Skip to content

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me

A homeless man sings 'Jesus Blood Never Failed Me'.  Gavin Bryars added an orchestra later.  The whole piece is here, this is the 6 minute version:


Bryars said of it:

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.

4 thoughts on “Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me

  1. Cal

    Very profound and moving. Strength in weakness, the very heart of following our Lord. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Glen

    Thanks Cal and Kebs.

    Matthew, how ironic that the one being pitied (the homeless man) is the one who really knew the truth, and the one pitying was pitifully ignorant!

    Life is full of these situations where we feel we should have said something (or at least my life is!). I imagine Gavin's had *many* people speak to him about this piece. And I'll bet he's thought about it a lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer