CHRIS WRIGHT went from representing rock groups at university to signing Blondie, Ten Years After, Procul Harum, Spandau Ballet and Ultravox. He founded Chrysalis Records with Terry Ellis in 1968, and sold part of it in 2003 for £50million. Now 73, he is relaunching a TV production company under the Chrysalis banner, and plans to re-enter the music business.
How did you start out?
At university in Manchester in 1962. I was working for a rock group agency. I’d drive bands up and down the country. I was paid £5 a week. The average was £10 but I was young and inexperienced, so I was paid less.
How did you raise the funds to start Chrysalis Records?
We started a booking agency. We booked bands to play on campus. They would get paid by the universities. We would hold the money before giving it to the agency. By 1970, I was managing Ten Years After, and they were invited to play in the US. To raise money for the airfares, I sold the rights to publishing their songs. But my business partner spent the funds making a record with Jethro Tull, a group we had signed. My relief came in an unlikely, and painful, form: appendicitis. I had to have emergency surgery in San Francisco. I used the insurance money for my hospital stay to pay back the travel agency.
What mistakes have you made financially?
Tonnes over the years. Thinking back to the early days, I was a little naive about working in the US. They don’t take kindly to foreigners, at first. The stakes are high, but the rewards are greater, so you take the risk.
How did you know you were going to make it?
You never really know. You just keep going. When I was young I believed I was invincible. It’s only as I’ve got older that doubts start to creep in.
What was the most daunting thing about starting out?
We had a very friendly bank manager who was terrified he would get fired by taking us on. We were facing the prospect of spending the rest of our lives paying the bank back if we failed to make money.
Did you have to make personal sacrifices?
After university, we were living hand-to-mouth. Sometimes, we didn’t have enough money to eat. I didn’t take a holiday for six or seven years after starting Chrysalis. But then, holidays aren’t something you think about when you’re doing something you love.
Has it been about making a lot of money?
Never. I’ve always been interested in the artists and their creativity, and believed in every artist I’ve signed. I don’t feel starstruck with the artists because I always signed them before they became famous. The health and happiness of my family is what makes me worried, but not money.
What was your first extravagant purchase?
A Bentley 51 Continental in 1969.
How did it feel to sell for £50million?
When we sold Chrysalis Records in 1991 I didn’t sleep for six months. We sold it because we were facing financial problems. I felt like I had cut off one of my legs. We’d made a huge sale, but I felt miserable.
Anything you would do differently?
I would have worked harder. I was never one of those people who dedicated my whole life to work. I spent time with friends and family; I would watch football. I might have been more successful if I was totally dedicated, but I chose instead to have a more balanced and happier life.
Spender or saver?
I’ve always been a spender when I’ve had money, and I was lucky enough to be successful, so I’ve almost always had money. Things are different now. Now I’m not earning, I’m much more conscious of saving. I have to think about having something to leave behind for my children.
What would you buy if money was no object?
A private jet would be the ultimate luxury. But I don’t feel I need anything now. As you get older your instinct is to downsize… maybe I wouldn’t want the jet. It would need an awful lot of maintenance.