The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

The Wardour St. days (1964-1988)

The Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street

The Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street

1964 started with the tragic news of the death of leukemia of Cyril Davies on January the 7th. He was only 32 years old and his death meant a big loss for the Marquee club. Following to this sad event, the rumours about the closure Marquee club were buzzing around London and in fact it did, but just for a glorious reincarnation.

At the end of 1963, Harold Pendleton was notified by the owner of the Academy Cinema about their intentions to remodel the premises with the intention of building a second cinema room in the basement where the Marquee club was located, giving him a six month notice to find a new location for the club. Pendleton found the right spot for the new Marquee club on a large ground-floor premises at 90 Wardour Street, which was located right in the middle of the Soho night life and close to where other clubs such as The Flamingo, Ronnie Scott's and La Discotheque were starring the active music nightlife in London. The new premises were formerly used as a store for the raincoat mark Burberry and were owned by the Great Universal Stores.

Harold Pendleton remembers how was the future temple of rock music: "There was a tiny narrow corridor, and when you got to the end it openened into a huge place, full of metal and glass partitions dividing it into sections and rooms. Immediatly I thought: get those partitions out and ther's quite a bit of space ". (London Live, Tony Bacon, 1998)

In an historical business meeting between Harold Pendleton and the estate manager of the company, the club manager convinced the company to lend him the sum of £ 15,000 to buy their own premises.

The last night at the Oxford St. premises on Sunday March 5th 1964, held the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and the new rhythm and blues band that was revolutionizing the London scene. They had started a Thursday residency at the Marquee about a month before and they were called the Yardbirds and they featured the ultimate sensation in London's scene: the guitarist Eric Clapton. Regreatfully, the original site of the first Marquee club located at 165 Oxford St. was demolished and the site is currently occupied by the offices of the Abbey National Bank.

The Yardbirds at the Marquee Club

The Yardbirds at The Marquee Club. Photo courtesy of Marty Pinker

On Friday March 13th 1964 the venue was relocated to it's most famous location in London's Soho at 90 Wardour Street to become a legend in the history of pop and rock music. The new Marquee club was a replica of the old one, featuring Angus McBean's circus decoration, which Harold Pendleton negotiated with George Hoellering to keep. Also large mirror panels were placed all around the main room to provide a feeling of space. "We had done such a great impersonation of the original premises that people thought they were in the same building. The main problem we found at the new club was noise. Jazz doesn't carry, but when you have 30 watts, then sixty, the one hundred and finally one thousand watts, you need a lot of soundproofing, which meant we had to lose some of the stage space", describes Pendleton.(London Live, Tony Bacon 1999)

The new club's opening night at Wardour street featured Sonny Boy Williamson, Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men (featuring Rod Stewart) and the Yardbirds, who recorded their debut album "Five Live Yardbirds" on that night. The club's secretary John Gee, from 1968 to 1970, described the night in a club newsletter published at the Jazzbeat magazine a few weeks later: "Thanks to the valiant efforts of builders, electricians, caterers and 101 other sundry characters, the New Marquee opened dead on time at 7.30pm on Friday March 13th. By that time an absolutely fantastic queue had assembled and most regretfully we had to turn some 600 away after the "house full" notice went up. Sonny Boy Williamson really made Wardour Street wail that night and took his farewell bow in a magnificent fireman's helmet presented to him by Mr Coombs, our club manager, who was until his recent retirement Chief Fire Officer of Richmond. In April we hope to have the main club area completely finished".

The Who @ the Marquee

The Who at the Marquee, 1964

In 1964 the club also extended it's activities opening the Marquee Studios in the upper floor of the premises, which included with a four track mixing desk and was run by Spencer Brooks, who still runs in London the company Marquee Audio Ltd. at Shepperton, dedicated to professional audio systems. Some of the artists who used the studio services were Elton John, Marillion, Vangelis, the Clash, Daevid Allen, Elliot Murphy, the Penny Peeps, Ralph McTell and Graham Bonnet, to name a few.

