Edinburgh, Outlander and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

Another Edinburgh post, as I came home from last week’s trip armed with lots of great pictures that are ripe for sharing. This time we stayed in an apartment right at the top of the Grassmarket, which centuries ago was the site of one of Edinburgh’s main markets. The name apparently came from the grazing livestock, held in pens beyond its western edge.

Daniel Defoe, who visited Edinburgh in the 1720s, described the West Bow at the north-east corner of the Grassmarket (where our apartment was situated) as follows – “This street, which is called the Bow, is generally full of traders and dealers”, and you know what, it still is today, although nowadays the colourful shops are aimed primarily at the many tourists who pass through every year.

Because it was originally a gathering place for market traders and cattle drovers, the Grassmarket was always a place full of taverns, hostelries and temporary lodgings – Again nothing much has changed, bar the prices, and the fact the traders and drovers have been replaced by tourists. In 1803 William Wordsworth took rooms at the White Hart Inn, where the poet Robert Burns had stayed during his visit to Edinburgh in 1791. It was described by him as being “not noisy, and tolerably cheap”. In the film version of Greyfriars Bobby, they chose a lodging in the Grassmarket as the place where the Skye terrier’s owner dies. Yes indeed, lots of history thereabouts.

Having lived in the midst of such history for days, imagine my delight when we got home, to find that the next episode in the box-set we are currently watching on telly, was now set in the Old Town of Edinburgh circa 1766. The show Outlander is based on the historical time travel series of novels by Diana Gabaldon and is a firm favourite with most of us who live in the Highlands, as much of the drama is set here. It stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, a married World War II nurse who in 1945 finds herself transported back to the Scotland of 1743, where she meets the dashing Highland warrior Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan) and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings. It does all sound a bit implausible, and is another of those wibbly wobbly timey wimey kind of things, but possibly because it covers all the bases for a cult drama, has kind of become one.

I will include a clip here of the opening title sequence, which definitely gives a flavour of what the show is all about. Also, it makes use of the music to the Skye Boat Song, which most of us in Scotland are very familiar with – Unlike the very twee versions I was used to hearing in my youth, performed on highly uncool shows like The White Heather Club, this version has been given a 21st century makeover by Bear McCreary. The lyrics, taken from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem Sing Me a Song of a Lad That Is Gone, were adapted to fit the storyline and are performed by Raya Yarbrough,

So here we were this week, still thinking about our trip to an Edinburgh that has changed little since the 1700s, watching a show that was set in that very place and time. It isn’t often that contemporary music is used for the show’s soundtrack, but in one of the episodes we watched this week, a particularly poignant scene was played out to Bob Dylan’s song A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. All about a blue-eyed son, so very apt really and thankfully (for me) not performed by Bob but by the Canadian band Walk Off the Earth. In case anyone watching the show hasn’t reached season three yet, I won’t give the game away and include a clip of that particular heart-wrenching scene, but suffice to say the song was just perfect for it, and has most definitely formed an earworm this week.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Walk Off the Earth:

Walk Off the Earth had performed the song just once, for kicks, and then pretty much forgot about it until someone from Outlander contacted them about using it for the episode. Band founder Ryan Marshall said they were surprised, as it was an acoustic cover without any bells and whistles – Just one of those tearjerker songs. When the writers decided they wanted to use the song, because Bob had just won the Nobel Prize an’ all, they knew they would never get his version, but after hearing the cover they kind of fell in love with it, as have I.

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So, “What’s It All About?” – Last time I wrote a post about the film Trainspotting, and here I am now writing about the cult television drama Outlander. Yes, I do like my film and telly, and having emotionally invested in some of the storylines watched on both big and small screens, it can be quite something to find yourself in the very spot where they were filmed. It seems I am not alone however, as only this week I read a story in the local paper about how the Clan Fraser marker stone on Culloden Battlefield has had to be cordoned off, and the road around it relaid due the sheer volume of Outlander fans coming to visit it. Even poor old Greyfriar’s Bobby has had all the paint rubbed off his nose (see picture above) due to the sheer number of visitors to the faithful dog’s statue on Candlemaker Row.

