Leading a double life as an accountant and a musician is an unusual combination. Ross Reyburn meets a keyboard player who can balance your books.
They may not have hit the big time but anyone who dreams up a name like Eliza Smiles for a music group deserves a prize for originality.
“I got it from a book on old Victorian catchphrases,” explains Coventry accountant Laurence Moore. “Eliza was supposed to be a serving girl who would smile when the coast was clear for the burglars to break into the manor houses.”
Moore is chairman of Prime Chartered Accountants Group formed some 18 month ago as a result of a merger between two West Midlands firms based in Coventry and Solihull. And he has mixed his professional career with various stints as a musician playing keyboard in groups performing at Midland venues.
Eliza Smiles, which later was to undergo a name change to Dove, played in clubs around the Coventry area for several years after being formed when Moore met an old friend insurance broker Frank Corrigan in 1992.
“Years ago, he was a guitarist in a group called Calvary when I was playing keyboards in the same group, “says Moore. “We had both got our businesses established and we were seeing mutual clients so we decided to form a band.”
What was the result of this act of self-indulgence? “The result was” replied Moore, “we hired a girl singer and I ended up getting divorced from my first wife and marrying her.”
These days he no longer belongs to a group but tomorrow provided he has sufficiently recovered from a recent hernia operation, Moore can be seen and heard playing keyboard at the charity concert at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall being staged by popular Irish singer and broadcaster Bob Brolly.
Brolly, well-known for his weekdays afternoon programme on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio and Sunday afternoon slot with BBC WM, is both a client and friend of Moore’s.
Their musical association goes back 30 years when they were both members of Calvary. Among Moore’s missed opportunity moments in the world of music was a phone call when he was a teenager playing with Brolly.
“I got home one day and my mum said someone in Dexys Midnight Runners had rung and wanted me to ring them back,” he recalls. “I was so shy in those days I didn’t return the call.”
So he never did discover why someone connected with the Birmingham group which won the 1983 Brit Award for the Best British Single with Come on Eileen had phoned his home.
Moore’s musical talents surfaced very early in his life for he was playing the organ at the Roman Catholic church of Christ the King in Coventry’s Coundon at the age of 11 and continued for 30 years.
“I was in the papers as being the youngest organist in Coventry. I started playing the piano when I was six. I carried on with piano lessons and started playing the organ when I was helping out at church.
“There was another guy but it was not that long before he packed up. When I was about 13, I was doing four or five services on a Sunday.”
His musical inspiration came from Rick Wakeman. He has two keyboards at his Coventry home in Styvechale but causes no major problems for his neighbours on the noise front as he can go a week without playing a note.
“I am more into photography now,” says Moore, whose connections in the music world led to some of his photographs of musicians playing with Hazel O’Connor appearing on a leaflet advertising a Paris concert the Coventry singer staged last April.
“My keyboards are around 15 years old,” he says. “These days a top of the range keyboard will cost you a couple of grand.
“The newer ones will have more memory, but my old keyboards do what they need to do.”
Although he has always harboured the dream playing before a full house at the National Exhibition centre, Moore has no regrets he never made it as front-line professional musician.
“I was not good enough,” he says. “If I had been really good, I would have probably ended up being a full-time keyboard player in the music world.
“The actual musicians aren’t the ones who earn the most money. Some of the guys I know locally are brilliant musicians but they are living on getting gigs – it’s not regular income.
“The rewards aren’t as high as they should based on their talent. I know people who have been in big bands and had top 10 hits years ago – now they are teaching because there are not enough live venues.”
The son of a Coventry accountant, Moore was educated at Cardinal Newman Comprehensive School and dropped out of his maths degree course at Manchester University after just a month.
“After four weeks, my car broke down at Spaghetti Junction on the way home from Manchester on a Friday evening and I decided I didn’t want to go back to university,” he recalls.
“The most important thing in my life then was playing in Calvary. A month later I managed to get on a business studies course at Lanchester Polytechnic.”
As a schoolboy, he had the distinction of being the first pupil at Cardinal Newman to take the Oxford University entrance exam.
