Sam Richards was born in London in 1949 where he studied composition, improvisation and piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His tutor was Alfred Nieman, pianist, composer and noted pioneer of improvisation and music therapy. Sam also familiarized himself with the experimental music scene at the time, attending London performances by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Earle Brown and others and performing alongside Cornelius Cardew in some of Cardew’s own works. His compositions and improvisation schemes were played in various parts of London including the now legendary underground venue, the Drury Lane Arts Lab.
Sam moved to Devon initially to study at Dartington College of Arts but stayed on in Totnes where he now lives. His move to Devon coincided with a growing interest in folklore and vernacular music and song. The results of his fieldwork in the Westcountry and elsewhere comprises over 600 hours initially recorded on tape but now being digitized and archived by the British Library. He also performed songs and ballads for many years either solo or in groups, appearing on five albums. His teachers in this field were Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger as well as the many local singers he encountered in his researches.
He has long been fascinated by the conversations it is possible to create between experimental music and more popular sources. Compositions where this is more or less explicit are City of Dreams 2001 (Torbay Symphony Orchestra), Hidden Friend 2011 (Ten Tors Orchestra), Hallsands 2012 (Plymouth University and Soundart Radio), and The Night of the Storm and the Rain 2017 (performed in a marquee on Hallsands cliff top).
Many of Sam’s compositions consist of worked-out forms or schemes over which various degrees of performer autonomy are layered. About Time (1998-2019), for example, has four written pages to be played as conceived and notated, plus graphic scores, words, hints for performers to interpret in their own ways although never exactly improvising.
Pieces like this include Influence 1992 which employs a compendium of types of notation (Barbican Theatre, Plymouth), Erratic Movements of the Ear 1994 (Totnes and Plymouth), Butterfly Music 1995 (Buckfastleigh Butterfly Farm), About Time 1998-2019 (Plough Theatre, Torrington; Plymouth University; Voices version – San Francisco Public Library; New Version 2019 (Totnes, Ashburton); Fish Music in which fish swimming in a tank become musical notation (National Marine Aquarium; Cardiff Millennium Centre); Pebbles Waves Clouds 2017 (Ten Tors Orchestra).
Torbay Symphony Orchestra has previously played three of his compositions: City of Dreams 2001, Violin Concerto 2005 – soloist Susanna Burnett, and Four Sea Studies 2010.
Sam is also a free improviser and jazz pianist, broadcasts regularly, teaches piano and composition with Totnes School of Piano (run by Lona Kozik and himself), writes about music and writes and reads poetry locally.