Friday, March 09, 2007

Gavin Bryars: Tramp with Orchestra IV (full strings) [1993]

This follow-up to 1975's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, includes Tom Waits on the last two tracks. I was going through a Tom Waits phase around the time I started college and bought this album not knowing who Gavin Bryars was. I listened to it a bit then, and have gone back to it every couple of years since. The entire suite is 75 minutes.

From Gavin Bryars' website: "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 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.

The piece was originally recorded on Brian Eno's Obscure label in 1975 and a substantially revised and extended version for Point Records in 1993. The version which is played by my ensemble was specially created in 1993 to coincided with this last recording."

If you want to hear Tom Waits, you'll probably have to buy the album here.


Emmett said...

Beautiful! Now that's what I call bum rocks! I keep picturing the bum singing near the beginning of Clockwork Orange when I hear this. At any rate, what a great piece of music. I wonder if these were the chord changes the bum was hearing in his head. Who wrote this song? Is it a traditional?

Mike said...

I don't think it's traditional. I was under the impression that it was someting the bum invented and would sing to himself. I have no basis for that impression though. The word "yet" doesn't appear in too many spiritual songs though...
The entire 75 minute suite is quite interesting. At times the tempo seems to speed up, as different orchestrations are used, though I think the tempo is the same throughout. Tom Waits' addition to the song is quite interesting. He sounds every bit the bum himself.
The first section, comprised of the bum's lament and a string quartet is 25 minutes of sheer brilliance.
I'll bring it down to the party tomorrow night to set the mood.