Street. The Marquee Club was born on April 19, 1958, with the first “Jazz at the Marquee” event.

The club had to relocate to Wardour Street in 1964, where it developed into a rock music staple. The Who, Pink Floyd, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Iron Maiden, R.E.M., Guns N’ Roses and David Bowie are among the acts who played their first career-defining concerts at the Marquee Club. The Sex Pistols were famously banned on their debut night at the club.

Later, a management company, an agency and the Marquee Studios were added to the business. The latter produced several No. 1 records, including The Moody Blues’ Go Now and Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Round.

Pendleton laid the foundations for Reading Festival in 1961, when he organized the first annual National Jazz Festival, Aug. 26-27, together with his wife Barbara. The festival moved to Windsor in 1966, where Cream made their official debut.

Ahead of the 1986 edition, Pat Chapman of Crab Nebula Lights offered his lighting services to Pendleton, who set Chapman up with a workshop in the basement of Marquee Club. This became the basis of Entertainment Technicians Ltd, now known as Entec.

In 1971, the festival moved once again, to Richfield Avenue site in Reading, where it eventually became known as Reading Rock. Pendleton’s former colleagues at Entec remember how “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.”

In 1982, Pendleton and his wife helped save Womad Festival, which faced ruin after its first edition. They agreed to promote festival founder Peter Gabriel and the remaining members of Genesis for a single show that raised the necessary funds.

Pendleton sold the Marquee Club in 1987. He handed over the reins of Reading Festival after the 1992 edition, which saw Nirvana’s last UK performance. For all of their achievements Harold and Barbara Pendleton were presented with TPi magazine Lifetime Contribution Award in 2003. Presenting the award were Paul Jones and Tom McGuinnes of Manfred Mann, the band who played the Marquee Club more times than any other act.

Pendleton is survived by his wife, Barbara, and his son Nick, the chairman of Entec Sound & Light. The Pendleton family welcomes donations to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity close to Harold’s heart.