The Oxford St. days (1958-1964)
The Marquee club opened it's doors for the first time on April 19th 1958 at 165 Oxford Street with a programme that included Kenny Baker and Michael Garrick Quartet. During the mid 50's, London's Soho had seen the emergence of several music clubs devoted to jazz and blues sounds that were taking over the city, such as the 100 Club in Oxford St., the Flamingo in Wardour St., and Ronnie Scott's in Gerrard St.
TThe new music scene was not at all a new event in London, but the consequence of three decades of jazz music in venues like the Trocadero Cinema, the Hippodrome, the London Palladium, and the Cafe de Paris. Only the Marquee club would survive through the following generations from all of these temples of modern music, to host the birth of all the new music styles, from progressive rock to new wave.
The new born Marquee club was located at the basement of the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street, the most commercial shopping area of the city. The Academy Cinema was owned by the film director and producer George Hoellering, who was also founding member of the Contemporary Films distribution company dedicated to political and art house films. The Academy Cinema's premises included the Pavillion, a restaurant, and a the Marquee ballroom in the basement which hosted the first Marquee club. Before the opening the club in April 1958, the ballroom had already hosted dance orchestras and big bands during the early 50's without much success.
By the end of 1957 the ballroom had hosted a series of Saturday and Sunday jazz nights featuring the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, who was running the club along with his manager Peter Burman. The first "Jazz at The Marquee" night was opened on January 4th 1958, featuring the bands of saxophonist Kenny Graham and trumpeter Kenny Baker.
The origins of the Marquee club's name are connected to it's decoration from the days of the ballroom hall, having been devised by Angus McBean in the shape of a circus masquerade in red and white stripes. This distinctive look would remain for many years even in the later club at Wardour Street. Angus McBean, who was at the time a designer for theatre sets, he was later better known for his work as a portrait photographer. He photographed numerous movie stars during the 30's and his famous picture of The Beatles standing in the balcony of EMI's offices was published in the debut album of the band "Please, Please me" (1963).
Behind the existence of The Marquee club was the unique figure of the club owner and creator, Harold Pendleton. Pendleton was a young accountant whom had arrived from Mersyside to London in 1948. His passion for jazz music lead him to become a regular in the London jazz circuit during the early 50's where he eventually started a friendship with the jazz trombonist Chris Barber and finally became his manager. This way Pendleton quit his accountant job to become the secretary of the National Federation of Jazz Organisations of Great Britain, which was formed by a comittee of musicians, critics, journalists and club proprietors who were trying to regulate the quality of the jazz scene in the city.
Harold Pendleton entered the scene infusing a breath of fresh air and new ideas. First of all, and with a clear marketing projection, he shortened the name of the federation to NJF, National Jazz Federation. The new NJF, which included Chris Barber as a co-director, became the most important driving force in the UK during the jazz scene of the 50's and 60's, which usually organized quality jazz events and supported a new generation of jazz artists with fresh ideas.
In 1958, Harold Pendleton brought over the legendary blues man Muddy Waters from the USA to play with Chris Barber and legend has it that this was the first time that an audience ever saw an electric guitar in a London club.
By 1958, the Jazz at the Marquee nights at the Marquee ballroom were doing pretty badly, the managers were loosing money and they couldn't even cover the expensive rent of the venue. So manager Peter Burman visited Harold Pendleton at his NJF office in Carlisle Street, Soho, to look for help. Pendleton shown his interest in the acquisition of the venue since he had been looking for a spot to start a new jazz club himself. After a meeting with George Hoellering at the venue, he agreed to take over the rental of the club. The new Jazz at the Marquee nights at 165 Oxford Street opened under the management of Harold Pendleton on Saturday 12th of April 1958. Pendleton's management was soon a success and by the end of the year a Friday night was added with new jazz stars such as Johny Dankworth Orchestra and Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated.
By 1959, the typical bill included Joe Harriott's Quintet, Andre Rico, and the 16 piece Cha-Chaleros. In 1962 the Marquee club, re-affirming it's spirit for new music values, had started a series of rhythm and blues nights on Wednesdays and Fridays featuring Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. On May 10th of that same year Alexis Korner opened a new Thursday residence at the club with his brand new band Blues Incorporated. Since this moment the Marquee became the most important club for the British rhythm and blues scene of the 60's. As Pendleton stated: "Alexis Korner is often hailed as the father of the British blues scene, but if that's the case then Chris Barber must be hailed as the great-grandfather. For Chris put together the band with Cyril Davies and Alexis and told them what to do. Chris is monstrously underrated for his contribution to the music scene in Britain". (Melody Maker)
By December 1959, the club had extended it's offer from Thursdays to a three night schedule (Monday, Thrusday and Sunday) and John Gee became secretary of the club, and the club also started advertising the weekly programming in the pages of the Melody Maker music magazine. During the early sixties, a small group of very young musicians discovered music imported from the U.S. from blues legends like Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and Freddie King, and the new generation of rhythm and blues masters such as Muddy Waters. In those days owning a blues vinyl was a privilege that not many teenagers could afford and would provide them with an automatic credit for becoming popular, picking up girls and even getting admited in a band. This small group of early blues fans who would visit the few record shops regularly in London that were importing this "rare stuff", such as HMV in New Oxford St and Dobell's in Charing Cross, included upcoming music talents such as Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards.
The John Dankworth Band at the Marquee club, 1962
The name of the Marquee club has been also associated with one of the most important jazz, blues and rock festivals in the UK since it's owner Harold Pendleton started organizing the National Jazz Festival in 1961, under the wing of the National Jazz Federation. The roll that the NJF played in the development of the jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and rock culture was decisive, bringing the music of new talents to bigger audiences than the small capacity of small clubs like the Marquee. Throughout the years, the National Jazz Festival became the first and most important rock event in the UK, which was later known as the Reading Festival. The first edition of the festival started with a small marquee resembling the decoration of the original Marquee club at Oxford Street and featured artists such as Johnny Dankworth, Chris Barber's Band, Dick Charlesworth & His City Gents and Tubby Hayes. The production of the festival by Marquee Productions lasted until 1988 and included 26 editions after several name and location changes.
In 1963, a new generation of artists started being incorporated to the club's residency, such as Blue By Six and Big Pete Deuchard's Country Blues.
The Rolling Stones and Cyril Davies at the Marquee, January 1963
In January 1963, a group of young regulars at the club debuted live under the name of the Rollin' Stones, whom had actually started as a supporting band for different rhythm and blues sessions.
The South-African musician Michael Lubovitz and drummer Mike Hugg also started their residency in March 1963 under the name of Mann-Hugg. They would be known later as one of the most important resident bands under the name of Manfred Mann. This same month the March 10th marked the return to london's West End at the club of the world-famous Ted Heath with his memorable "Swing Session" held for ten years at the London Palladium. It was the first time that Heath played a London jazz club.
Graham Bond and his different band reincarnations was another important act to note during this period, as well as Brian Auger. John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers started a Monday residency in November, and the American blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson started a Thursday residence in December, including the memorable Christmas Eve night featuring Cyril Davies' All Stars and Long John Baldry onstage. At this stage the jazz scene was slowly fading away and the initiatives like the "Jazz and Poetry Nights" started at the club in May 1963 didn't succeed.
In the end of 1963 the Marquee club's secretary John Gee closed the 1963 newsletter with the premonition line: "massive swing to the blues".