In a recent review of Richard Youngs’ Amaranthine, released this month on MIE Music, I noted that, for all the emphasis therein on disjointed percussion and ragged guitar, the element that shone out the most was Youngs singular and affecting voice.
If ever an argument was needed to underline the fact that the Glasgow-based maverick possesses such a distinctive and powerful set of pipes, you could look no further than this live performance at London’s respected Cafe Oto to underline it emphatically. Billed as “An Evening with Richard Youngs”, it was suitably intimate, but most arrestingly, it was made up two sets, with the first only featuring Youngs on vocals. With such a sparse treatment, the songs took on surprisingly fresh potency, Youngs’ voice flying out on wings of cavernous reverb, settling over the audience with heightened vigour as his cryptic lyrics were brought into sharp relief. It felt like an avant-garde answer to the coffee shop solo sets of the early sixties Greenwich Village folk scene, for, as a listener, you were forced to latch onto each word, and open your emotions to those transmitted to you by Youngs’ soulful, mournful and affecting tones.
“Fenflowers” was the first set’s arresting track, mainly because Youngs humourously reprised it several times throughout the gig, but he also brought fresh perspective on little-known gems from his past, such as “No Longer in this Perdition” and “Life on a Beam”. Shorn of the loop effects that pepper more recent albums like Autumn Response and Amplifying Host, the vocals-only tracks honed in on the essence of his songs and his voice, as he rocked himself back-and-forth like a man possessed and peppered the interludes with jocular asides. Again, it felt like sitting in on a quiet session by a revered folk performer in a smoky bar, although I could have done without the sound of the coffee machine punctuating the bliss of “This Life Gives No Force”. Naughty Oto!
The second set saw the addition of electric guitar and harmonica. A track off his upcoming Core to the Brave album, “We are the Messengers” launched proceedings with grungy riffs and ramshackle solos all wound around each other, to delirious effect. Meanwhile, on “Mountain of Doom” (apparently co-written by his five-year-old son, who has obviously inherited his father’s creative genes) the spaces between verses were inundated with a guitar sound like molten lava and hysterical blasts of harmonica. Yet despite this ramshackle post-Blues music, it was still the voice that dominated: high, keening and impossibly affecting. Despite a rather abrupt end to the set, which saw him abandon a song midway through, that irresistible voice snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (thanks to yet another reprisal of “Fenflowers” that brought delighted laughter from the audience). Indeed, when he reprised the solo vocal approach for the encore, “Summer’s Edge”, I closed my eyes and felt his words wash over me. Despite his oblique lyrics and idiosyncratic style, there is a strange mixture of sensuality and melancholy to his delivery that is almost certainly unique.
Typically for Richard Youngs, this gig was untidy, unpredictable, experimental and instantly familiar all in one. For all those there, it must have simply served as a reminder that he is one of Britain’s most unpredictable and endearing artists. And one blessed with an awe-inspiring voice.
– Joseph Burnett (text)
– Andy Newcombe (images)