The Story Of An Enduring Minimalist Piece

In 1971 Gavin Bryars and Alan Power were working together on a film about people living rough in the Elephant and Castle area of London and around the Waterloo Station area.

The film ultimately did not see the light of day  however Gavin Bryars was taken by a section of a homeless man singing a section of a religious song.

The full (and for me moving) back story to how this piece of audio came to be used is more fully explained here.

In 1993 the price was given an extended reworking when Bryars was prompted by composer Philip Glass to revisit the work for the age of the CD which saw the slightly puzzling (for me anyway) addition of Tom Waits voice to a section of the re-recording of the orchestral accompaniment.

The piece to this day divides opinion. I’ll admit it’s a piece that often moves me to tears. Not for any supposed religious or even spiritual aspects (I’m not personally a believer) but just on some kind of tragic human level that I still find hard to adquately explain. It just moves me.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this  but equally know that  many don’t agree, aren’t moved in any way and just ‘don’t get it’.You only have to read the comments on Amazon to see how much this piece still divides opinion but then that’s music. It would be a curious world if we all liked and were moved by the same the same things.

Over the years the piece has crept into the radio playlist for this time of year. Hard to truly explain why.

I caught it on WNYC radio only last week and had to turn the radio off before it grabbed hold on me again even if it was the easy to digest four or 4.25 minute version rather than the original 26 minute or 56 minute arrangement.


2 thoughts on “The Story Of An Enduring Minimalist Piece

  1. I sometimes think I live on another planet, as I had never heard this or anything about it before. Or perhaps my memory is just rubbish but it does not seem like something I would forget.

    I listened to it – and I have to say it made me feel a bit weird and yes,somewhat tearful. Mostly actually because it reminded me of my grandfather, could have been him.

    Thank you!

    • I think this one had been working its way into the mainstream consciousness for years. Probably still not the sort of thing that’d pop up on Heart FM but Robert Elms seems to play it around this time of year on BBC Radio London and I have even heard it on Future Radio (community radio Norwich). Not everyone’s cup of tea but certainly of its genre a landmark piece. Glad you got something from it.

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