Saturday, 26 January 2008

BLUE MOON (musick by request)



Original Issue: 1975 Obscure (Obscure 1)

Reissue: 1998 Virgin
(CDVE 938 7243 8 45970 2 3)

Margot-meter: 4.5 moons / 5

1. The Sinking Of The Titanic
2. Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Excerpt from "The Voice of New Music" by Tom Johnson:

Gavin Bryars’s Work Is Good Four Ways

Sometimes I think that the crucial question in evaluating music is not simply whether it is good or not, but in how many ways. There are plenty of pieces in every category that excel in one way or another. But once in a while one finds a piece that crosses many boundaries, has many facets, and somehow manages to excel from a whole lot of points of view. That is the case with a piece by the British composer Gavin Bryars. The work, ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,’ occupies a side of a recent album issued on the new and modestly named Obscure label.

To begin with, ‘Jesus’ Blood’ is good as a piece of avant-garde minimalism. One little vocal tune repeats over and over and over, maybe 50 times in all. It’s just another tape loop really, but as in all good minimal works, the material keeps revealing more and more about itself. The tune never changes, but my perception of it shifts continually.

‘Jesus’ Blood’ is also excellent religious music. Neither the melody nor the voice are at all refined, but I believe the man totally as he sings. ‘Jesus’ blood never failed me yet. This one thing I know, that he loves me so. Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.’ He conveys the kind of sincerity and conviction that any cantor or gospel singer tries for, but which only the best ones achieve.

‘Jesus’ Blood’ also excels as a documentary recording. The singer is not a professional gospel singer at all, but just an ordinary London tramp. This recording of his meandering song reminds me of some of the best photographs I’ve seen. It’s one of those everyday street images that somehow turns out to be utterly poignant. Incidentally, a filmmaker, Alan Powers, deserves credit for capturing this anonymous tramp’s song on tape. But Bryars deserves credit for rescuing it from Powers’s outtake file.

On yet another level, ‘Jesus’ Blood’ is some of the best easy listening I’ve heard in some time. After the bum’s tune is heard six or eight times, strings begin to accompany him. Later on, Bryars gradually adds guitar, bass, woodwinds, horns, harp, brass, oboe, organ, and vibes. The arrangement moves through a series of lush orchestrations, worthy of the classiest Muzak arrangers.

Call it minimalism, call it religious music, call it documentation, or call it easy listening. Any way you look at it, Bryars has put together a good piece, and it is impressive that he could make it work on all these levels at once. Incidentally, the piece is also likely to make you cry, which I suppose makes it good kitsch, too, but that’s another problem.

The other side is devoted to ‘The Sinking of the Titanic.’ This is also a first-rate piece, though in only two ways. Most important and most unusual, it is a first-rate documentary. That is something that is rarely done in music, and it is a most interesting direction. In this case, Bryars did a great deal of research about the sinking of the Titanic, reading all the reports, diary notes, and recollections he could get his hands on. He investigated the story about the ship orchestra playing hymns on the deck as the ship went down. He tried to determine what hymns they played and what the composition of the sinking orchestra was. He found names, dates, times, and places, and, with an obsessive thoroughness, went about attempting to recreate the general sequence of events.

The music itself is an Iveslike collage, and that is the second way in which it is good. The strings play very slow uncoordinated versions of the authentic hymns, while choirs, voices, and unidentifiable elements obtrude faintly in the background, like ghostly memories.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rick said...

Margot, you are unbelievable. Thanks so much for this post. I can't wait to get it on the cans. This is a superb album, wonderfully haunting and inspiring.

Perro D Chrome said...

Hi!!!Your musical selection is won derfull.I made a link of you.
Greetings from Colombia

Anonymous said...

This is the best blog ever. Dark and mysterious music. Thanks for the chance to sample these albums. I will add you to my favorites. I like how you want to make contact with the people and discuss music diversity. Keep up the good work

Jefe del Hexágono said...

Thank you very much for password. This album is wonderful, and second track is beautifully melancholic.

Now I want to invite you to my new blog:

Charles said...

That's not what i like of Gavin Bryars: to much classical for me. Thanks anyway. Cheers, Charles

cpm said...

A terrific album, one I like to play when I go to sleep.

Anonymous said...


Margot said...

this post has expired and the file removed from servers, sorry.

If you have downloaded this in the past (so you've the .rar file), please drop a line to and I'll tell you how to unrar the archive.


BlackCatBone said...

any chance to repost?