Chris Wright (music industry executive)
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7 September 1944|
Louth, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Businessman; music industry executive|
Chris Wright, CBE (born Christopher Norman Wright on 7 September 1944) is a British music industry executive.
He was the co-founder of Chrysalis Records and Music with his business partner Terry Ellis in 1968. Wright bought Ellis out in 1985, when the Chrysalis Group went public. Chrysalis continued to compete with Richard Branson's Virgin Records and Chris Blackwell's Island Records until its eventual sale to Thorn EMI in two tranches in 1990 and 1991. Wright retained ownership of Chrysalis Music until 2010, when the publishing company was acquired by BMG Rights Management.
In the '90s, Wright launched the Heart commercial radio brand in Birmingham and London, and the Midsomer Murders detective drama series broadcast on ITV in the UK and over 225 TV channels around the world.
Between 1996 and 2001, Wright was the owner of Queens Park Rangers F.C. and the majority shareholder and chairman of Wasps Rugby Club. He continued as major shareholder and non-executive chairman of Wasps until 2008.
Childhood and early life
Wright was born in Louth, Lincolnshire, the only son of the last in a long line of farmers, and grew up in Grimoldby. While attending King Edward VI Grammar School in Louth, he began submitting small articles to the Louth And District Standard newspaper and had ambitions to become a sports or political journalist. In his teens, he played table tennis.
In 1962, he went to Manchester University, where he gained a BA in Politics and Modern History. While at Manchester University, he became social secretary of the Students Union and began booking groups at the university as well as at the J&J Club. He enlisted for a further year at the Manchester Business School but attended so few classes he was not awarded a diploma. He began working for the Ian Hamilton Agency, representing Anna Ford, then a folk singer in the Joan Baez mould, and later a television presenter and newsreader.
In 1966, he discovered The Jaybirds, a band from Nottingham fronted by the virtuoso guitarist Alvin Lee. They had been backing three-hit wonders The Ivy League but Wright was more interested in the blues repertoire they had developed on their own. He became their manager and moved to London, where he teamed up with Terry Ellis, another social secretary turned booking agent, to form the Ellis-Wright agency. Wright masterminded the Jaybirds' transformation into Ten Years After and guided their career as one of the biggest British groups of the late 1960s and early '70s. He got them a record deal with Deram Records, the Decca label's hip subsidiary, and in 1967 they became the first British band to release an album before a single.
The following year, Ten Years After made their American live debut and continued growing in popularity in mainland Europe as well as in the UK. Their appearance at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, and especially Lee's spellbinding performance of I'm Going Home, included in the subsequent Woodstock documentary, catapulted them into the major league. They issued a further nine albums between 1968 and 1974, which all made the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Ten Years After's early success gave Ellis the funds to put Jethro Tull in the studio to record their This Was debut album, the first Chrysalis Production, issued via a licensing deal with Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1968. "It was the foundation of the Chrysalis organisation,” said Wright. The partners put Wright's first name and Terry's surname together, the address they had been using for telegrams, to come up with the name Chrysalis.
Blackwell agreed he would give them their own label if they notched up 10 Top Ten albums or singles within three years. With guitarist Mick Abrahams leaving Jethro Tull to form Blodwyn Pig, and charting alongside his former bandmates, that target was reached within a year and Chrysalis, with its distinctive red butterfly logo over a green background, was born.
From the outset, Chrysalis was a forerunner of the 360° companies, comprising not only a record label but also a publishing company, Chrysalis Music, and other ancillary businesses. These eventually included concert promotion and the management of venues such as London's famed Rainbow Theatre as well as AIR Studios in partnership with the Beatles producer Sir George Martin.
In 1971, Chrysalis Music signed David Bowie to a publishing deal but Wright was on tour in the US with Ten Years After when Ellis, his business partner, listened to a white-label copy of "Hunky Dory", and turned down the chance to sign the singer to a recording contract. "You get some right and you get some wrong," Wright reflected.
In the '70s, Wright was particularly instrumental in the renewed success of Procol Harum, the emergence of their former guitarist Robin Trower as a solo artist, and the worldwide popularity of another Chrysalis signing, Leo Sayer. While attending a series of concerts by Sayer at the Roxy in Los Angeles in November 1976, Wright suggested that the soaring saxophone solo featured in the live version of "When I Need You" should be added to the album cut for its release a single. The new recording of When I Need You went on to top the UK and US charts the following year.
In 1977, Ellis decided to spend $500,000 buying Blondie's contract from the New York label Private Stock. Chrysalis reissued the band's eponymous debut and turned their iconic frontwoman Debbie Harry into the ultimate pop star of the late 1970s and early '80s. Blondie went on to sell 40 million albums and topped the singles and album charts on several occasions. Their success helped reposition Chrysalis as the home of new wave acts, including Antipodean groups Split Enz, Icehouse and Divinyls. In the early '80s, the pioneering company launched the former Generation X singer Billy Idol via MTV in the US, and used the pop video medium to make stars of Pat Benatar and Huey Lewis and the News.
