Gavin Bryars: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
s a serious experimental composer and quasi-minimalist Gavin Bryars would undoubtedly have no problem with me attempting to strip him of the real credit for his greatest composition.
The core of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” is in its simplest terms a twenty five second portion of discarded tape featuring four lines (three of which are the song’s title) sung by an unidentified unaccompanied homeless man referred to as The Tramp. This then is looped for 75 minutes and Bryars added levels of shifting orchestration, choirs and a dash of Tom Waits to create a powerful, swelling compassionate, unavoidably emotive recording.
It’s the barely accompanied first minutes of the piece that are the most magical, with Bryars’ orchestral work appearing almost ancillary to the power of the vocal part. These soft, trembling, distinctly English strings certainly encourage a dewy eyed sentimentality but remain intimate and considerate, never overstepping their mark by descending into schmaltz.
The voice of this senior citizen conveys an unambiguous sense of childlike innocence in his tone carried by the song’s lyrics. Normally cockney accents of this type fall into cap-in-hand insincerity, but this sweetly humble old man leaves an incredibly powerful visual representation with a minimum of effort. Could it possible that Bryars worked some alchemical magic on this sample to draw so much from this tiny sliver of a man’s life? The open eyed adoration, the waver in his voice, the audible almost-smile at the phrase “…he loves me so” and his surety are all astonishingly clear.
This kind of faith and unwavering assurance that you will never ever be left, be lost or unloved is heart achingly tangible in these moments, affecting both those who share his beliefs and those to whom it remains unattainable (or perhaps unacceptable). And this is what Bryars is wordlessly reinforcing here; a respect at this man’s devotion and at the same time, with this melancholy arrangement, a broken hearted acceptance of something he can never have.
There is a tiny disgustingly arrogant pitying part of me that knows there is no eternal comfort to be found in Jesus, but this is overwhelmed by my own complete assurance that he has found contentment in heaven, a place that this black hearted atheist doesn’t even believe exists.
By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2004-07-07