Edinburgh Songs of Praise


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I'm in Edinburgh - a city that's celebrating 70 years

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of its world-famous festivals.

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Welcome to Songs Of Praise.

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On this week's programme, I uncover the history

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of the Edinburgh Festival.

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How an idea to lift the gloom after the Second World War

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grew into the largest annual cultural event in the world.

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JB Gill from JLS finds out about the faith that drives

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gospel music legends The Blind Boys of Alabama,

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before they perform here in Edinburgh.

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And I'll be chatting to writer and comedian Paul Kerensa,

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to find out how faith and comedy come together.

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If you believe in a creator, you believe in creativity.

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This is one of the freest ways of using the

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creativity that I think is God-given.

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As the world's premier festival city, Edinburgh has offered

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an unparalleled creative showcase every year for seven decades.

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From the Military Tattoo to celebrations of comedy,

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film, dance, music and much more.

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The Edinburgh International Festival was the first of the

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festivals to be established, 70 years ago.

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Every year since then, there's been a service of prayer and

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praise here at St Giles' Cathedral to mark the beginning of this

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special time.

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All our hymns today are from Stockbridge Church,

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just a short walk from the city centre.

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It's a beautiful Georgian building and a popular venue for

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performances during the Fringe.

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And as people from all nations flock to Edinburgh's festivals,

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we begin with a hymn that bids all the world to sing

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in praise of God.

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# Let all the world in every corner sing... #

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Planning some of the world's largest cultural events

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is a huge undertaking.

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Julia Amour is part of the team who get the show on the road.

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The really exciting thing is this is not one festival

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but it's five festivals taking place

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in August and another six around the rest of the year.

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And now we have more attendances than at a Fifa Football World Cup.

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The original festival, the International Festival

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was born after the end of World War II.

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There's a wonderful phrase that the Lord Provost of the time used

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about it being a platform for the flowering of the human spirit

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and that's one of the values that we've hoped to carry through all

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this time in our 70th anniversary year.

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Do you sense the Festival has retained the

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spirituality that it was born with?

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Absolutely, I think those values are very important to it,

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and the Church of Scotland was very important

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to the establishment of the International Festival.

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It couldn't be born without being christened, I guess,

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and the minister of St Giles' said that this was

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a historic agreement between the city and the Church

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about the importance of arts and culture.

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The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is also celebrating its

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70th anniversary this year.

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It's now the world's largest arts festival and a

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launchpad for all sorts of performers.

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Paul Kerensa is a stand-up comedian and writer,

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whose credits include hit shows Miranda, Not Going Out

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and Top Gear. He's been performing his comedy here

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at the Edinburgh Fringe for more than 20 years.

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Paul, how does it feel? That moment when you're in the

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spotlight and all these people waiting to be entertained?

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Yeah, it's the calm before the storm, isn't it?

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That moment at the top of the rollercoaster,

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just before it comes down. I always think,

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with a comedian, a vicar, a teacher, you are the one person

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facing the wrong way - then you've just to prove

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that you should be here.

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It's... Give me a cheer if you're a parent.

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CHEERING

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Give me a cheer if you're not a parent.

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-CHEERING

-Less of you, but more energy, more...

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-LAUGHTER

-More joie de vivre...

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So what was it that attracted you to this?

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The masochistic way of life, in the first place?

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There was nothing left, really...

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So, I tried acting and it turns out I was best at being myself,

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I think, as an actor and I think stand-up -

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it is quite addictive...

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Once you've done it, you think, "Well, I have to keep going

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"with this." He is quite a big baby 9lb 11oz, he was...

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CROWD: Ooh...

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Ooh, yes. Mostly women are responding to that, I notice.

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It's great fun, there's nothing else like it.

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And at the same time, you've had a Christian faith -

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has that been a lifelong thing?

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Yeah, well, I've been a Christian since I was a teenager,

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really, but I also did a theology degree,

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so I had friends going off into vicarhood and that sort of thing

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and then I went the other way, to stand-up comedy.

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But I always think, if you believe in a creator,

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you believe in creativity and that, for me, is one of the freest

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ways of using the creativity that I think is God-given.

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You know, you're probably aware of the statistic that the Bible

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is the bestselling book in the world, of all time,

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which is fantastic. You know, it's the most shoplifted book

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of all time, as well, do you know this?

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It is the most stolen book...which is ironic,

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cos quite early on there is...

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It says, thou shalt not do that, but obviously they haven't

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got that far yet...

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There maybe historically has been that battle between

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people of a faith and comedy, you know? Can the two mix?

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And I think Jesus was using humour 2,000 years ago.

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I love to think there must be a tale to be told about the

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matey carpenter sort of background of someone like that.

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Sawdust in your friend's eye and a plank in your own.

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Even using carpentry language to get his point across.

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And that use of humour in storytelling

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is there, I think, in the Bible,

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just as it is here today.

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# Will you come and follow me? #

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As well as being a festival season, August is, of course,

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holiday time, believe it or not!

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Nowadays, there are many more options for what to do

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with your time off, including a brand-new way of

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exploring Britain's Christian heritage.

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JB Gill has been to Shropshire to try it out.

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I'm a huge lover of being outdoors and there's nothing better

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than pitching up a tent and having a great time in the countryside.

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But tonight, I'm trying camping with a difference.

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Ah, here we are, I'm going champing.

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Yes, that's camping in a church.

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Peter Aiers of The Churches Conservation Trust

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is the man behind the idea.

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Peter - camping inside a church?

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How did that come about?

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Well, we're a charity. We've got 352 historic churches

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that we look after and we were looking at different ways

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they can be used to raise money. Historic churches are for

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everybody. They're the most democratic of historic buildings,

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and it's really important that the spaces remain open,

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so this whole new audience are coming to our buildings

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and really enjoying them for what they are.

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Is anyone slightly apprehensive, as I am, of staying in a place

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-surrounded by a graveyard?

-Well, it's not the graveyard

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you need to worry about here, I think it's the Roman soldiers

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that march past every night... No! I mean, the whole experience

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is really, really positive. They are such tranquil spaces.

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All the feedback is - what a beautiful, peaceful place.

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-So, here we are.

-Wow, it's a beautiful church.

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What can people expect when they come champing?

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Well, we provide these very comfy, champing beds for you.

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You can see there's a hamper with some treats in there for you.

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We've got lanterns, we've got these amazing LED candles,

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they look just like real candles, but they don't set fire to

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the building or drop wax on our ancient stonework.

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It's a lot more luxurious than I did think it was going to be.

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Really? Oh, good.

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So, what sort of things are special to this church?

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Well, you're standing next to the best font in our collection

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of churches. This is made from a Roman column,

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a piece of Roman architecture, which has become the font.

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Do you want people to take away a deeper significance

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-of the churches that they stay in?

-People come for lots

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of different reasons, and if you dwell in these buildings,

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you get a sense of what has been going on for generations.

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The Reverend David O'Brien is a vicar in the area.

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This church is no longer used for regular services.

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Do you think the building itself speaks about God?

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I think it does. The shape of the building,

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the stained glass windows, the baptistery, everything

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in the church is built to remind people of something about the

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Gospel of Jesus Christ. Christianity isn't just about going

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to services, it's about connecting with God.

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And although champing seems unusual, if it's a stepping stone

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for somebody to access the Christian faith,

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then I think it will be a good outcome

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and a good use for the church.

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KNOCKING ON DOOR

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I'm pleased to say, I'm not the only one sleeping here tonight.

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-Hello.

-Hiya, you all right? I'm Sam.

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In you come.

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Well, I'm an outdoorsy person, myself, so I go hiking

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and camping with friends a lot, most weekends.

