Release Date:

April 23, 2012

Purchase Links:

BCGBCD18 Mercy and Grand features the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, alongside music by Kurt Weill, John Tams, folk music. The whole project was put together by Opera North and features singer Jess Walker and a fine and heterodox band of musicians. Arrangements are by Gavin Bryars, Joe Townsend and Jim Holmes.

“I’m honored to have an artist of Gavin Bryars’ stature dress these songs up and take them out to an elegant night on the town.”

Tom Waits

Gavin’s Notes:


Mercy and Grand

Mercy and Grand¬†celebrates the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and at the same time it expresses something of the great American and European songwriting traditions from which they spring. Our project involves setting Tom and Kathleen, as composers, alongside other composers. Here, for example, we have pieces by Kurt Weill, some folk music, a John Tams fairground ballad, a tango and a gypsy waltz.¬†We do not seek to be a pastiche of Tom’s own band nor do we replicate Tom’s inimitable performing style. Our singer, Jess Walker, is classically trained, female and English, and this can help to draw a different kind of attention to the words and the music, especially for those more used to Tom’s unique qualities as performer.

When Dominic Gray at Opera North got us all together for the first time we simply played through lots of material. Gradually we focused on particular themes – memory, loss, journeys, the circus… – and although there is no specific narrative in the sequence of songs, there is a sense that the music does take us on a kind of journey.



Jess Walker: voice
Joe Townsend: violin, trumpet-violin
Dai Pritchard: tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
Karen Street: accordion
James Woodrow: electric guitar
Jim Holmes: piano, harmonium, harmonica (track 12)
Gavin Bryars: double bass, harmonium (track 8)
Simon Allen: percussion, including musical saw (tracks 4 & 19), waterphone (track 14)


1. Trad.: Gypsy Tango (arr. Townsend)
2. Waits/Brennan: A little drop of poison
3. Kurt Weill (text: Brecht): Ballad of sexual dependency (arr. Holmes)
4. Waits/Brennan: Poor Edward (arr. Holmes)
5. Waits/Brennan: Alice
6. Waits/Brennan: Whistle down the wind (arr. Bryars)
7. Waits/Brennan: A little rain (arr. Bryars)
8. Waits/Brennan: Innocent when you dream (arr. Bryars)
9. Waits/Brennan: Johnsburg Illinois
10. Trad.: La Partida (arr. Townsend)
11. Kurt Weill (text: Brecht): What keeps mankind alive? (arr. Holmes)
12. Waits/Brennan: Pony
13. Waits/Brennan: Georgia Lee (arr. Bryars)
14. Waits/Brennan: Broken bicycles
15. Waits/Brennan: Train song (arr. Bryars)
16. John Tams: Pull down lads (arr. Townsend)
17.Trad.: Barbara Allen
18. Waits/Brennan: The Briar and the Rose (arr. Bryars)
19. Waits/Brennan: Lullaby (arr. Bryars)

Playable Tracks

Gavin Bryars