Archive | April, 2011

Tracks for Easter – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars

23 Apr

In 1971 composer Gavin Bryars was recording music for a film about the homeless in London. One man on the streets, who was not drunk, started singing a fragment of an old hymn which Bryars caught on tape. It wasn’t used in the film, but Bryars held onto the clip. The story goes that Bryars left the loop running in his studio one day, while copying it, and came back to find colleagues “unnaturally subdued” and some “quietly weeping”.

He added orchestral backing and released the track on an album in 1975. A re-released version came out in 1993 which features several takes including US throat-rasping legend Tom Waits duetting with the loop.

I first heard this song on the radio as a teenager and picked up a cassette copy in a record store bargain bucket (minus the case of course!) in the 1990s.

The un-named tramp died before he could hear Bryar’s recording. It’s still one of the most moving, disconcerting and comforting things I’ve ever heard – conveying resolute hope in the middle of helpless circumstance.

The music video – also a bit unusual – is below. Happy Easter!


Tracks for Easter – Strange Way by Martyn Joseph

22 Apr

Strange Way is one of Cardiff songwriter Martyn Joseph‘s ‘list’ songs, which pile on image after image to build a devastating portrait.

The lyrics (below) take in everything from a suntan to the horrors of concentration camps through the lens of Christ’s crucifixion – a Good Friday track if ever there was one.

Strange way to start a revolution
Strange way to get a better tan
Strange way to hold a power breakfast
Strange way show your business plan
Strange way to see if wood would splinter
Strange way to do performance art
Strange way to say “I’ll see you later”
Strange way to leave behind your heart

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes

Strange way
Strange way to hang around for hours
Strange way to imitate a kite
Strange way to get a view of Auschwitz
Strange way to represent the light
Strange way to watch for stormy weather
Strange way to disprove gravity
Strange way to go about fund-raising
Strange way to sing I’m liberty

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes

Strange way
Strange way to test for haemophillia
Strange way to spend a happy hour
Strange way to down a bitter cocktail
Strange way to merchandise your power
Strange way to reassure your mother
Strange way to finish your world tour
Strange way to pose for countless paintings
Strange way to gather in the poor

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes

The world is too much with us
Could we not now just elope?
Strange way to hold us closer
Strange way to give us hope
Strange way

Tracks for Easter – Nobody ‘Cept You by 16 Horsepower

21 Apr

When Bob Dylan recorded Nobody ‘Cept You while making Planet Waves in 1973 he was still a few years off his dramatic conversion to Christianity at the end of the decade. So, if we’re splitting hairs, it’s a bit far-fetched to call this an Easter song.

16 Horsepower‘s cover, on the other hand, is a different matter. The now defunct Denver folk-and-brimstone act included it on their superb 2000 LP Secret South (labelled “brilliant” by the NME).

After nine songs of pretty intense rumination on sin, judgement and obligation, comes Nobody ‘Cept You. It’s a joyous celebration of love – whether human or divine. While everything else falls around him, singer David Eugene Edwards (a massive Dylan fan) marvels at the object of his affection: “You’re the one that reaches me/You’re the one that I admire/Every time we meet together/I feel like I’m on fire”.

This vibrant relationship reminds the singer of “that old familiar chime” that thrilled him “in the churches” as a child. Now grown up he walks “mournfully” through the churchyard – “I’m a stranger here and no-one sees me/’Cept you/Yeah you”. The song finishes with a heart-leaping burst of “I’m in love with you!”; surely one of the purest declarations Dylan ever penned.

In the end, he didn’t include it on Planet Waves, though it eventually surfaced on the Bootleg Series Vol 1-3.

A solo live take by David Eugene Edwards (who now performs as Wovenhand) can be viewed on YouTube or hear the 16HP studio version below.

Tracks for Easter – Until the End of the World by U2

19 Apr

It’s scary to think that this song – from Achtung Baby (U2’s best ever album methinks) – is almost 20 years old.

Until the End of the World never really grabbed me until we saw U2 perform it at Birmingham NEC in 2001 when Lisa was eight and a half months pregnant with Rosie. Bono was shooting round the heart-shaped stage like a forty-something possessed and the Edge’s riffs bounced off the rafters with laser gun precision.

Bono and co are known for their God-bothering ability, so it’s no surprise that Easter themes surface. Dig a little here and you’ll unearth a song by Judas to Jesus, recalling the Last Supper (“We ate the food/we drank the wine…I took the money/I spiked you drink”) and the betrayal in the garden (“…I was playing the tart/I kissed your lips and broke your heart”).

Intriguingly, the last verse finds the disgraced disciple dreaming of redemption: “Waves of regret and waves of joy/I reached out for the one I tried to destroy…you said you’d wait ’til the end of the world”.

You can view the original video on YouTube and there’s a crackin’ live version below.

Tracks for Easter – Hurt by Johnny Cash

18 Apr

I love Christmas – partly because there’s so much great Yuletide music to shuffle through. But you don’t get Mariah Carey or Chris Rea diving into the studio in March to lay down an Easter hit. Perhaps bunnies, daffodils or chocolate eggs are too fluffy to sing about (and snowmen or sleighbells aren’t?). More to the point, even Lady Gaga would find it hard to write a three-minute chart-topper about death by crucifixion.

So, over the next few days I’ll suggest some songs that, though not all solely about Easter, might get us in the mood. If it gets too heavy, just think about bunnies and Mariah Carey.

Track One: Hurt by Johnny Cash

There aren’t many 70-year-olds who could turn a song about self-despair by an industrial-rock group into one of the most heart-breaking ballads of the 21st century. Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt turned out to be his epitaph. He died seven months after filming the harrowing video in 2002.

The film – which has had over 50 million views on YouTube – is devastating. It shows a frail, wrecked man sitting in the long-closed, crumbling House of Cash museum, watched with genuine concern by his wife June, who herself died a short while after the video was released. “What have I become? My sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end,” sings Cash with weary, lonely authority.

Footage of a younger, virile Cash is interspersed – emphasising the fragility of a life lived on the edge. As the video reaches its climax and Cash’s vocals are matched in urgency by a single-note piano hammer, movie shots of Christ are also interjected. Cash shakily spills a goblet of red wine over the untouched banquet on his table… the nails go in and the cross is raised.

The effect is harrowing and desparate. An American legend humiliated, broken and poured out. A 2,000 year-old echo of Good Friday.

Dadrock rules…for now

2 Apr

I’m pleased to report that my youngest son Reuben – who turned 3 last week – shares his dad’s impeccable taste in tune-age.

About to shoot over to Longdon (a small nearby village not, unfortunately, a capital-city typo) to pick up a ‘new’ DVD player for the kids on Freecycle, I  got in the car today to find his sister Macy (5) trying to sneak Now 77 (disc 2) into the stereo before I arrived.

Banishing them to their booster seats, I instead suggested that we listen to the CD that was in there, giving them a convincing blast of soul/gospel legend Mavis Staples.

“No, that’s dad music!” Macy protested.

“I like daddy’s music!” Reuben retorted, bringing a smile to my face and an ET-like glow to my heart.

Macy was, obviously, repeating something she’d heard from her mum. Reuben, on the other hand, was plainly speaking from a purer heart, too young to have his taste sullied.

Reuben rock

Reuben, then 1, digs dad's rock

In fact, as Lisa often jokes, Reuben is my best friend at weekends, shadowing me around the house; “what you doin dad!” comes the shout from the other side of the toilet door. He even brought his coco pops into our bedroom this morning after realising I’d left him alone in the kitchen.

Anyway, though Now 77 won the car CD battle, my son’s allegiances lie with me, for the time being at least.

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