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And this just seemed like a really exciting thing to do.

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-Right, well, I guess that's lights out. Night, Sam.

-Night.

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OWL HOOTS

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BIRDSONG

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-Morning, Sam.

-Morning.

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-Well, we made it.

-We did.

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-How did you find your night's sleep?

-Pretty good, actually.

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It was a lot warmer than I thought it would be

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and it wasn't spookily quiet, as I thought it would be.

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Actually, it was just really peaceful.

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-I didn't hear anything go bump in the night.

-No, me neither!

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Do you think people will take away more from this than

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-just a fun camping experience?

-Absolutely, erm,

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I really hope that people, when they come champing,

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will be able to experience God in these wonderful,

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beautiful old churches. And I'd definitely recommend it

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for anybody that wants an experience and see what it's like.

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It's a great new adventure to try out.

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This is definitely THE most unsual place I've ever stayed,

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but it's also one of the most beautiful

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and having spent time here, you really get a sense

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of the worshippers who've been coming here for centuries.

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I might just be coming champing again.

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# The Lord's my shepherd... #

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If you've not yet got your tickets for The Big Sing,

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then what are you waiting for?

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For your chance to see the stars and join our

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5,000-strong congregation at the Royal Albert Hall,

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please go along to our website...

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We owe a real debt to the men and women

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who wrote those great hymns that we so enjoy singing together.

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One of them was the Reverend Walter Chalmers Smith,

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who was a minister here in Edinburgh in the 19th century.

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He wrote Immortal Invisible.

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# Immortal, invisible, God only wise... #

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A quick drive across the Forth Road Bridge, and we're

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right away from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.

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This is Culross, one of the most picturesque and ancient

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villages in Scotland and one with a rich Christian history.

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CHORAL SINGING

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These are the ruins of Culross Abbey,

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founded exactly 800 years ago.

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Archaeologist Adrian Cox is here to tell me

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more about this once-magnificent Christian community.

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Adrian, help me to make sense of what we can see here.

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Well, we're inside a medieval abbey, a Cistercian abbey

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which had a number of buildings arranged around

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a cloister, which is up there above our heads.

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This would have been ringing to the sounds of bells

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and you would hear chanting and prayers

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and in a way, a monastery was like the university,

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the centre of learning of its day.

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Why was this abbey founded?

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Well, the site is connected with two very famous saints.

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The first is St Serf, who we think founded a religious

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community on this site, in the sixth century.

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He becomes very important, because washed up on the shoreline

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is a coracle which contains Princess Teneu.

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And she has been expelled from East Lothian by her father.

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And she's pregnant. And St Serf takes care of her

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and her newborn son.

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St Serf raised the boy in the ways of the Christian faith

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and he became St Kentigern, also known as St Mungo.

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St Mungo moves on to Glasgow and founds a religious community there

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and he is the patron saint of Glasgow.

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What was the daily life of the monks, as they lived here?

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They mostly focused on prayer. They also had some colleagues,

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some lay brothers who did all the manual work around the place,

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-it was very useful.

-That's what we all need, isn't it?

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That's right, we all need that. In a way, their labour sort of freed

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up the time for the monks to focus on prayer and devotion to God.

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What's your personal sense of this place?

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Well, I always feel really privileged.

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We're very close to the church there, the church is

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still important and still in use and it's a very spiritual place,

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definitely. You can sort of feel the spirituality in the stonework

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around us, going back, you know, hundreds of years.

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# Spirit of God, unseen as the wind... #

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Music performers come to Edinburgh from all over the world.

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To meet one of this year's headline acts, we sent JB Gill,

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who of course, achieved worldwide fame himself

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as a member of the boyband JLS.

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I thought we'd done well, lasting five years in the cut-throat world

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of the music industry.

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But the group I'm about to meet have been releasing and

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performing songs for over seven decades.

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And I can't wait to meet them.

