Skip to content

At the Marquee

Was the Marquee Club really the world’s greatest music venue, as the subtitle to a new history of the club suggests? There might be arguments from Carnegie Hall, the Olympia music hall in Paris, Ronnie Scott’s, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Village Vanguard and a few others. But from its opening in 1958 to the closure in 2006 of the last club to bear that name, it had a fair claim to the title, given that its attractions over the years went from Dexter Gordon, Chris Barber and Dudley Moore through Alexis Korner and Long John Baldry, the Stones, the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Graham Bond, Little Stevie Wonder, the Who, David Jones/Bowie, Sonny Boy Williamson, Rod Stewart, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Fela Kuti, Genesis, Dr Feelgood and Dire Straits all the way through the Damned, the Sex Pistols (supporting Eddie and the Hot Rods), the Jam, the Police, Motorhead to REM and Guns N’ Roses and hundreds and hundreds of others, most of them still in their formative stages, including seemingly every British blues band and prog rock outfit assembled via the Musicians Wanted columns of the Melody Maker.

It began as a jazz club at 165 Oxford Street, in a basement ballroom beneath the Academy Cinema. In 1964, as R&B took over, it moved a couple of hundred yards south, to the ground floor of 90 Wardour Street, bang in the middle of Soho. That was its classic location, which it occupied until the summer of 1988, when it moved around the corner to 105-107 Charing Cross Road, which had been a cinema between 1911 and 1987. The Marquee was there for seven years, hosting Spiritualised, Aerosmith, Megadeath and others until it closed and the name was sold to people who briefly ran clubs exploiting its renown in Leicester Square and Upper St Martin’s Lane until the final closure in 2006.

Among many other things, the new history of the Marquee, by Robert Sellars with Nick Pendleton, told me that a contributory factor to the move out of Wardour Street was the crumbling detected in the façade of the building, an effect of the loud music being played within. One night that may have done more than most to shake the walls was 6 October 1970, the second night of a 36-date tour of Britain by Tony Williams’s Lifetime, recently expanded to a quartet with Jack Bruce joining Larry Young and John McLaughlin. If forced to nominate the greatest gig I’ve ever attended, that would probably be the one. For some of the many musicians who were present, it was a life-changing experience.

The club’s story is well told, with plenty of detail and a cast of characters that changes constantly as the decades whizz by. Not just the musicians but the people who ran the place, starting with Harold Pendleton (Nick’s father), a jazz-mad accountant who became president of the National Jazz Federation, and his wife Barbara, and including the lavishly toupéed manager John C. Gee and his assistant Jack Barrie, along with characters such as Tony Stratton-Smith, the founder of Charisma Records, whose acts often started their careers there. And not just the club itself but ancillary premises like The Ship, the pub a few yards up Wardour Street, where members of the audience could have a beer before going down to the non-licensed Marquee, or La Chasse, the first-floor drinking club where musicians and other music business types did likewise. If you were there during any of the club’s many eras, and even if you weren’t but wish you had been, the book will provide much enjoyment.

* Marquee: The Story of the World’s Greatest Music Venue is published by Paradise Road (320pp, £22). The photograph of the audience waiting outside 90 Wardour Street is from the book and is uncredited.

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. nick grant #

    Saw Lifetime when they got to Birmingh

    March 3, 2023
  2. Chris Charlesworth #

    At last! I lost count of the number of times I was approached at Omnibus by writers with a proposal for a book about The Marquee. I usually sent them away with a request for a sample chapter or two before I’d commission them. Either I never received anything back or their sample was insufferably bland, little more than a listing of acts who’d played there. I hope there’s a first-hand account of the night Keith Richards pulled down a Marquee sign above the stage while the Stones were being filmed for a German TV special. When Harold Pendleton objected Keith whacked him over the head with his guitar. I was there and saw it all. I’ll order this today.

