Richard was born in Cleethorpes, a small seaside resort on the east coast of England. He now lives in Brighton, a large seaside resort on the south coast of England. Interested in music from an early age, he took drum tuition from ambulance driver Mr. William Brooks at sixpence a lesson, eventually playing percussion for the Cleethorpes & District Brass Band and the Grimsby Symphony Orchestra. He learned the cello at school, playing it in the local and county youth orchestras and also the Grimsby Light Orchestra. He went to study music at Manchester University for a period and the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the RNCM). He took part in his first broadcast at the age of 18 with the BBC Training Orchestra, and then played percussion many times for Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra (he is on Sir John Barbirolli’s recording of Mahler’s 3rdsymphony, for example, and Bruno Maderna’s account of Webern’s Six Pieces). At the RNCM he was awarded the Hiles Gold Medal, and took part in George Hadjinikos’s conducting classes.
Developing a simultaneous interest in new music and medieval music, as many musicians then did, he played frequently for the Northern Renaissance Consort and similar groups, and then the new music ensembles Dreamtiger and Option Band, among others, giving live and radio concerts in mainland Europe. He also toured with the Northern Dance Theatre a score for percussion and electronics by Stephen Montague. Using his earnings from classical music he set up in Manchester a series of concerts of new music (1971-7), inviting composers Luciano Berio, Christian Wolff, Jean-Yves Bosseur, Henri Pousseur and Mauricio Kagel to visit the city. At around the same time he produced and presented a weekly music programme for BBC Radio Manchester, where he interviewed composers such as William Walton, Elisabeth Lutyens and Peter Maxwell Davies. He became music critic for the alternative journals New Manchester Review and City Life. From 1977 he worked with the composer Trevor Wishart to set up the Manchester Musicians’ Collective, which became, in its concerts at the club Band On The Wall, a greenhouse for the growing Manchester punk and post-punk scene.
In 1978 Richard became music officer of the Merseyside Arts Association (MAA), which allowed him in 1980 to bring the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (with John Cage) to Liverpool, following the assassination of their Liverpool-born patron John Lennon. Richard also invited to Merseyside choreographers Karole Armitage (with composer Rhys Chatham), X6, Remi Charlip, and Trisha Brown. At the same time he was asked to co-present a weekly arts programme for Granada TV, replacing Tony Wilson. While he managed to hold together the MAA and Granada jobs, he also drummed for the Manchester group The Passage. Under that name he wrote and recorded its first album, Pindrop (1980). A cult success, the band signed to Virgin and released its second album in 1981, again written by Richard. The band later signed to Cherry Red, and the full total of six CD editions of the albums are now distributed by LTM Records (https://www.ltmrecordings.com/the_passage.html; https://thepassage.co.uk). The Passage toured mainland Europe, Scandinavia and North America.
It was from his work at Granada TV that the nationwide BBC2 took him on to make a series of short arts films to fit into the live youth slot the Oxford Road Show (ORS) which increasingly launched a number of ‘new pop’ groups such as Duran Duran and Kajagoogoo. Richard ran away from ORS by moving to London and becoming music and dance officer for the London Borough of Camden, where he directed the annual Camden Festival, co-ordinating a range of arts events, from the UK premiere of Kurt Weill’s opera Silverlake to Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, and the British debut of Sweet Honey In The Rock. He introduced choreographer Michael Clark to The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, resulting in New Puritans and I Am Curious, Orange. In 1987 Richard brought American composer Pauline Oliveros to London for the inaugural Women In Music weekend.
It was at this time that he met The Velvet Underground’s Nico, who by chance lived near his Brixton home. She asked him to write her biography, which came out in 1993 after her death (https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/107/1078028/nico–life-and-lies-of-an-icon/9780753548486.html). Following on from Richard’s experiences on various committees and panels of the Arts Council of Great Britain, where he also gave pre-concert talks for the Arts Council’s Contemporary Music Network, he wrote a critical history of the Arts Council, published by Little, Brown in 1999 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Artist-Alternative-History-Arts-Council/dp/0316878200). His third book (2006) is a musicological study of The Velvet Underground (https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/velvet-underground/), and the fourth a book of lyrics from The Passage published by Eyewear (https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/dick-witts/passage-post-punk-poets). His literary agent is Becky Thomas at Johnson & Alcock.
Around this time he renewed his interest in radio and became a regular reviewer on BBC Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope and Radio 3’s Nightwaves, also contributing there to The Essay, and later fronting BBC World Service’s weekly arts magazine Meridian. In 1998 he presented on Radio 3 the radio documentary 1968 in America, produced by Alan Hall, where he interviewed Wayne Kramer of MC5, Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead and La Monte Young, among others. In 2000 he interviewed Karlheinz Stockhausen and Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream for a series titled The Technocrats, an event which led to coverage in The Independent(https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/techno-s-well-weird-grandad-1578997.html) and the Wire. At this point Richard became an adviser to the post-minimalist ensemble Icebreaker. He also played a role in Carol Morley’s first film, The Alcohol Years.
In 2000 Richard was asked to give some music lectures for Professor Keith Potter at Goldsmiths’ University of London. Finding that he enjoyed this, Richard gave more of these at the Universities of Sussex, Surrey and Birkbeck, leading to a lectureship at the University of Edinburgh (2008-11) and a readership at Edge Hill University (2011-2021). Richard’s Ph.D was awarded at Goldsmiths’ University of London in 2012, where he researched BBC music policy. He gave a British Library Saul Seminar on this subject. He has since written many articles and conference papers on music subjects (see Writings section). He is currently looking at issues around music commissioning, and he is writing a history of music in Britain 1940-2000.