An exhibition has been created linking the great Bob Dylan to an 18th century Scottish advocate.

The show, which was created by Alistair Johnson, of the Advocates Library, appears in a new members room at the Faculty of Advocates. The Faculty, which has existed since 1532 when the College of Justice was launched by an act of the Parliament of Scotland, is an independent body of lawyers and maintains the Advocates Library, regularly described as ‘the finest working law library in the UK’.

Now, Alistair Johnson, a keen folk music and fan, has linked his idol Bob Dylan to a 17th century Scottish ballad through his iconic song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’.

Explaining in more detail, Johnson said: “I was in a cafe and opened my paper and saw an article about the Bob Dylan song, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. I read the lyrics and it immediately struck me that he had based the song on an old traditional Scottish ballad, Lord Randall,” while in conversation with the Scottish Legal News. “The ballad has murder as a theme, and Dylan’s song is about nuclear holocaust, but it is very much in the same style of asking questions at the beginning of the verses,” he added.

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“I knew that someone else had written a ballad based on Lord Randall – the 18th Century lawyer, David Dalrymple, who became a member of Faculty in 1748 and was elevated to the Bench in 1766, taking the title of Lord Hailes. His work was called Edward and there can be little doubt that the ballad is Dalrymple’s recreation of Lord Randall.”

According to the exhibition, the work by Dalrymple was included in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, a collection of English and Scottish traditional ballads published in 1765. The piece of work, Edward, became popular in Germany as a writer known as ‘Goethe’ composed 160 poems in the style of the ballad.

Furthermore, German composer Johannes Brahms followed suit and used Edward as part of his work and comprised multiple arrangements of it. Talking about how Dylan, Brahms and Goethe have all been influenced by the ballad, Johnson added: “The exhibition shows how writers and musicians can take something old – in this case a ballad – and turn it into something modern and contemporary. You can see the resemblance but it is not the same.”

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