Song Lyrics – Ed Sheeran – Castle on the hill
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Today, I’m going to look at another song that was requested by Nicky. The song is Castle on the Hill by Ed Sheeran.
In the song, Ed Sheeran is talking about going back to the place he lived when he was a kid. He talks about memories from his childhood and from his school years and about how he feels going back there.
This is a C1 podcast so the vocabulary will be quite advanced.
I’m going to go through the song and explain the lyrics. I will describe some of the more interesting vocabulary and try to say what I think the song means. I will, however, start by saying that the vocabulary is not that complicated so I want to present a word that I like that is a verb that means to look back fondly at your past. Perhaps, you meet an old friend for a coffee and find yourselves talking about old times, about when you were younger and the crazier stuff you got up to. When you are doing this, you are reminiscing about your past. To reminisce means to think about your memories or to discuss memories of a shared past. To me, the word reminisce has something liquid or glassy about the sound that makes me think of a lens or a mirror, like it’s a special way of looking at your own past. In Castle on the Hill, Ed Sheeran is reminiscing about his past; about a simpler time in his life when he was a child and a teenager in Suffolk in England.
The song starts when he was only six years old. He sings:
When I was six years old I broke my leg
He broke his leg. This is exactly as it sounds. He hurt his leg in such a way that the bone was broken or cracked. Doctors have lots of words for different degrees of bone damage, but whether it’s a slight crack or a complete separation of the different parts of the bone, we say the bone is broken. For really bad breaks, I suppose, we say shattered. So I broke my arm a couple of years ago when I fell off my bike. It wasn’t a bad break and I didn’t even need a cast. My dad shattered his ankle some years ago. That was a really bad break and he has a metal plate in there now.
When Ed fell and broke his leg, he says:
I was running from my brother and his friends
And tasted the sweet perfume of the mountain grass I rolled down
I tasted the sweet perfume. This is a bit of a strange thing to say. You normally smell perfume. To taste something is more direct, more physical, but it’s still a bit strange. I think that the next part, the mountain grass is also a bit poetic. There aren’t really any mountains in Suffolk. It’s a really flat county, but it sounds quite nice.
I was younger then, take me back to when I found my heart and broke it here
Made friends and lost them through the years
If something takes you back, it means it reminds you of a time in your past. So, if someone gives you some food or drink that you have not had for many years, you might say – wow, this takes me back. It’s like it transports you back in time to when you experienced it.
Ed Sheeran is inviting the memories of when he was younger and found his heart. I think that this means the first time he fell in love. Teenage boys, especially romantic young troubadours like Ed Sheeran fall in love hard in their early teens.
A troubadour is a folk singer. This is not a common word so it’s really advanced, but it’s another word that I like the sound of.
Take me back to when I found my heart and broke it here. I assume that what he means here is that his first love did not work out and he was left feeling very sad with a broken heart. For most people, this is just sad, but for a young musician, this is fuel for his art.
He says he made friends. To make friends is the collocation we use to say we start or establish friendships. When I was a young child, my family moved around a lot and I always found it easy to make friends. I always found it easy to talk to new people and become friends with them. He also says he lost them through the years. This is more poignant. Normally, we only talk about losing friends when they die. You might lose contact with friends; this might be what he means.
I used the adjective poignant. You use this to describe a situation that is full of sadness and regret. Usually, when there is something symbolic or particularly meaningful about the sadness. You might use it to describe seeing a photo of a friend you have lost or perhaps at the end of a powerful film to describe some of the moments in the film that affected you.
In the next line:
And I’ve not seen the roaring fields in so long, I know I’ve grown
But I can’t wait to go home
I’m on my way
The roaring fields: this is an interesting collocation. How can fields roar? Lions roar. Monsters roar. People roar in anger and rage, but fields. Suffolk is a very flat county so perhaps he’s talking about being caught in the wind. The wind can roar in your ears. When I was a teanager, I spent a lot of my time walking in the country and in exposed areas, the wind can roar.
He says I’ve not seen them in so long. He’s been away from his home town for a long time as a hugely successful touring musician but now, as he thinks back to the place where he grew up, he can’t wait to get home. I like the expression ‘I can’t wait’. It’s very direct and full of childish excitement. When I was a kid, I hated waiting for a holiday, a special treat, my birthday and Christmas. I can’t wait is a way to say I’m really excited about something.
Driving at 90 down those country lanes
Singing to “Tiny Dancer”
This line makes me feel uncomfortable because it takes me back to my teenage years. You can get a driving license in the UK when you are 17 years old. When teenage boys get their first cars, they are terribly dangerous and drive way too fast. I had some friends who thought it was a great idea to race everywhere they went and it used to terrify me.
In the UK, we have different categories of roads. Motorways are like highways in America. Then there are A roads which are main roads between towns. Then you have B roads which are smaller and then you have country lanes which are not classified and are often only one car wide, at least around here. Driving at 90 means 90 miles an hour or over 140 kilometres an hour. Plus, he and his friends were singing Tiny Dancer which is an Elton John song from 1971. It’s a good song, but a bit of an odd choice for teenagers.
