My biggest misses, by Chris Wright, the man who turned down David Bowie

 

It’s the nightmare haunting every talent scout since Decca rejected the Beatles in 1962 because “guitar groups are on the way out” – letting a global mega-hit slip through your fingers.

But now Chris Wright, one of the music business’s most successful hit-creators, has revealed the roll call of superstars and billion-dollar shows that he unwisely turned away.

The impressive list of greatest misses includes David Bowie, Dire Straits, The Kinks, The Spice Girls, the musical Cats and the Popstars talent show which was the precursor to The X Factor.

Wright, founder of the Chrysalis media group and former owner of QPR, discloses his “head-in-hands” moments in an autobiography, One Way Or Another, published on Monday. Despite discovering stars including Blondie and Spandau Ballet, building a hugely successful record company in the US and amassing a £70m fortune, he is brutally honest about his failures.

In 1971, Bowie was a one-hit wonder, “a pop artist, not an act with any longevity. He was in our office in Oxford Street all the time, often pleading with us for money to go and make demos. Our receptionist would ring around and we would all pretend to be out.” Chrysalis rejected his Hunky Dory album, an error softened by a decision, which still stands, to take 25 per cent of the singer’s publishing rights.

A move to sign The Kinks in New Orleans floundered, Wright admits, because “jet-lagged, I nodded off during their show. Ray Davies was not impressed, so that was probably why they signed with Clive Davis instead.” Dire Straits, who went on to sell 120 million albums, were dismissed for being “very good, but very very boring.”

The Spice Girls bounded into the Chrysalis office, miming to a backing track of “Wannabe”.

“They stood on Jeremy’s [the chief executive] desk and ended up sitting on his knee, not quite the sort of thing we were used to.” Chrysalis declined to increase a £250,000 bid on the basis that only one of the band could sing and none demonstrated songwriting potential. The quintet went elsewhere.

Wright turned down the chance to invest in Cats because he didn’t believe Andrew Lloyd Webber could write a hit without lyricist Tim Rice. “I went along to the first night and during the interval was congratulating myself on how I had made the right decision. Passing on the record-breaking, phenomenally successful Cats proved to be one of my very worst business decisions.”

Then there was the 80-million selling French synthesiser pioneer Jean Michel Jarre, a share in whom Wright rejected during a trip to Paris.

Passing on Popstars, the New Zealand format which inspired Pop Idol, was “another entry on the list of my most appalling business decisions,” Wright says. When he was presented with the singing competition concept, Wright sneered: “What, like Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks or New Faces? I’m not remotely interested in the kind of garbage you get on shows like that.”

“It was a huge opportunity missed, it could have been a gamechanger of the whole business because Chrysalis was the only company across music and TV,” Wright, 69, who sold Chrysalis for £107m in 2010, told The Independent.

He is philosophical about the litany of misses. “You get some right and you get some wrong,” Wright said.

Rock bottom: missing out

* Decca A&R man Dick Rowe gave The Beatles’s manager the bad news after listening to their 1962 demo. “Not to mince words, Mr Epstein, but we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups are out.”

* Jimmy Lenner, boss of Millennium Music, was unimpressed with the demo sent by an aspiring New York disco diva in 1981. “I do not feel she is ready yet. I will pass for now.” Madonna auctioned the rejection letter 20 years later.

* U2’s long list of rejection letters before signing with Island included 1979 missives from RSO and Arista Records.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all