    March 3, 2023
    • Nick Pendleton #

      Hi Chris, yes we cover that moment when Keith attacked my dad with his guitar. Hope you like the book. Would welcome any feedback. Nick Pendleton

      March 3, 2023
  3. Martin Aubrey #

    Oxford St.,Charring Cross Rd.,not a clue, never went to either but Wardour Street now that was at times bloody amazing, the vibe; stratospheric at times but greatest in the world, I honestly don’t know but my life was enhanced by it being there and The Flamingo before it

    March 3, 2023
  4. Roger Winfield #

    Glad you gave prominence to Dexter Gordon. I used to go to the regular John (then Johnny) Dankworth Sunday night gig at the Marquee in the ’60s chiefly because a frequent guest was the great Dexter Gordon. A towering presence both as a player and a man. Enjoyed your piece.

    March 3, 2023
  5. Tony Riley #

    The so-called changing rooms at Wardour Street are worth a mention!

    March 3, 2023
  6. Undoubtedly it will be mentioned in the book, but my abiding memory of many visits to the Wardour Street premises in the mid-late 1960’s was never to stand still for too long or your shoes would stick to the floor! In 1966-67 I was a devotee of Episode Six (best-known for including the embryonic Ian Gillan and Roger Glover) who enjoyed regular support act spots there.


    March 3, 2023
  7. Dennis Muirhead #

    Lifetime was the greatest gig I ever attended. It was at Fairfield Hall, Croydon. I will never forget it, especially Jack Bruce on bass.

    March 3, 2023
    • JP #

      Jack said the band with Tony Williams was his all time fave.

      March 4, 2023
  8. Chris Morris #

    When talking about great music venues, let’s not forget the 100 Club in Oxford Street. Next year will be its 60th anniversary under its present name but it had existed for 20 years as a jazz club from the mid 1940s under various names. Over the decades it hosted gigs by the greats of many musical genres. Blues giants like B.B.King and Muddy Waters played there as did major 60s groups such as the Who and Rolling Stones. Soul and reggae were well represented as wad early rock’n’roll performed by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. My own favourite show was in about 2004 when Jerry Lee Lewis performing in a smaller more intimate setting than usual ran through an amazing selection of rock’n’roll, blues and country numbers in front of a dedicated and rowdy crowd of fans.

    March 3, 2023
  9. Bill Clifford #

    Apart from Ronnie’s in Gerrard Street, the Marquee was my usual haunt. Saturday was Joe Harriet in residence, which introduced me to a whole new world of live jazz. Sunday was often a big band night and I remember seeing Roland Kirk playing with one, can’t remember who.
    Tuesday residency was if I remember correctly, the Who, and so on it went.
    A place for a young lads education, music downstairs and the wonderful Academy cinema upstairs showing 1st run world cinema.

    March 3, 2023
    • Bill Clifford #

      Quite a few of the BBC ‘s Jazz625 shows were recorded at the Oxford st one, although the entrance was in Poland St.

      March 3, 2023
  10. Gareth Jones #

    I moved to London for university in 1967 and immediately started going to The Marquee on Fridays (‘blues night’). I was too late for Hendrix, Cream, Steam Packet etc, but did see, on many occasions, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Colosseum, Chicken Shack, Aynsley Dunbar, Free, Savoy Brown and others for whom a night at The Marquee was the pinnacle of their career. I liked Jethro Tull until Mick Abrahams left after their first album. There were other bands heading in the prog direction – Yes, The Nice, Family. I remember Taste who had just arrived from Ireland; John Gee allowed them to play a few numbers in the interval. I also went to the NJB Festivals where I could see the bigger names. For me, The Marquee remains the best music venue, and admission (on Fridays) was 5 shillings (25p).

    March 3, 2023
  11. David McBride #

    Thanks for reviving the memory of my only visit to the Marquee. Living in the north opportunity to visit was limited but a work course in London gave me the chance to see Tony Williams Lifetime. Fabulous evening.

