A multi-instrumentalist from Glasgow, Richard Youngs began releasing albums in the early '90s on various independent labels. His music ranges from pure experimental, instrumental, minimal, and avant-garde to folk-inspired songwriting and progressive rock. In songwriting mode, he is similar to Robert Wyatt, Anthony Moore, and in particular, other fine acts from Glasgow John Martyn and the Incredible String Band. In his more experimental projects with Simon Wickham-Smith and Brian Lavelle, the cacophonous roar is closer in style to '90s noise underground artists such as the Dead C, Sun City Girls, and White Winged Moth.
Youngs' CDs Advent and Festival were released on Table of the Elements and other indie labels. Majora and VHF released his solo efforts and collaborations with like-minded musicians such as Stephen Todd and (most commonly) Wickham-Smith. Youngs has produced an expansive body of work and his recordings are diverse and cover many different areas of musical interest. There is a common thread in his material that links his recordings, however, an uplifting, defiant, and playful attitude giving the albums a common charm in that they expose the artist as joyously indulging in the delights of a hermetic and musical world. That is not to say that his music is obscure by any means; he has a network of publishers and followers the world over.
The Japanese Meme label released a Youngs CD in 1998 under the title House Music; it was not the exploration into dance music that one might expect, but in fact a series of candid recordings made with his father in their home — taking a literal interpretation of the title, one can hear rhythmic door slamming, crescendos up and down the staircase, and all manner of music and noise generated using architecture as an instrument. The Advent album from the early '90s is cited as a minimalist classic. That Youngs recorded it with only a kazoo and acoustic guitar does not suggest the complexity of the music, and in many ways this work navigates the territory occupied by American avant-garde minimalist masters Tony Conrad and Terry Riley, albeit with the laid-back ease of a post-punk autodidact. Elsewhere, he made recordings that pre-date Autechre and Oval in that they exploit the deconstruction of digital music systems, and the Radios series of CDs documents this side of his interests, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, he recorded folk-inflected mantras with guiding lights of the English folk revival Shirley Collins and Bert Jansch; moonlight recordings seem an influence as well.
For fans of intimate music, Youngs recorded many of his albums at home on portable recording equipment ranging in quality, but on record achieved beautiful and unique sounds from any range of instruments: kazoo, guitar, Casio organs, clock chimes, synthesizers, kitchen implements, and small percussion. A good comparison would be to the Tall Dwarves, whose home recording ethic started the lo-fi movement in New Zealand, or to the '80s Rough Trade and Creation artists such as Raincoats, My Bloody Valentine, and the Pastels. Like these artists, Youngs' recordings are charming in their inventive and experimental use of recording equipment. Using limited resources, he achieves colorful and eccentric results and often reaches highly emotive peaks, as on the album Sapphie, a mournful suite eulogizing a friend by that charming name. Although his time spent as a sonic experimenter could still be heard in the attention to detail that graced his releases, Sapphie's appearance in 1999 signaled a new dedication to folkier sounds for Youngs.
He appeared next in 2001 in collaboration with Japanese guitarist and Acid Mothers Temple leader Makoto Kawabata and on a new solo outing, Making Paper. May arrived in 2002, followed the next year by Airs of the Ear; River Through Howling Sky was released in 2004. Rarely performing live, tours were forfeited in favor of his full-time profession as a writer and columnist of vegetarian cooking tips. Youngs was not entirely averse to live performance, however, and in 2005 he marked a notable appearance on bass for the first live appearance of the reclusive and often mythologized Jandek. The performance was documented for posterity on Glasgow Sunday. Later that year, two new Youngs recordings emerged: Naïve Shaman on Jagjaguwar and Partick Rain Dance on VHF.
Youngs continued to refine and shift his manner of composing and recording. In 2007, he released Autumn Response, a collection of intimate songs on which he accompanied himself only on acoustic guitar, but liberally applied digital delay on both his voice and the six-string to lend a dreamy quality to the proceedings. In 2009, Youngs issued a pair of albums, Like a Neuron on Dekorder and the brief, minimal, but emotionally resonant collection Under Stellar Stream on Jagjaguwar, where his singing voice was accompanied by bass, organ, harmonica, minimal percussion, piano, and synth. Youngs resumed his prolific pace in 2010 with Beyond the Valley of the Ultrahits, his first attempt to make a pop album — albeit one with his own unique take on that notion. He issued two more dates that year on smaller independents in limited editions.
Finding concerts to be nerve-racking experiences, Youngs rarely performed, and when he did, it was usually only in Glasgow. He stepped out, however, and toured throughout New Zealand late in 2010. Upon the early 2011 release of Amplifying Host, he hit the road in the U.K. with Damon & Naomi. That same year, Youngs issued two more full-lengths, Long White Cloud on Grapefruit Records, an exercise in experimental folk, country, and rock, and the considerably more vanguard Atlas of Hearts on Apollolaan Recordings. The next two years saw him release four limited-edition albums on a spate of labels, including the rockist experimentalism of Amaranthine for MIE Music and a complete return to avant-garde music on Core to the Brave for Root Strata.
Youngs was not only prolific in 2013, but even more mercurial. Summer Through My Mind was the first of six albums issued during the year. Released on Ba Da Bing, it was an almost straight take on folk and country. Some months later, the electronic double-length set Regions of the Old School for MIE Music offered a lovely guest appearance by Madeleine Hynes on the track "Celeste." Youngs pared back his output somewhat in 2014, releasing only two albums. Primary Concrete Attack was a limited-edition exercise in dubwise noise, while Red Alphabet in the Snow on Preserved Sound was a lo-fi, vanguard acoustic recording. He released two electronic offerings in 2015, Radio Bus Station on CD-R and the LP-only Unicorns Everywhere.
The composer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist often commented on how the term "folk music" referenced too many generic storytelling song forms under its umbrella. He recorded the conceptual Inside the Future that explored — through original material — how the roots of folk pointed toward new musical frontiers. Throughout the album he wove together poetic lyric abstraction, recognizable melodies, and experimental recording techniques. Inside the Future included two guest spots by his son Sorley Youngs on guitar and zither, and was released by Glass Records Redux in January 2016, followed by The Varispeed Etudes in March. In December he released The Rest Is Scenery, a collection of songs composed of one minor chord each, from E minor to its counterpart an octave higher on the fretboard. Though he employed guests including son Sorely, Pete Aves, Jane Sayer (aka Johann Sebastian Barking), and Frances McKee (the Vaselines), Youngs claimed in his press release that: "... this remains a collection of songs that can be covered by anyone within hours of picking up a guitar. Liberated from dexterity, all that is required is the holding down of two fingers and a steady strum." In 2017 Youngs released the collaborative This Is Not a Lament, which featured guest spots from a wide array of artists, including Trembling Bells, Alasdair Roberts, and Vibracathedral Orchestra, among others. ~ Sylvie Harrison & Thom Jurek