Professional musicians and people with experience of homelessness to perform Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet throughout the night. This is a partnership with Gavin Bryars, Streetwise Opera, Southbank Sinfonia, Tate Modern, The West London Mission and The Connection at St Martin’s.
Throughout the night of 12 April, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields brings to life a new version of Gavin Bryars’ iconic work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a piece centred upon an unknown homeless man’s vocal refrain. Professional musicians – including the Academy, Gavin Bryars and his ensemble and musicians from Southbank Sinfonia – perform alongside people with experience of homelessness, throughout the night (8pm – 8am) in The Tanks at Tate Modern.
Bryars has always wanted to do longer versions of the work and this new 12-hour version is the first time it is being performed in concert by people who have experienced homelessness. With the relaxation of usual concert etiquette and free, un-ticketed entry, this performance is the most accessible concert the Academy has ever done.
The Academy has worked creatively with hundreds of homeless people over the last 20 years. Such work has a hugely positive impact on people’s mental health, resulting in people feeling much more able to access accommodation and find employment. As one participant has said, ‘to get out of the rot you need to engender belief, and music is a beautiful place to start.’ During this project, they are going to work with more than sixty people, engaging them with over fifty hours of singing and music-making.
The concert is also being supported by With One Voice, the international arts and homelessness movement founded by Streetwise Opera which aims to connect and strengthen arts and homelessness projects worldwide. WOV is working with cultural spaces to deepen access for people who are and have been homeless.
Germaine Nyack a performer with Streetwise Opera said, “Having the opportunity to perform is very important, because it allows us to rebuild our self-esteem. Problems and trials in life knock you down all the time and being able to perform has allowed me to recover and to have the confidence to speak my mind.”
Composer Gavin Bryars commented, ‘‘it is 48 years since I first heard the fragment of religious song that is the basis of my piece and I still hear new things and continue to be touched by its beautifully musical qualities as well as the dignity, faith and humanity of the homeless old man who sang it. I have performed it several times in the recent past in different contexts - with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with an ensemble including 25 Irish schoolgirls aged between 7 and 10 in Dundalk, with members of my family at Cafe Oto, and as part of the annual memorial service at St Martins-in-the-Fields for those who died homeless in the last year - and the music continues to have a profound effect on an audience. Previous versions have often been limited in duration by external factors - the length of the reel of tape that replays the recorded voice, the side of a vinyl LP, the playing time of a CD. Here those factors are no longer a consideration.’’
Alan Watt, Chief Executive, Academy of St Martin in the Fields said, “The Academy’s history of music projects with people with experience of homelessness might be unexpected and under the radar, but promoting the transformative power of music is fundamental to what we do. We are immensely proud to be working with Gavin Bryars on a new version of his poignant and powerful work for a ground-breaking all-night performance that unites professional musicians with people with experience of homelessness.”
Frances Morris, Director, Tate Modern commented, “I am pleased that we are able to host this powerful project at Tate Modern, which seems especially relevant at this time. It is a great example of how the arts can engage directly with pressing social issues and lived experiences and can bring people together to share and reflect on those experiences.”