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Since they began singing together, The Blind Boys of Alabama

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have witnessed the Second World War, the Civil Rights Movement,

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the moon landings and much more.

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During that time, they've released over 60 albums

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and won six Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Christianity is at the heart of their performances.

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-For Christ's sake, Amen.

-Amen.

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Jimmy Carter is one of the founding members.

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Jimmy - absolute honour to meet you. We're here in Edinburgh,

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and you are at the end of a world tour.

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What is it that keeps you singing?

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People ask me that question -

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what is it that keeps me going? I tell them...

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when you love what you do, you know, it keeps you motivated.

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I've been doing this now all of my life.

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We sing gospel music.

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We tell the world about Jesus Christ.

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And that's our message.

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HE SINGS

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As a youngster, did you ever get frustrated or angry at God

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because of, you know, your lack of vision?

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-I asked him, uh... "I got five brothers..."

-Hmm...

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"And all of them can see, except me. Why is that?"

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Now I know why. Because he knew that if I could have seen,

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I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.

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# What you say? #

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You guys have been working so long in the music industry.

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What are some of the things that you feel have been

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-changed for the better?

-We started out in the South, you know,

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-in the '40s.

-Mm.

-The South was segregated at that time.

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Very much so.

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And we weren't allowed to sing to white people, just blacks.

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Now, we sing to everybody. We got a long way to go yet

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-but...we have come a long way.

-Absolutely.

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And I know you've performed in front of presidents...

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-Three of them, yeah.

-There you go! Did you ever think

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that you'd perform in front of a black president?

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Never thought that, no.

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THEY LAUGH

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# I wanna be free... #

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And I know, first-hand, what it's like to perform

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and to sing onstage.

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What kind of feeling does it give you?

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If you come to a concert with The Blind Boys

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and go back the same way you came, then we haven't done

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anything for you...

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-# I feel like jumping

-Jump, jump... #

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We try to make you feel what we feel

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and that's the goodness of God.

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And now here are The Blind Boys of Alabama performing

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Singing Brings Us Closer.

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# I remember when

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# My mother used to sing

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# Oh, the joy that her voice could bring

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# When I'm low

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# And I'm afraid

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# And I long to see her face

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# Singing brings her closer to me

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# When our brother travelled on

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# I said we have to carry on

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# Even though the path was dark to see

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# But I know he's here tonight

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# Cos I surely feel his light

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# Singing brings him closer to me

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# We gather here

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# Bring our old friend near

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# Oh, it brings us closer

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# Yes, it brings us closer

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# Singing brings us closer to thee

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# I look back on the days

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# The times seem, oh, so strange

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# Struggle and justice and despair

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# But we marched right through that harm

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# Joining voices, joining arms

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# Oh, singing brought us closer to free

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# Oh, it brings us closer

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# Yeah, yeah, yeah

0:30:310:30:33

# It brings us closer

0:30:330:30:36

# Singing brings us closer to thee

0:30:360:30:44

# Oh, it brings us closer

0:30:450:30:49

# Yes, it brings us closer

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# I know, I know

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# Singing brings us closer

0:30:550:30:59

# To thee. #

0:30:590:31:03

Next week, we celebrate the legacy of Diana Princess of Wales.

0:31:050:31:09

Pam Rhodes meets a mum whose son met Diana when he was dying of Aids.

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And I discover the impact she made by shaking hands with

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leprosy patients in Nepal.

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She showed a real love of God to the people, by touching them

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and comforting them.

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We leave you with a hymn which was sung at that first Festival

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service, back in 1947. Until next time, goodbye.

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# Almighty Father of all things that be... #

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Sally Magnusson is in Edinburgh to celebrate 70 years of its world-famous International Festival, and JB Gill meets gospel music legends The Blind Boys Of Alabama. Plus hymns from Edinburgh's Stockbridge Church, including The Lord Is My Shepherd and Immortal Invisible.


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