There are those amongst us who conscientiously – occasionally even aggressively – invest their free time stalking charity shops, thrift stores, and obscure record fairs in the quest for records filed under “weird shit”. I certainly have acquaintances who fit that bill… and if it’s a love of music that’s granted you passage to this wee little blog rather than typing great bouncing tits into Goggle, then I suspect you have too.
For the rest of us, picking up strange records isn’t a sport, per se. It’s not quite the deliberate pursuit of esoterica for it’s own sake – but even so, somewhere along the way the stacks of vinyl and the shelves of CDs have, for constituents, picked up the occasional unusual interloper.
Below the words is one of those atypical discs from my own piles of recorded sound; a meditative piece of experimental mixed-media by English composer Gavin Bryars entitled ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’.
As eclectic as I like to consider my taste to be, I’m somewhat alien to avant-garde orchestral composition; whenever encountered, I find that there’s a perceptible coldness and frigidity against which my indie-boy brain starts hunkering after gorgeous bass hooks and the liberal application of the wah-wah pedal – although this is patently a personal flaw, and perhaps I need to venture more frequently beyond the whole white boys + fringes + lip-gloss thing that floats my flotilla.
That said, there’s something hauntingly mesmeric to ‘Jesus’ Blood…’. A momentum that feeds from its minimalistic trappings. It’s a piece of music built around (and eventually subsuming) a brief tape loop of an inebriated down-and-out singing shards of a hymn, which Bryars recorded when working on a TV series on the plight of London’s homeless. It’s a strangely moving fragment, maudlinly photogenic in effect, and as the centrepiece of the subsequent composition it lends itself perfectly to the layers of strings that build and stretch with all the sensual, otherworldly impact of a daguerreotype.
There are also several versions of this piece. Originally around twenty-five minutes in length, the patronage of Brian Eno saw it reach a wider audience when released on vinyl, whilst the arrival of CD and its greater storage capacity permitted an extended revisiting that deploys a parallel vocal by Tom Waits (a performer whose timbre I’m not usually found appreciating), providing contrast, increasing depth, and more than doubling duration.
And as tempting as it is to feature the full-length 74 minute version below the words, there’s also a 4+ minute précis recorded at the same time. Bear in mind that as a recording it’s intentionally quiet (intimate is probably the correct description) – especially at the beginning. Hence LGM recommends listening via headphones, volume cranked well up. Perhaps with some ecclesiastical iconography to hand, and some obsolete photographic equipment from the late nineteenth century.
Gavin Bryars / Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet