Laurence started his professional life as a chartered accountant when, aged 26, he set up Goodman Myers and Company with partner Ellis Goodman.
His lucky break into the music business came when he secured the legendary record producer Mickie Most as a client in 1964.
Mickie had had success producing The Animals and Herman’s Hermits. As a Producer, he was much in demand but his business affairs were in a mess and he had no money. In lieu of an accountancy fee, Laurence took a 10% interest in Mickie’s Rak group of companies, thrusting him into the heart of the burgeoning swinging sixties music scene in the UK.
By the time Laurence left his accountancy practice in 1970, Goodman Myers and Company were the go-to accountants for the British music industry and had represented The Rolling Stones, The Beatles’ Apple Corp, Jeff Beck, The Tremeloes, The Kinks, Donovan, The Animals, and Mike Leander, Tony Macaulay and Geoff Stephens – leading songwriters of the day.
Laurence went full time into the music business then, starting the Gem group of companies with Ellis Goodman as his silent partner. By the end of his first year in business, he’d had a number one hit with ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ by Edison Lighthouse and a top ten hit with ‘Blame It On The Pony Express’ by Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon. The records were produced by Tony Macaulay – whom Gem had contracted exclusively as a Producer – and released by Bell Records.
In the same year, Tony Defries (a lawyer Laurence had worked with on a Mickie Most legal dispute) introduced the then unproven David Bowie, and Laurence signed the singer / songwriter to Gem for a management and recording agreement.
The record industry had no real interest in Bowie, who was struggling to get small gigs. In 1971, Laurence took the unusual step of paying for the recording of ‘Hunky Dory’. This was highly risky. If the album was not a hit, Laurence’s considerable investment would be lost.
Gem was also supporting Bowie financially by giving him a regular weekly income. ‘Hunky Dory’ did not do well on its initial release but – to Laurence’s great relief – RCA had paid Gem an advance which covered a lot of the money that Laurence had laid out. America did a deal to release ‘Hunky Dory’ and to finance and release two further Albums.
Gem continued to have hits in 1971, with recordings by Edison Lighthouse and Johnny Johnson and with The Fantastics’ ‘Something Old Something New’.
In June 1972, RCA released the second album of the Bowie Gem deal, ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. It was an instant hit and also created a huge demand for ‘Hunky Dory’, establishing Bowie as a major artist and justifying Laurence’s faith in him.
Bowie was determined to conquer America and Laurence financed Tony Defries’ opening up his MainMan office in New York. Subsequently, in return for a very substantial sum of money, Laurence sold his interest to MainMan, with Bowie’s blessing.
Not long after, in June of 1974, Bowie acrimoniously split with MainMan and Defries.
In 1972, Laurence merged Gem with David Joseph’s Toby Organisation, trading from then on as GTO. This brought The New Seekers into Laurence’s family of artists. Joseph had already made them successful with the huge international hit ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’, and their popularity continued until they broke up in 1974.
Joseph resettled in Los Angeles, opening up GTO Inc in Beverley Hills. It was not successful and the office eventually closed when Laurence bought out David’s interest in the company.
Also in 1972, Laurence came up with the innovative idea of creating compilation albums, where hits by original artists, owned by different music labels, could all be put on the same record. This had never been attempted in the UK. Laurence used his music business connections to overcome the record companies’ reluctance to licence tracks that would be on the same album as their rivals.
Together with his entrepreneurial brothers-in-law Michael and Larry Levene, Laurence started Arcade Records for this purpose. The Levenes had a company selling kitchen gadgets and merchandise via intense TV advertising. Arcade took their business model and sold records using TV ad campaigns for the first time in the UK.
Arcade was the most financially successful of all Laurence’s music business endeavours.
The first album released: ‘20 Fantastic Hits – Various Artists’ was an immediate and enormous success. Arcade went on to set up offices in Germany and Holland. In the UK, Laurence’s most notable compilation was ‘Elvis’ 40 Greatest’ one of the top ten albums of the seventies, selling over a million copies after it was released in 1974.
The company continued successfully for ten years, selling an estimated 40 million albums, before Laurence and the Levenes gave up their interest in it in 1982.
By the eighties, the other labels had realised they were foolish to licence their hits to Arcade and in 1983 Virgin Records put together ‘Now That’s What I Call Music No1.’ It celebrated its 100th release in 2018.
In 1974, Laurence started GTO Records, in partnership with Dick Leahy, one of the most highly regarded record men in the UK. Laurence knew Dick from when he was the label manager for Bell Records, the company that was distributing Gary Glitter and other Gem Artists.
With Laurence as Chairman, Dick became CEO, signing – amongst others – Heatwave, Billy Ocean, The Walker Brothers, Donna Summer, Duane Eddie, and The Dooleys. GTO Records was sold to CBS Records in 1978.
In the same year, Laurence was asked by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to take over management of The Sweet, another huge act of the 70s.
In 1979, Laurence started Gem Records, financed by RCA America. The company was run by David Simone, who signed The UK Subs, Ronnie Lane, Patrick Hernandez and Samson (featuring Bruce Dickinson as lead singer) to the label.
By 1981, Laurence was no longer enthusiastic about the music of the day. New romantic acts were beginning to dominate the charts and hip-hop was on the horizon. He had had a phenomenal 15 years at the top of the music industry and closed Gem Records to spend time in the world of theatre – a genre that he loves.