In the next line there may be another song reference:
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
This could be a reference to a Michael Jackson song, and then he says and it’s real – so he misses the song, and he also misses spending time with the person he’s thinking about and who he’s talking about in the next line when he says we:
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill
The castle that he’s singing about is called Framlingham Castle. I had a look at the place on google maps and can see that he was probably in the park or at the football club when he was watching the sunset. He sings:
Fifteen years old and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes
Running from the law through the backfields and getting drunk with my friends
This all sounds very familiar. Hand-rolled cigarettes are cigarettes you make yourself. These are cheaper than packets fo cigarettes and so often smoked by youngsters. They also have more flavour and it can be useful to have rolling papers. We normally just called them rollies when I was a teenager.
Running from the law means running away from the police. In the UK, this is actually a lot less dangerous than it might sound. If you live in a rural area, there are probably only a few police officers and you can get to know them. If you get into mischief, then they may be called and you may choose to take your chances and run. In the UK, they may try to chase you, but the police don’t carry guns and in small towns in the country, you are very unlikely to be shot.
If you live in the country, then you will probably know your way around every local road, path, shortcut and bridleway. A bridleway is a special path where horses are allowed. This means that if you have to run away from the police, you have a good chance of escaping. Ed Sheeran obviously liked his chances as he sings about running from the law through the backfields, which are almost certainly an area around his town where he could escape on foot.
He also talks about getting drunk. This means drinking alcoholic drinks expressly to become drunk and it is how young people in the UK learn to drink. It is not healthy and can form a lifelong habit, but it’s how many young people have a good time at the weekend.
Had my first kiss on a Friday night, I don’t reckon that I did it right
To reckon really means to judge or estimate something. It’s generally used in the same way as think or believe to talk about ideas and opinions. It’s quite informal. For example, I reckon Manchester United are going to sack their manager. Ed Sheeran thinks back to his first kiss and says that he doesn’t reckon he did it right.
He goes on:
But I was younger then, take me back to when
We found weekend jobs, when we got paid
We’d buy cheap spirits and drink them straight
Weekend jobs are part-time jobs that youngsters in the UK get for pocket money. I’m sure some kids have to work to contribute to the family to pay for food and bills, but most of the time, weekend jobs are for pocket money.
When he was paid, he says he and his friends would buy cheap spirits. This usually means vodka in the UK or sometimes rum. Then he and his friends would drink them straight which means without mixing them with coke or another soft drink. This shows a high level of commitment to getting drunk.
Me and my friends have not thrown up in so long, oh how we’ve grown
To throw up means to vomit. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but this was a regular feature of a Friday and Saturday night for young people when I was growing up. I can’t remember how many times I made myself sick from drinking too much.
Now, Ed says it’s not happened in so long and that this is an indicator of how he and his friends have grown. I like this because the phrase oh how we’ve grown is a bit old fashioned. To use how to show emphasis is something that an older person might say; especially with grown. So when you are growing up, when you see your grandparents or aunts and uncles, if you’ve not seen them for a while, they might say oh how you’ve grown.
Ed Sheeran is using the same language to talk about growth as in maturity. This I think is a more American use – to say that someone has grown ‘as a person’ meaning they have become wiser and a better person. So there’s definitely some mischief in this lyric. Not throwing up from drinking too much is not really a very high bar for maturity and wisdom.
The chorus then repeats and the song enters a sort of bridge. In this part of the song Ed Sheeran talks about what has happened to his friends and some of the adversity that they have faced. Adversity is a noun which means a difficult or unpleasant situation. Generally, it’s collocated with the verb face, meaning to experience first hand.
He says one friend left to sell clothes. This could mean in a shop or on a market, or it could mean his friend became a clothes designer or something grand.
One had two kids but lives alone. There’s something quite poignant about this line. I’m not sure why his friend doesn’t live with his kids, but as a parent, it strikes me as a sad line.
One’s brother overdosed. This means that the brother of one of his friends has died from taking drugs. In the UK, this is almost certainly heroin or methadone. These drugs and the lack of education and care for people who take them are too often a cause of deep sadness for families and friends.
One’s already on his second wife and one’s just barely getting by. This was released in 2017 when Ed Sheeran would have been 26 or 27. People are getting married later in the UK. For someone to have married and then divorced and then remarried at that age means they have had an interesting life. And then there’s his friend who is just barely getting by. To get by means to survive and manage the business of being an adult. Earning enough for food and clothes and being organised enough to manage your bills and rent. If someone is barely getting by, then generally that means they are having a hard time financially, having a hard time paying for everything they need. There are lots of people who struggle financially and find it hard to get by. However it can also mean the person is struggling with their mental health. I have known people that struggle to get by, that struggle with everyday responsibilities.
Although the song is about Ed Sheeran going back to the place where he was a child and a teenager, I think that the song is not just about returning to a place, rather it is nostalgic about an easier time in his and all his friends’ lives. Nostalgia is a sentimental longing or strong desire for a time in the past. If you are feeling nostalgic, you are normally feeling a bit sad about a time that has passed. Nostalgia is a bittersweet feeling because the memories are of happy times, but happy times that have ended.
Ed Sheeran has returned to the town in Suffolk and bought what I imagine is a big beautiful house there so I hope he can relive some of his teenage years, though with less alcohol, running from the police and throwing up. Castle on the hill is a very honest and down-to-earth song about growing up in a small town in the UK and so I wonder how similar his experiences are to yours. This podcast was requested by a youngster from the other side of the world. Perhaps you could compare your experiences of growing up with Ed Sheeran’s.
I hope that the language I have talked about in this podcast is useful and that you can listen to the song now and understand the meaning.
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Thanks for listening.