One more Edinburgh post before I move on to new themes, but this next one won’t be about music from film or television. No, it seems the time has come to admit to which band was the first one I ever saw perform live!

Until next time….

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall Lyrics
(Song by Bob Dylan)

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, that roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Darling Daughter, “Defying Gravity” and The Day We Cut A Record

I mentioned last time that I now have a backlog of “posts pending” – I seem to continually add new post ideas to my blogging notebook but then write about other things instead. In order to start making inroads into this long list of ideas I have now put them on a spreadsheet, sorted them alphabetically, given each one a number and then, to make it a bit more interesting, used a random number generator to select the next “post idea”. (You can probably tell I work in finance and am by nature a very spreadsheety kind of person.)

Well, number 37 popped up and what did that correspond to on the long list of ideas? – “Musical Theatre and Wicked”. Before you start panicking that I’m about to share a whole load of show tunes with you, let me explain this little bit of self-indulgence. A couple of our good friends have been very successful on the career front (didn’t rub off on us sadly), but have not had any children. There is probably a correlation there but the upside is, when it comes to birthday presents, darling daughter is bestowed with some very nice ones. Just before her 16th birthday a rectangular padded envelope arrived and much speculation went on as to what could be inside. It turned out to be one of those Experience packages where she was given the chance to visit a recording studio and lay down some tracks. Being a keen singer, and having been in a few theatre shows up to that point, there was much excitement, and in due course the experience was booked for a Sunday in August.

thOW7E3LITAs the good friends live in London and we live in the Scottish Highlands, we chose the recording studio in Edinburgh, which was listed as an option, and planned a meetup. The timing coincided with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and if you’ve never been to our capital city in August I would thoroughly recommend it (although accommodation is hard to come by, granted). I’m pretty sure the locals who just want to go about their daily business during the month of August get pretty hacked off with it all but it certainly brings a colourful, carnival atmosphere to the city and many a stand-up comedian has cut his or her teeth in one of the many venues.

Darling daughter was given the choice of which show she wanted to see on the Saturday night and she chose one starring those very nifty street dancers, Flawless. I was sceptical that they would be able to hold our attention for a whole hour and a half but you know what, they did. The audience were also all given fluorescent gloves and after a short lesson on “the moves” we had to make, we were projected on a big screen behind the dancers, so all very interactive.

And so it came to the Sunday, and we made our way to the recording studio which turned out to be in an Industrial Estate in Leith. Sadly there was no sunshine on Leith that day and Abbey Road it was most definitely not, but once we arrived, the “producers” were all really friendly and welcoming – I’m pretty sure they would have preferred to spend their afternoon laying down some tracks with a cool new rock band as opposed to a 16-year-old from the Highlands and her extended family, but if they did, they didn’t show it.

The song of choice that day was Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked, based on the alternative telling of L. Frank Baum’s classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Around that time the television show Glee, about an American High School glee club/show choir, was a firm favourite with darling daughter and her friends, and one of the characters in the show had performed the song in a recent episode. Of course now her musical tastes are very different and I know she would be very embarrassed about me sharing this but hey, I’m a proud mum, she never reads my blog and it’s the most anonymous place on the internet, so here is what she came up with on that day. It was a fascinating process, how you record many versions of the same song, do a bit of tweaking and then cut and paste sections together to create the best version possible. She starts off a bit tentatively but after 1:00 the confidence shines through.

Defying Gravity by “Darling Daughter”:

As I said earlier, this was always going to be a very self-indulgent post but this 2003 song by Stephen Schwartz is, for the reasons above, now very much one of the “tracks of my years” and that is exactly what this blog is all about. The lyrics of the song are about living without limits and going against the rules that others have set for you. For darling daughter’s generation I think that can-do attitude is going to be very important as they try to negotiate this brave new world we seem to find ourselves in.

Until next time….

Defying Gravity Lyrics
(Song by Stephen Schwartz)

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap!

It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down

I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change but ’til I try, I’ll never know!
Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love, it comes at much too high a cost!

I’d sooner buy
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I’m defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you won’t bring me down