Composer Gavin Bryars was living in London working on a documentary about people living in poverty. During the recording, a number of people being interviewed broke into drunken maudlin ballads and opera. But one old man, who, according to Bryars, was not drinking, sang a small verse of a religious song called “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.”

He sang it without irony. He sang it seemingly in childlike faith despite his dire circumstances.

The recording of the old man was never used in the film and it was returned to Bryars. When Bryars listened to it at home he found something beautiful in the old man’s singing. He improvised a simple accompaniment to the verse that built around the man’s singing. Shortly after that he took the tape to the recording studio where he worked. He copied the loop of song onto a continuous reel. Knowing this would take time he left the studio with the song playing to grab a cup of coffee.

Out into the studio came the old man’s words, haunting, faith-filled and optimistic:

Jesus blood never failed me yet-

never failed me yet

Jesus blood never failed me yet –

there’s one thing I know

because he loves me so

Jesus blood never failed me yet –

The tramp’s hymn could be heard in the hallway and a painting studio where people moved about excitedly most times. But when Bryars returned he noticed something odd. “When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued,” said Bryars. “People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.”

Please listen to it at The National Catholic Register. You won’t be disappointed.