With Ellis concentrating on running Chrysalis in the US, Wright backed his hunches and made a raft of UK signings that paid huge dividends and proved culturally significant. In 1979, he offered The Specials a label deal for their 2-Tone imprint, and helped spearhead the ska revival which put them, Madness, The Beat and The Selecter in the charts and on Top of the Pops. The Specials' run of major hits included "Too Much Too Young", "Ghost Town" and "Free Nelson Mandela", three epochal records reflecting the turmoil and political changes and challenges of the late '70s and early '80s.
In 1980, Chrysalis became the New Romantic label par excellence when Wright signed the reinvigorated Ultravox with new lead vocalist Midge Ure, and then Spandau Ballet – the London band who came to epitomise the genre even more than their rivals Duran Duran.
While Chairman of the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) in 1982, Wright relaunched the British Record Industry Awards, previously held in 1977, as an annual event, the forereunner of the BRITs. Inspired by the Grammys in the US, Wright's intention was to "celebrate great music and great artists in the previous year." With British music ruling the airwaves around the world, this proved a timely idea, recognised when Wright was presented with a Special Award at the event the following year.
By the mid-1980s, Wright's partnership with Ellis had run out of steam. A mooted but costly move into films favoured by Ellis became a bone of contention and the eventual catalyst for their split. Wright bought his partner's 50% stake in Chrysalis and set about reinvigorating a company that was now listed on the London stockmarket. The subsequent signings of Go West, Paul Hardcastle and Living in a Box and the development of the Cooltempo subsidiary for dance and rap proved Wright still had his finger on the pulse of popular culture. The distribution deals Wright offered Go! Discs and China Records coincided with both imprints scoring major hits with The Housemartins as well as Art of Noise and Labi Siffre.
Chrysalis had been outbid by Virgin when Tony Stratton-Smith sold his Charisma label in 1983 but, three years later, Wright acquired Nigel Grainge's Ensign from under Richard Branson's nose, ostensibly to secure The Waterboys. Unexpectedly, it wasn't Mike Scott's group but another Ensign act, Sinéad O'Connor, who would give Chrysalis its last worldwide hits with the heartrending single "Nothing Compares 2 U" and her multi-million-selling second album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got in 1990.
By then, the huge overheads involved in running a world-size independent company and the underperformance of several releases, notably Billy Idol's much-delayed Cradle of Love album, had forced Wright to sell 50% of Chrysalis Records to EMI. The next year, EMI exercised its option to buy the other half, just after Wright's company topped the singles charts for the last time with "The One And Only" by Chesney Hawkes.
Wright held on to Chrysalis Music Publishing, representing not only some of David Bowie and Paul Anka's biggest hits but also Rod Temperton's compositions for Quincy Jones, George Benson and Michael Jackson. Over the next two decades, shrewd acquisitions and the nurturing of singer-songwriters including David Gray, Nerina Pallot, Ray LaMontagne, Rumer, Natasha Kan (aka Bat For Lashes) and Laura Marling turned Chrysalis Music into a very desirable catalogue of more than 50,000 songs. It was eventually acquired by BMG Rights Management for £107 million at the end of 2010.
After 1991, the Chrysalis Group moved into television, radio and book publishing. Wright was a prime mover behind the launch of the television programme Football Italia on Channel 4 in 1992 when he decided to buy the rights to Serie A games to coincide with Paul Gascoigne's move to Lazio. Chrysalis Television also produced the coverage of Formula One for ITV and made a long-running series of Top Ten programmes tackling different musical genres for Channel 4; these were broadcast between 1998 and 2002. However, its most notable venture was the developmenf of Midsomer Murders, the detective drama series based on the Inspector Barnaby books by Caroline Graham. The series was devised and produced by Brian-True May via his Bentley Productions company. First broadcast on ITV in 1997, Midsomer Murders went on to become one of the best-selling TV programmes ever produced in the UK and is now shown in 225 countries around the world. In 2003, the rest of the Chrysalis Group board forced Wright's hand in selling Chrysalis Television, including Midsomer Murders, to Steve Morrison for £50 million. It became part of the all3media group of companies.
The Chrysalis Group also moved into commercial radio. In 1994, it launched the Heart soft adult contemporary format in Birmingham and replicated the formula in London the following year. In 2002, it acquired the London news station LBC. Those, along with Galaxy – the Chrysalis dance radio brand – were eventually sold to what became Global Radio for £170 million in 2007.
In 1994, in partnership with the Japanese media company Pony Canyon, the Chrysalis Group launched The Echo Label, and enjoyed success with Julian Cope, Babybird, Feeder and Moloko. Its Papillon subsidiary released Cliff Richard's last chart-topper, "The Millennium Prayer", in 1999.