“I won an interview at New College to read maths,” he remembers. “I got a first reserve place. I think it was probably a lucky escape as I would have probably dropped out of Oxford even quicker than Manchester.”
His Lanchester Polytechnic studies led Moore to follow following in his father’s footsteps with a career in accountancy and achieving the highest marks in Warwickshire when he took his final Institute of Chartered Accounts exams.
Today he heads one of the larger independent accountancy practices in the West Midlands area after his firm, Pilley & Florsham, merged with the Solihull chartered accountants, Raftery & Co.
The two firms joined forces as the Prime Chartered Accountants Group with Moore as its chairman. Operating at offices in Coventry and Solihull by coincidence with the same Warwick Road address, the group has six partners, a combined staff totalling 50 and more than 2,500 clients.
“Raftery had a couple of partners looking to retire and they wanted to join with another operation so they could manage to keep the firm going forwards,” says Moore. “The merger made us a major player in the region south of Birmingham.
“There is so much combined talent and this merger meant that all the specialists in both firms were brought together for the benefit of both sets of clients.
“In addition to the core accountancy business, there are specialist departments for payroll, tax, charities and forensic accounting.”
Moore views the role of role of accountants in the world of business as far more than producing end of the year tax returns.
“My particular interest is the application of IT to businesses – how they can best use it and be more efficient,” he says.
“The difference between a successful business and a non-successful business is a successful business will have systems in place and management information at its fingertips.”
“IT is so important – we try to offer a full range of facilities. We’ll find about the business and how they are running it. We will help them install a system
“Over the last ten years it has really developed. A lot more firms these days are looking to outsource their accountancy and bookkeeping. If they get someone like us to do this work, there is no problem if someone is ill.”
Computers have transformed his field in a generation.
“In my dad’s day, you had a girl with a typewriter and if you wanted five copies, she produced five carbon copies and you would have difficulty reading the last one,” he points out.
“These days you just press a print button to get any number of copies you want. Clients can send us their accounts electronically that get sucked into our accounts software and kicks the accounts out the other end. You can almost do it without any paper en route.”
Some five years ago, his firm broke new ground using the internet for corporation tax returns.
“We were the first firm in the county to file corporation tax returns online,” he remembers. “It was a feather in our cap – we had expressed an interest and the Inland Revenue chose us to check and test the system.
“It is at least twice as fast as doing a manual return. The Inland Revenue are bringing in more and more on line systems. They were will be a time in a couple of years when they will only accept on line returns.”
The benefits of keeping track of expenditure through IT are not hard to find. Moore quotes a Stratford shop that was selling a mixture of clothing lines. “They would count their stock once a year but that was it,” he says. “If they asked them which lines were most profitable or how much profit they were making one each line, they couldn’t have told you.
“They couldn’t easily tell you how much stock they had of a particular item without going into the stock room and looking.”
His firm helped provide a counting system linked to their tills.
“Within three years, this seemingly simply move enabling them to control their stock effectively raised their profit figure from £50,000 to around £125,000.
“You would think it is common sense but there are a surprising number of people running businesses by gut feeling and they don’t know enough about how their business is performing.
Moore also quotes the example of another client making double glazing windows in the Coventry area that were giving discounts without knowing in detail what it was costing to produce a particular window in terms of raw materials and labour hours.
“We put in a slightly different software system that recorded manufacturing costs,” says Moore. “They were turning over £750,000 and they were making £500,000.”
Also unlike the past, personal contact happens far less in the modern world dominated more and more by IT.
“It is not a particularly great thing to brag about but I was walking out of the office one day and a small businessman came in with books in a carrier bag and said: ‘Would you give these to my accountant, Laurence Moore, please?’ I said ‘Yes, certainly.’”
Moore sees a near paper-free future in the world of accounting where his profession is playing an often important role in ensuring the success of small companies.
“We see ourselves as businessmen who happen to be accountants.
“We are monitoring deadlines on behalf of our clients, we are making sure their work is turned round quickly.”