Projects Archive

Mercy and Grand (2011 - )

In the song by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan the words ‘Mercy and Grand’ refer to a place, a corner where two roads meet on the edge of a town. In our project, we too have tried to find meeting places, between musicians and between songwriting traditions: a corner where Kurt Weill bumps into Tom Waits, where Nino Rota’s beautiful film music rubs shoulders with a slow gypsy waltz. The discovery of these meeting points has been led by the musicians in our small band - musical ideas they have wanted to share with each other, and connections they have made across a range of styles and musical genres. As a result this has been a very personal process, finally coming together in a performance that we are delighted to share with a live audience.

Mercy and Grand celebrates the music of Waits and Brennan, and at the same time we hope it captures something of the great American and European songwriting traditions from which they spring. The songs have been arranged by leading British composer Gavin Bryars, musical director James Holmes, and violinist/composer Joe Townsend.

Double Bass: Gavin Bryars
Piano: Jim Holmes
Violin: Joe Townsend
Guitar: James Woodrow
Clarinet: Dai Pritchard
Percussion: Simon Allen
Accordion: Karen Street
Mezzo Soprano: Jess Walker

Music arranged by Gavin Bryars, Joe Townsend and James Holmes. Original music by Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, Kurt Weill and Nino Rota.


Gavin Bryars is a composer and former jazz bassist and pioneer of free improvisation with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. Early iconic pieces The Sinking of the Titanic and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet achieved great popular success. Gavin’s works include three operas, a large body of chamber music, several concertos and many recordings, including his own label GB Records.

James Holmes was Head of Music at Opera North 1996-2008, having previously worked for over twenty years as principal coach and conductor with the English National Opera. Now a freelance conductor, accompanist and arranger, he is especially well known for his work in music theatre - in particular the music of Weill and Stephen Sondheim - and has appeared with a wide range of artists from leading British classical singers such as Bryn Terfel, Willard White and Lesley Garrett to Eartha Kitt, Patti Smith, Marc Almond and bands such as Antony and the Johnsons and Grizzly Bear. He has worked as a regular musical assistant to Simon Rattle both at Glyndebourne and with the Berlin Philharmonic and Philharmonia orchestras.

Joe Townsend is a recognized folk violinist and composer. He has recently written and performed in “The Gypsy Bible” for Opera North and composed the music for plays at the National Theatre, also performing with Laurie Anderson, Salsa Celtica, and the London Philharmonic. He is a Senior Lecturer at Trinity College of Music where he specializes in creative collaboration.

Your reaction


“Gripping and moving, with tremendous clout.” Guardian

Performance history

Nottingham Lakeside
15 Oct 2008

16 Oct 2008

The Lowry, Salford Quays
20 Oct 2008

York University
22 Oct 2008

The Sage, Gateshead
23 Oct 2008

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
25 & 26 Oct 2008

St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol
27 Oct 2011

Spitalfields Festival, London
13 Dec 2011

Get in touch

If you're interested to learn more about any of our initiatives, or would like to get involved, please contact us on...

Phone: +44 (0)113 243 9999
Address: Opera North Grand Theatre,
46 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU


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