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Harold Pendleton’s immeasurable legacy to Soho music scene

Rolling Stones, Hendrix and Bowie all graced his stage

01 December, 2017 — By The Xtra Diary

Harold Pendleton outside the Marquee Club in Wardour Street

“CONVERSATIONS held in record stores…” sounds like it could be the opening lines to a pitch for a new late-night radio drama, something similar to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity crossed with TV comedy Detectorists, perhaps.

And it was one such conversation, held between two strangers as they sifted through a pile of trad jazz LPs at a Soho record shop in 1948, that would flower into a lifelong friendship and have unquantifiable ripples across UK music industry and indeed the world.

Harold Pendleton, a sweet shop owner’s son from Lancashire, had moved to London to study accountancy. But as well as number crunching, Harold, who died in September aged 93, had been bitten by the trad jazz bug and was looking for something nice to put on his record player. The man next to him was budding trombonist Chris Barber, and Harold innocently asked him if he could point out a good place to catch some sounds.

Pendleton would later become Barber’s manager, overseeing his band when they sold more than a million copies of the Sidney Bechet cover Petite Fleur in 1959.

He also recorded Lonnie Donegan – Barber’s banjo player – doing the Leadbelly classic Rock Island Line, thus ushering in the skiffle era.

But, as importantly, he set up the Marquee Club in Wardour Street, established the Reading Festival and gave countless household names the performance space they needed to get started.

Its first venue was in Oxford Street, beneath the old Academy Cinema. In 1964 Pendleton took the club deeper into Soho and it was his vision that meant he knew it should not just be for jazz fans, like himself, but provide a performance space for the blues and rock and roll that was the lingua franca for teen music lovers of the period.

The Marquee stage could boast it was tramped across by The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. Later, bands such as Metallica, REM and Guns N’ Roses played there too – all aware that to do so was a way of saying: The Marquee wants us, so we truly have made it.

In 1958 Pendleton ran the UK’s first outdoor jazz festival at Beaulieu, Hampshire.

This event paved the way for the current summer festival industry.

He built a recording studio at the Marquee, a space where countless hits were recorded. He was a good friend to musicians, showed kindness to people playing all sorts of genres, promoting forms of music he indeed personally cared little for.

His legacy on global, British and, of course, Soho’s music scenes is pretty much immeasurable.

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