Pioneering Promoter Harold Pendleton Dead at 93
Harold Pendleton, a longtime fixture in the British music industry whose long and illustrious career included founding the Reading Festival and London’s Marquee Club, has died at the age of 93.
NME brings word of Pendleton’s death, which reportedly occurred Sept. 22 after what’s described as a “short illness.” He is survived by his wife Barbara and son Nick, who’ve asked that anyone wishing to make donations in his memory should offer them to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Pendleton’s influence on British pop culture started when he took over what were then called “jazz nights” at the Marquee Ballroom in 1958 — a position that afforded him access to hear, and offer exposure to, a generation of young bands, some of whom would go on to worldwide stardom. One such act was the Rolling Stones, who crossed paths with Pendleton when they were starting out and searching for their first professional gig — and he just happened to have a stage that had been vacated by a last-minute cancellation.
Although he reportedly “loathed” their music, Pendleton knew a live draw when he saw it and invited the band back, paving the way for the period in which they’d serve as a support act for Cyril Davies’ R&B All-Stars. Although they were ultimately fired by Davies, Pendleton later recalled liking them as performers as well as people, shrugging off Davies’ argument that he could find a better blues band.
The Stones turned out to be among the earliest of many artists to get a leg up from Pendleton, who went on to found the National Jazz Festival in 1961 — a landmark event that went on to morph into the Reading Festival. In this capacity, Pendleton was not only responsible for providing a forum for hundreds of musicians, but also credited with a slew of live music innovations, including everything from aesthetic advancements like live video projections and multiple stage setups to added sanitation and comfort through flushing toilets and backstage showers.
Pendleton remained with the Reading Festival through 1991 and also went on to found Entec Sound & Light, another company focused on live entertainment whose production services were retained by a number of rock’s most successful artists. “Throughout his 60-year career, Harold fought to establish platforms for showcasing new talent and helped shape popular music culture,” reads an obituary posted at the company’s website. “He was at the center of a unique period in music history, both prompting and witnessing the impacts of the jazz, rock and punk revolutions in the U.K. and beyond.”
“Having worked together on Reading Festival in the early days, I can truly say that Harold had a lasting impact on our much-loved event, and Reading Festival would not be what it is today without his original vision,” said current Reading organizer Melvin Benn. “His passing is a great loss to us all.”
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