During the last months of 1964 the Who started a long residency at the Marquee, bringing winds of change in the British music scene with their powerful combination of rock and soul music that headed the 60's mod London. During those days he band became famous for it's legendary smashing gear performances. the Who also headlined the 10th Anniversary of the club in April 1968.

My most memorable moment at the Marquee was when Pete Townshend started smashing up his guitar.  Really, you should have seen the audience.  Mouths open, great rows of teeth showing.  You could almost count the cavities."

(Keith Moon, Beat Instrumental, June 1968)

At the same time, a new promise band called the Moody Blues, whom in fact a year later reached the number one in the Melody Maker chart with the single "Go Now", recorded at the Marquee Studios, started a long term residency at the club. the Moody Blues, whom in fact a year later reached the number one in the Melody Maker chart with "Go Now", started a long term residency at the club. this was the first of many times that the managers of the club would be wondered about the commercial success of unknown bands that were launched at the Marquee.

In 1965 the Marquee club saw the birth of two future wonders in the history of pop music: David Bowie, and the Spencer Davis Group featuring Steve Winwood, who were voted by the readers of the Melody Maker magazine as the most promising band of the year. This year the Marquee club got involved into an educational experience to offer music classes of jazz and including improvisation class taught by Tubby Hayes. The first Youth Jazz course was initiated in 1966 and was held at the Marquee and Ronnie Scott's club. In collaboration with the National Jazz Federation, the Marquee club also supported the NYJO (National Youth Jazz Orchestra), which had been created in London by Bill Ashton during the mid-sixties. The Marquee club became the room for the NYJO's auditions during this period, giving birth to the London Schools Jazz Orchestra. These events also coincided with the debut at the club of the great swinger Georgie Fame and The Harry South Orchestra.

The Marquee was also witness to the London psychedelic scene of the late 60's, reincarnated at the club by bands like the Move, the Syn, Pink Floyd, Neat Change, The In Crowd, Soft Machine, and Arthur Brown.

Jimi Hendrix @ the Marquee

Jimi Hendrix at the Marquee, 1967

The last years of the 60's decade wrote some of the most important pages in the history of the club, coinciding with the birth of a new generation of talents and music forms in the UK. The historical debut of the supergroup Cream on 16th August 1966 and the performances of the musical phenomena guitarist Jimi Hendrix are forever linked to the name of the Marquee club.

Jimi Hendrix only played three times at the club, one of them as a private pass to film the German TV show Beat Club, but these few gigs are considered some of his best live performances ever.

Jimi Hendrix' second night at the club beat all the records of attendance and it is marked as one of the most important nights in the history of rock music.

On April 1968 the Marquee club celebrated it's 10th Anniversary with a programming headlined by the Who. In the programme sheet the club stated in big letters: "Where is the pop corner of the world? For thousands of youngsters it is London's Marquee Club. It is the melting pot of today's hip music, where jazz, folk, and pop meet on equal terms. Where trends are born, and stars emerge. It could be compared with New York's Apollo Theatre, but really there is nothing like it in the world. Music is the important quantity at the Marquee, and the club-goers are London's most aware, adult teenagers. The Marquee is a home for good music. - The Melody Maker."

October 1968 announced the debut of one of the most important bands in the history of rock music. The band, originally called the New Yardbirds and later known as Led Zeppelin, performed at the Marquee club on October the 18th and the announcement stated: "Incidentaly Jimmi (Page) is now preparing a specially built Fender 6 pedal steel guitar as well as the more usual lead guitar."

This year the club was dissapointed beacuse of the lack of interest from the audience for bands at the club such as Time Box, Clouds, Free, and Skip Bifferty. The newsletter of January included a "calling all groups" ad, announcing the auditions of new bands for the Monday evenings. This coincided with the start of the Wednesday residency of Yes as the club stated in their newsletter: "1969 will be the year of music, a year to get high on the CLOUDS".

Jethro Tull @ the Marquee

Jethro Tull at the Marquee, 1968

In January 1970 the manager John Gee retired from the club's charge and was replaced by Jack Barrie, who had been his assistant for the last few years and was also the owner of a popular drinking club called La Chasse located on the 1st floor at 100 Wardour St. just a few numbers from the Marquee club, and where everyone in the music business were regulars. Jack Barrie started working as an assistant manager to John Gee in 1965 and was an essential support to a new generation of British artists such as Led Zeppelin, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and Rod Stewart.

