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)
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