Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lovesong: Gavin Bryars: 'Jesus' Love Never Failed Me Yet'

Sometimes 'ugly' can break your heart. 
When I play this Di ducks under the quilt (every cloud...) so it's a bit of a 'marmite moment' I guess.
There are many 'takes' available but I've included an 'easy' version with strings and an alternative, lengthy but worthwhile version with Tom Waits singingalong...
I couldn't describe the genesis of this 'song' better than its creator Gavin Bryars (or maybe he's better described here as an 'archivist'), so he's quoted extensively below: 

"In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song - sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads - and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet". This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one. When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song - 13 bars in length - formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping. I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism."


  1. This one missed my radar. Strangely hypnotic and gorgeous. Hoping to believe the sentiment again some day...

    Thanks for the link Trev.


  2. If this pops up on the iPod it invariably knocks me sideways; I have to sit and listen; mournful yet therapeutic...