In February 1970, the club went through an important achievement: the opening of the bar since finally got a license for serving alcohol.

During the late 60's and early 70's, the Marquee saw the birth of a new generation progressive-oriented bands. Many of the became the biggest names inthe history of rock music.

The Marquee hosted the talent of legendary bands such as Ten Years After, Procol Harum, Taste, Family, Queen, the Nice, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Genesis, and Van Der Graaf Generator. Many of them would reach international audiences during the early 70's, changing their residencies at the Marquee for the big arenas around the world. At the time, London venues like the Rainbow Theatre and the Hammersmith Odeon would fit wider audiences.

The names of bands who started at the Marquee to reach the top of the music world is uncountable. Jack Barrie talked about it in 1973:"Of course, it's always a great disappointment for us when a group goes on to international fame and can't play here again. But it's nice to know, when they do make it, they can always perhaps play a return date. Slade came back here last August to play a 'thank you' gig, because we were one of the clubs to book them when they were struggling, around late '71. Robert Fripp always comes back to us with his latest versions of King Crimson, which is always nice. We have always encouraged bands with originality and talent which has given the club it's success". (Melody Maker, 1973)

Yes at The Marquee Club

Yes at The Marquee Club, 1969

The Marquee club had turned into the right spot for igniting a music career and building a name to taking a step up in the new born rock music industry. Many of these bands, like Ten Years After, Yes, AC/DC, Genesis, Thin Lizzy and Uriah Heep, performed for thousands of people at the Reading Rock Festival showing their gratitude to the club. Other big names such as Rolling Stones in 1971 and David Bowie in 1973 got back to the club to shoot private sesions for TV.

By 1971, the decoration of the club changed and the traditional circus look was supplied by black painting on the walls and the back of the stage featured the classical logo of the Marquee in yellow.

In 1973, the Marquee club celebrated it's 15th anniversary and the Melody Maker magazine included a 6 page report about the history of the club with interviews to some of the most reputed artists of the music scene. Congratulation ads were placed all over the magazine from record companies like EMI, RCA, Phonogram and RSO for the club's priceless contribution to the music industry.

The second half of the 70's was also a important time in the history of the Marquee club regarding with the birth of the British punk and new wave scenes, protagonised by bands such as the Clash, the Jam, Ultravox, the Pretenders, the Police, the Cure, Joy Division, Adam and the Ants, The Damned, Generation X, Siouxie and the Banshees, and The Sex Pistols.

During the second half of the 70's and early 80's the hard rock and heavy metal scene had taken over the programming of the Marquee club, with bands such as Uriah Heep, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash.

This path was followed during the early 80's by a stella of new artists such as U2, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins and Erasure, and heavy rockers like Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Def Leppard, Diamond Head, and AC/DC. Paralelly to their performances at the club most of these bands were selected by the club to headline the Reading Rock Festival during those years.

The early 80's also was also the year of the renaissance of the British progressive scene at the Marquee with neo progressive bands like Twelfth Night, Pallas, IQ, and especially Marillion, who also recorded their first album "Script for a Jester's Tear" at the Marquee Studios and filmed the show "Recital of the Script" at the club in 1983.

Due to the constant vibration of thousands of watts at the club during more than 30 years, in 1987 a commission determinated that the facade of the building at 90 Wardour Street had slightly slipped ahead towards the pavement, and it's demolishion was neccessary for security reasons. The legendary Marquee Club closed it's doors on the night of 18th of July, 1988, featuring Joe Satriani.

Sadly, the original building where the main room of the club was located at Wardour Street was demolished, which represents a terrible and irreplaceable loss for the history of the the city and rock music culture. Today the Terence Conran's Meza restaurant takes it's place and it's basement is occupied by Cuban live music club Floridita. The next building located at 90 Wardour Street where the entrance of the club used to be still remains on the site and is now the entrance to the Soho Lofts apartments.

Mezzo Restaurant

Mezzo restaurant at 90 Wardour Street

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