London Philharmonic Orchestra performs Gavin Bryars’s
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in a contemplative event at
St John’s Waterloo
Relaxed performance and activities earlier in the day for homeless community groups supported by the church
The London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Gavin Bryars’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet on Wednesday 11 January at St John’s Waterloo in two concerts; one public performance and the other a relaxed event for invited homeless community groups.
At the core of Bryars’s composition is a 26-second recording of an unknown homeless man singing the refrain: ‘Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, this one thing I know, for He loves me so.’ Bryars came about the man in 1971 whilst working with a friend on a film about people living rough in the Elephant and Castle and Waterloo areas of London, where the concerts will be taking place.
The audio clip of this particular man did not make it in to the final film but Bryars was given all the unused tapes. He soon discovered that the man’s singing was in tune with his piano and decided to add a simple accompaniment which grows in strength throughout the eventual 30-minute piece. Unfortunately, the man’s name was not captured and Bryars’s efforts to locate him again were not successful. Attempts to place the song he sings have also proved inconclusive, meaning there is a possibility this was the man’s own composition.
The public performance in the early evening is designed to be a contemplative event, creatively lit by Intersection, and the Orchestra in the middle of the space, surrounded by the audience. It will offer an opportunity to step out of London’s rush hour for a moment to pause and reflect during January, commonly a difficult month for many (6.30pm). The concert will be followed by a panel discussion with Bryars, who celebrates his 80th birthday a few days later, and others.
The community performance will take place earlier in the day and the invited audience will consist of guests from the homeless communities served by St John’s Waterloo. It will be a relaxed, reflective and gentle event with lunch provided. There will be a retiring collection at the end of the public performance in aid of the homeless charities the church works with.
St John’s has a long association with homelessness. A day centre run from the crypt provided support to residents of Cardboard City during the 1980s and 1990s. Today it takes part with other London churches in a winter overnight shelter scheme and runs therapeutic arts projects co-produced with people with experience of homelessness. Audience members at both the Bryars events will be able to view an exhibition entitled Utopia: A New World for Everyone that results from one such project, a residency last year by Accumulate, the Art School for the Homeless.
Elena Dubinets, Artistic Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra says: ‘Throughout our 2022/23 season, subtitled “A place to call home”, we have been musically exploring issues of inclusion and exclusion, belonging and displacement. How do we come to have a sense of place in life, to be “at home” with ourselves and our surroundings? And what does it mean to have a disruption of home – or, in other words, to be a displaced person or a person experiencing homelessness? The penetrating emotional power of a religious song created and beautifully performed by an unnamed homeless person impressed the composer Gavin Bryars as much as it has been impressing generations of listeners ever since he wrote Jesus’ Blood, one of the most profound musical works of the last five decades. This unusual collaboration between two artists who never met demonstrates that a sense of home can be centred in finding an individual and unforgettable voice, especially for a person who might not have a real home.’
Euchar Gravina, Artistic Director of St John’s Waterloo says: ‘St John’s has recently undergone a £5.5 million restoration, inspired by the desire to be a church that serves everyone. So, we are delighted to host the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which also calls Waterloo its home, and look forward to these performances which celebrate a community too often left out from cultural institutions but who belong here and are part of our story too.’
These concerts are part of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s extensive community work in South London. The Orchestra believes that music has the power to inspire and enthral, whoever you are, and whether you play an instrument or not. It serves the homeless community through the ‘Crisis Creates’ project, working with the national charity Crisis UK. This offers creative performance opportunities to adults who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness. It works to improve participants’ wellbeing and confidence through self-expression, collaboration and developing creative skills. Read more information on Crisis Creates here. The LPO also offers concerts for families and schools, as well as creative projects for disabled adults and young people and their parents/carers.
Generously supported by the TIOC Foundation
Tickets: £15 and £12 (restricted view) https://lpo.org.uk/event/gavin-bryars-jesus-blood-never-failed-me-yet/