Wright's first foray into sports was with the Philadelphia Fury soccer franchise in the late 1970s. In 1994, the Chrysalis Group bought a stake in the Sheffield Forgers basketball team. Renamed the Sheffield Sharks, the team won the BBL League Championship and National Cup in 1994 and did the double again in 1999. Wright relinquished his majority stake in 2001.
In 1996, Wright bought Queens Park Rangers (QPR) Football Club, which had just been relegated from the Premier League, and a 51% stake in Wasps rugby club. He brought both under the Loftus Road PLC umbrella with the intention that both teams would share the stadium. He did not succeed in taking QPR back into the top tier and sold the club in 2001. On the other hand, as rugby union turned professional, Wasps enjoyed a golden spell, winning 10 trophies between 1996 and 2008, when Wright sold his controlling interest. Wright is Honorary Life President of Wasps.
Wright has been involved in the thoroughbred racing industry since 1981, both as an owner in the UK, France, the United States and Australia, and also as a breeder through his Stratford Place Stud based in the Cotswolds in England. He has participated in the ownership of a number of champion horses and the Stratford Place Stud has bred horses at the highest level. His notable successes as an owner include Culture Vulture, the first English trained filly ever to win the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, the French equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas, in 1992, Nicer, who won the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 1993, and Dark Angel, winner of the Middle Park Stakes in 2007, and now a successful stallion. With Willie Carson and Emily Asprey, Wright was the co-owner of Chriselliam, the winner of the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, who was crowned champion two-year-old filly in Europe and Champion two-year-old horse in Great Britain.
One Way Or Another
His autobiography, One Way Or Another – My Life in Music, Sport And Entertainment, was published by Omnibus Press in the UK in October 2013. In a four-star review in the Daily Express, Gerard Henderson said: "Chris Wright pulls no punches in telling his gripping, fascinating life story. The reviewer further commented: "This is a real who's who of the music business. It's also a playlist of the defining soundtracks of the past half century. From the hippie counter revolution, through to punk, the new romantics, ska and on to the music of the new millennium, Wright was at the heart of it all, forging careers for stars on both sides of the Atlantic."
Wright promoted his autobiography with a raft of media engagements in the UK. He was a "Listed Londoner" on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London and also guested on Sounds of the Seventies, hosted by Johnnie Walker, on BBC Radio 2.
- Wright, Chris (2013), One Way Or Another – My Life In Music, Sport And Entertainment, Omnibus Press, ISBN 1783052287
- Rabey, Brian (2013), A Passion Play – The Story Of Ian Anderson And Jethro Tull, Soundcheck Books, ISBN 0957144245
- Southall, Brian (2003), The A-Z Of Record Labels [2nd edition], Sanctuary Publishing, ISBN 1860744923 (Foreword by Chris Wright)
- Ashton, James (16 October 2013), "Memories of the music mogul who called tune at Chrysalis", Evening Standard
- Pierre Perrone, "Alvin Lee: Guitar hero with rockers Ten Years After" (obituary), The Independent, 7 March 2013.
- Jones, Chris, "Chris Wright: I can’t save Wasps but I fear for them if they go down", Evening Standard, 18 April 2012.
- "Plea from Chris: Where is my precious Mariners scrapbook?", Grimsby News, 27 October 2014.
- Nisse, Jasson, "Profile: A truly passionate sport: Chris Wright of Chrysalis outplayed BSkyB in football with his Italian job and is now revving up a car racing deal. Jason Nisse on a music man with perfect pitch", The Independent, 7 February 1993.
- "Folkie Anna Ford, the one who got away", Evening Standard, 10 October 2013.
- "2015 Gold Badge Award Recipients Revealed", M, 16 September 2015.
- Sherwin, Adam, "My biggest misses, by Chris Wright, the man who turned down David Bowie", The Independent, 13 October 2013.
- Perrone, Pierre, "Chrissie Amphlett: Singer with the '80s band Divinyls" (obituary), The Independent, 5 May 2013.
- Perrone, Pierre, "Labelled With Love: Chrysalis", Classic Pop, Issue 8, 5 December 2013.
- "Media top 100 2003: 40. Chris Wright", The Guardian, 7 July 2003.
- Sweney, Mark, "Chrysalis agrees to takeover by BMG", The Guardian, 26 November 2010.
- Masson, Gordon, "BMG Acquires Chrysalis", Variety, 26 November 2010.
- "QPR strike deal with Wright". BBC Sport. 30 December 2004. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
- Queen's Birthday Honours 2005 recipient lists. BBC News, 10 June 2005.
- Henderson, Gerard, "One Way Or Another By Chris Wright – Review", The Daily Express, 25 October 2013.
- "With Listed Londoner Chris Wright, Keith Houston, Laura Wright and Gary Numan", Robert Elms, BBC Radio London, 23 September 2013.
- "Heart of Glass", Johnnie Walker's Sounds of the 70s, BBC Radio 2, 24 November 2013.