Jesus' Blood

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet: 26 Seconds to a Revolution

Friday, April 15, 2011

While filming material for a 1971 documentary by Gavin Bryars’s friend Alan Power focused on people living in impoverished areas in London, the filmmaker crossed paths with a singing vagrant who offered an improvised and affecting profession of faith with the words "Jesus' blood never failed me yet..."

Upon listening to the taped material at home Bryars not only found the man’s voice strikingly in tune with his piano but that the opening section of the song – a lopsided 13 bars long – formed an effective and occasionally unpredictable audio loop. This unique combination of musical and extra-musical elements evolved into one of Bryars’s earliest successes.

Building upon the piano accompaniments he improvised when initially listening to the song, Bryars composed a progressive, swelling structure for the piece, in which simple orchestral accompaniments evolve into increasingly lush harmonic textures. With the man’s song looping underneath for the duration of the work, Bryars supplies a musical counterpoint that at once respects the tramp’s nobility and celebrates his simple faith.

Though the piece was recorded in its original 25-minute form, an expanded 75-minute version was released in the 1990s with singer Tom Waits joining the original song in the final section. Two singles were released of this concluding duet, one beginning with the vagrant who is later joined by Waits and another with the reverse arrangement. For a limited time we're able to offer a free download of both these tracks from Gavin Bryars: A Portrait thanks to the generous support of Schott Publishing, Universal Music and the composer himself

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet


Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (single remix)


Tell us your stories about this piece, and don't let your friends go any longer without hearing (and having!) Jesus' Blood.

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Comments [4]

joseba from Bilbao


Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet
What i can not understand is why nobody searched anything about the man who sang this beautiful song. Nowadays we have diferent ways to find aperson so what happened? We nedd to know who was this homeless, what was his name, where was he buried, what about his life....This beautiful song neeeds a name and a face

Jun. 09 2013 03:44 PM
Andrew from Fairbanks, AK

I heard this just a few months ago and was so haunted that I had to share. And when a number of friends confessed to having heard this in the 80s and 90s we felt like an old love had been brought back up. And we relished it.

Apr. 21 2011 12:49 AM
@ActiveCultures

I remember taping this track from an episode of New Sounds when I was in high school - it was on an episode along with Scott Johnson's John Somebody, so I guess the theme of the show was on process/tape music/found sounds. Somewhere I probably still have the cassette, with the newspaper radio listings still taped to its side. Definitely one of the moments that changed the way I think about music.

Apr. 16 2011 02:23 PM
William Lee from Brooklyn, NY

I heard the full-length version on WNYC (David Garland) many years ago and have listened to it dozens of times since, and it gives me goosebumps every time. (Like Gavin Bryars I am not a person of faith but am always deeply moved by contemplating the old man's profession of a faith that obviously HAD failed him). I once listened to the CD while driving and had to pull into a rest stop because I couldn't see to drive any more. The full orchestration and Tom Waits at the end bowls me over every time. I am delighted that Q2 has brought renewed attention to this brilliant work and I enjoyed the fascinating back story in the interview with Mr. Bryars.

Apr. 15 2011 03:49 PM

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