web analytics

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Stay with the start of this recording, it starts very quietly…

part 2

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet
never failed me yet
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet
this one thing I know
that He loves me so…

This is a 1971 composition by Gavin Bryars. An unknown homeless man sings. It was recorded for a documentary about street life around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo (London). The first LP recording was 25 minutes long. A cassette tape version was 60 minutes. The CD version is 74 minutes. Bryars writes:

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.

There are a number of variations. Including a 1990s version with Tom Waits singing along (and here).

H/T Peter Carrell

Similar Posts:

1 thought on “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”

  1. I live at the Elephant and Castle. This album is one of the greater things that’s come out of the Elephant.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.