    March 3, 2023
  12. Paul Toms #

    Finished reading this book yesterday took me back to those great days back in the mid 60’s to early 70’s
    First group I saw was the Yardbirds {2} Spencer Davi’s Group {3} The Who,Jimi Hendrix,Cream,Steam Packet,The Action {7}The Move {4}Small Faces,John Mayall {2]Terry Reid {3}
    One of the best gigs was Paul Butterfield blues Band playing the whole of East West with Bloomfield & Bishop on dual guitar
    One group omitted from the book is Three Dog Night who played the Marquee on 16th June ‘69

    March 3, 2023
  13. I get the feeling that Gareth who has commented a little earlier and I shared many of the same nights at Wardour Street. I did however see Cream, Steampacket as well as Muddy Waters, Canned Heat, Pink Floyd and too many others to mention and if you didn’t come out with ringing ears and the feeling of being in a sauna it hadn’t been a good night. A rather different night though in July 1966 when those of us who lucky enough saw Simon and Garfunkel in what was probably their last small show in London. I was also there on a Tuesday night when Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac played their second show. I had been at Windsor on the previous Sunday night for their debut and when they said they were at the Marquee the next week my mate and I said we will go that then! That book will be on my bookshelf.

    March 3, 2023
  14. You missed Muddy Waters which was the only gig I ever saw at the venue being from the NorthWest. Obviously I preferred Nelson Imperial where I saw Bo Diddley in 1965 …..
    Thanks Richard top stuff as usual!

    March 3, 2023
  15. Maurizio Comandini #

    Hi Richard, great story, thank you for sharing these gems with us. I’m very very very interested in TWL gig at the Marquee, on October 6th, 1970. I would like to know if you covered that gig for Melody Maker or for one of the other music weekly magazines. Or maybe you talked about that in one of your books. A million of thanks.

    March 3, 2023
  16. Colin Harper #

    I’m rummaging through 60s Melody Makers at the moment and was surprised to find the Marquee had a regular folk night for much of 1967, run by impresario Roy Guest (whose folk agency was so canny in booking up key dates in major venues’ future calendars that Epstein’s NEMS had to buy it). The musical host for those nights was often Alex Campbell. Jansch & Renbourn headlined once, prior to Guest’s regular night, as a duo in 1966. If I had a time machine, though, I’d go back to November 1966 and see, at the Marquee, one of the very few performances by Duffy’s Nucleus – Duffy Power, John McLaughlin, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. One of their handful of other performance was at a brief franchising of the Marquee in Bognor (the Marquee by the sea). Is that episode mentioned in the book?

    March 4, 2023
  17. Graham Jones #

    I was also at the Lifetime gig. At the the time I was knocked out by what I thought was tomorrow’s music today. It was at least an embryo. I was already a fan of John McLaughlin so I was primed to like the band. Tony Williams death took a real musical soul. Larry Young was a one off on the organ. His playing was not easily categorised. Could you imagine if the band was extant what music they would have made.

    March 4, 2023
  18. Keith Knight #

    In my only visit to the Wardour St Marquee, I saw The Human League in June 1979. It was so hot, I had to step outside or risk fainting. Went to the Charing Cross Road version a few times, most memorably for a Pere Ubu gig at which David Thomas offered audience members a quid if they could come up with an Ubi song the band couldn’t play.

    March 5, 2023
  19. Hi Richard, hope you are well. I noticed your mention of the Tony Williams Lifetime show at the Marquee Club. I was at that show and it is true that it was truly magnificent. However, my preferred line up was the original trio without Jack (who played with the band I put together for the Esther Phillips show at The Canteen). They performed a show at The Hampstead Country Club on that tour and Jack’s bass amp broke down halfway through the gig. The band, now a trio again, absolutely took off like a rocket ship. This is not a put down of Jack who IMHO was not only a great bass player but a great blues singer but the freedom of a bass less organ trio was truly evident that night. BTW I am still playing B3 and have a bass less quartet in Nashville. You need to come visit Richard!

    March 22, 2023
    • Tim — I know what you mean about Lifetime as a three-piece. That’s how I saw them first at Ungano’s in NYC a few months before the Marquee gig. They were sensational, although not appreciated by the entire audience (which included a definitely appreciative Miles Davis). But the atmosphere at the Marquee was so thrilling — the audience so expectant and then awestruck — that it was a better gig. A visit to Nashville — great idea!

      March 22, 2023
      • They were two different bands…with Jack and without Jack. Both were extraordinary and breaking new musical ground…groundbreaking in fact! Tony Williams getting the ride going ahead of the time but the kit staying in time. Cindy Blackman did it when I played with her. Feels like its speeding up but its not…..magic!

        March 23, 2023

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 8 March 2023 – London Jazz News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: