The Cuckoo The Coo Coo Bird

Never place your affection on the love of a man.

And Ill walk as light by him as he can by me.

An inconstant lover no maiden can trust,

She sucketh white flowers to keep her voice clear,

I heard two birds whistling, the blackbird and the trush,

A-walking, a-talking, a-walking was I,

And when she sings cuckoo the summer draws near.

But an inconstant lover sends me to my grave.

So come all you fair and tender maids and a warning take by me,

But an inconstant lover will bring you to the grave.

Come all you young women wherever you be,

A thief he will but rob you and steal all you have,

Come all you young women, take warning by me,

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird and she sings as she flies.

Oh, meeting is pleasure but parting is a grief

A thief can but rob you and take all you have,

Here is another song of false true love collected by Sharp in Somerset. Its fine tune and lyrical first verse changed somewhat when it was carried to Southern Appalachia. The bird seems to have become more patriotic:

I asked them the reason so merry they be,

And where she goes we do not know until another year.

If you do forsake me Ill not be forsworn

An inconstant lover is worse than a thief.

I heard two birds whistling, the blackbird and the thrush.

Anne Briggs recordedThe Cuckooin 1971 for her albumAnne Briggs. Like all tracks from this album it was reissued on her two compilationsClassic Anne BriggsandA Collection; and this recording was also included in the Topic Sampler No8,English Garland. A.L.Lloyd commented in her original albums sleeve notes:

And Jean Ritchie wrote in her bookFolk Songs of the Southern Appalachians:

And when she sings cuckoo! the summer draws near.

And everytime she singeth cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo,

O the cuckoo, shes a pretty bird and she sings as she flies,

[Roud 413; G/D 6:1157 ; Henry H479 ; Ballad Index; BodleianRoud 413; WiltshireRoud 413; trad.]

Some of the vocal sounds on the album are inspired by the sounds of a regional word for particular birds, as gleaned from the bookAll the Birds of the Airby Francesca Greenoak; a cuckoo used to sometimes be called a Welsh ambassador!

There is not one in twenty pretty maidens can trust,

There is not one in twenty young men girls can trust.

To meet my true lover, hell come by and by,

Cant you see what Im come to by loving that one?

To meet my true lover, hell be there by and by.

And theres me in this alehouse, oh, a-spending all I earn.

With the pillows, the feathers all under my head;

And the grave, it will rot you and turn you into dust,

And a false-hearted lover is worse than a thief.

His green leaves they will wither, his roots they will decay,

She sucks upon the wild birds eggs for to keep her voice clear,

The cuckoos call is a harbinger of Summer in England, but in all the versions of this traditional song its linked with melancholy warnings of the fickleness of love.

She sucks all the pretty flowers to make her voice clear

And every time she hollers cuckoo!, dont the summer draw nigh?

Well Ive played cards in England and Ive played cards in Spain,

Coope Boyes & Simpson recordedThe Cuckooin 2005 for their CDTriple Echo: Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Butterworth and Percy Grainger. They commented in their liner notes:

For a false-hearted lover no maiden can trust,

And Ill bet you five dollars that Ill win you next game.

And the very next moment theyll bid you adieu.

Its like the flowers all in your garden when the beautys all gone

And she brings us good tidings and she tells us no lies;

Theres not one young man out of twenty a young man can you trust.

She brings us good tidings, tells us no lies.

I asked them the reason so happy they be,

For a thief he will but rob you, take all you have,

Theres me and my baby, contented well be

She sucks little birds eggs to make her voice clear,

And the grave, it will rot me and bring me to dust,

June Tabor sangThe Cuckoo, collated, largely from the singing of Queen Caroline Hughes, Dorset gypsy, on Quercus 2017 CDNightfall.

Lisa Knapp sangThe Cuckoo, on her 2018 EPThe Summer Draws Near(A Branch of May Volume Two). She noted:

Heres my wife and little family all at home, starving too,

She sucks on the wild birds eggs to keep her voice clear,

And she sucks all small birds eggs for to keep her voice clear,

I asked them the reason so merry they be

Jack of diamonds, oh, Jack of diamonds

You robbed my poor pockets of my silver and gold.

Then, cant you love the old one, till the new one comes on?

Pentangle sangThe Cuckooin 1969 on their third Transatlantic album,Basket of Light.

And she never sings cuckoo till the Fourth day of July!

Frankie Armstrong sangThe Cuckoo, collected from the fine Gypsy singer Queen Caroline Hughes in the 1960s, in 1973 on her LPOut of Love, Hope and Sufferingand in 2000 on her Fellside CDThe Garden of Love.

A-walking and talking from morning till night.

A-walking and a-talking from morning until night.

Yeah, the coo coo shes a pretty bird

But like the swallow in the autumn theyll bid you adieu.

For the leaves they will wither, the branches decay

But an false-hearted lover sends you to your grave.

An older American version calledThe Coo Coo Birdwas sung by Clarence Tom Ashley on October or November 23, 1929 in Johnson City, Tennessee and published on Columbia 15489D. This recording was included in 1952 on Harry SmithsAnthology of American Folk Musicon the Folkways label. Greil Marcus describes it as afolk-lyrictunemade up of verbal fragments that had no direct or logical relationship to each other.

And the fair looks of a pretty young maid will soon fade away.

An original English Blues. We were asked to singThe Cuckoofor Martyn Wyndham-ReedsSong Links 2project, which linked English traditional songs with their American variants. We chose the Dorset traveller Queen Caroline Hughes version and have it on her authority that this song is the oldest song in the world.

For the green leaves they will wither and the branches decay,

Oh, meeting is pleasure but parting a grief,

And the very next moments hell bid you adieu.

Theyll court you and kiss you and vow theyll be true

She brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.

Kerry Andrew aka You Are Wolf sang bothMy Bonny CuckooandThe Cuckooin 2014 on her albumHawk to the Hunting Gone. She commented:

For Ill get myself up in some higher degree

The Rheingans Sisters (Rowan and Anna) sang and playedCuckooon their 2015 albumAlready Home. This video shows them live at Shakespeares, Sheffield, in December 2014:

She brings us glad tidings and she tells us no lies.

Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds, I know you of old;

An inconstant lover no maiden can trust,

To meet my true lover, hell be there by and by,

A.L. Lloyd sangThe Cuckooin 1956 on his albumThe Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs. He commented in the liner notes:

To meet him in the meadow is all my delight,

A thief can but rob me and take all I have,

For meeting it is a pleasure but parting it is a grief

She brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.

Printed inFolk Songs of The Upper Thamesby Alfred Williams who collected this song from Elijah Iles in Inglesham, Wiltshire. The cuckoo is long heralded as a bringer of spring; with its er unmistakable call and predatory behaviour it has quite a legacy in terms of folklore. I first heard one of my favourite folk singers, Anne Briggs, singing a version ofThe Cuckooand have loved these songs ever since.

A-walking and a-talking, a-walking was I

She brings us good tidings, she tells us no lies.

Its night after night, love, as I lay on my bed,

And theyll all be mistaken if they think that Ill mourn;

A-walking, and a-talking, and a-walking was I,

My family had always known this song, it seems. It is fairly similar to the variants found in and around Hindman in Knott County, where my fathers folks lived. It is one of the saddest and loveliest songs I know.

Neither sleeping nor waking, no rest can I find

But the very next moments they will bid you adieu.

The cuckoos a pretty bird, she sings as she flies.

And the answer they gave me, we are single and free.

She brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.

Richard Thompson sangThe Coo Coo Bird, accompanied by himself on guitar and by Eliza Carthy playing fiddle, on April 25, 2001 at the Harry Smith Project concert in UCLAs Royce Hall, Los Angeles. It was finally released in 2006 onThe Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited.

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies.

A-walking and a-talking, a-walking was I,

She bringeth us good tidings, she telleth us no lies.

Build never your nest in the top of a tree.

And she never holler cuckoo! till the Fourth of July.

Well the cuckoo is a pretty bird and she warbles as she flies.

Hell turn his back on you and hell walk square away.

As I was a-walking by the side of yon bush

And the answer that they gave me: We are single and we are free.

A-walking and a-talking from morning till night.

O the cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies;

O, its night after night, love, I do lay on my bed,

Well if you think you love a little girl, oh, your mind for to ease,

She brings us good tidings, she tells us no lies.

So all you young and tender maids come take a warning by me,

For a thief will but rob you and take all you have,

She sucks the little birds eggs to keep her voice clear,

The girls at the beginning were a Norwegian school group that I, along with composers, Larry Goves, Adam Gorb and Björn Eriksson, came upon in the nature reserve of Saltögården in Sweden in 2010. I asked them if I knew any songs, and this is what they sang as recorded by Björn in the woods, and then expanded with my vocals by Larry.

I asked them the reason so merry they be,

And when her times come, her voice we dont hear,

Shirley Collins learntThe Cuckoofrom her great grandmother. She sang it in 1959 on her first LPSweet England. This track was also included in her anthologyWithin Sound.

Sally Killen sangThe Cuckooin 1975 on her and Louis Killens LPBright Shining Morning. Louis Killen commented in the albums sleeve notes:

Hell court you and kiss you and vow hell be true

And she never holler cuckoo till the Fourth of July.

And the beauty of fair maids will soon fade away.

And she never sings cuckoo till the spring of the year.

And the fair looks of a pretty young maid will soon fade away.

And she never sings cuckoo till summer is near.

Tom Paley and Peggy Seeger sangThe Cuckooin 1964 on their Topic LPWhos Going to Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot?

Oh, the cuckoo shes called a merry bird, love, dont she sing as she flies,

When her time has come her voice we dont hear

She flits across the meadow and sings from every tree.

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies.

And when she sings cuckoo! the summer draws near.

And the answer they gave me, we are single and we are free.

Meeting is pleasure but parting is a grief

As I walked down by the side of a bush

The grave, it will rot you and bring you to dust,

Spring cannot start till the cuckoo sings. Perhaps that is why the cuckoo is a magical a bird. Turn your money when you hear him first and youll have money in your pocket until he comes again. Whatever youre doing when you hear him, youll do most often throughout the year. Especially if youre in bed. No bird is more oracular. It can prophesy how long a man will live and a girl remain a maid. There is no better omen for love than the song of the cuckoo, the beloved bird of folklore. On the other hand, he is the sly creature who gave us the word cuckold. The flattering invocation to the cuckoo in this widespread song is perhaps in the nature of a magical safeguard for the worried lover.

To meet him in the meadow is all my delight,

This is one of the songs which we learnt from Sid Kippers Lateral History Programme for BBC Radio2. The programme encouraged us to look much more closely at some of the traditional material that we all had in our own repertoires.

She brings us glad tidings and she tells us no lies.

They will kiss you and embrace you and swear theyll prove true

Well the cuckoo is a pretty bird and she warbles as she flies.

But the thought of that young man, he still troubles my mind.

A combination of two traditional English cuckoo songs: the lyrics toMy Bonny Cuckoofrom the Shirley Collins version, and some lyrics from the oft-recordedThe CuckooorThe Coo-Coo Bird. The cuckoo, with its distinctive appearance and striking nest-usurping behaviour, features heavily in folklore, and is seen as the bringer of spring.

And when her time is come, her voice we dont hear,

The cuckoos a pretty bird, she sings as she flies,

And the answer they gave me, We are single and free.

She sucks the small birds eggs for to keep her voice clear

A bit of non-musical advertisement for very talented students of my department

For the grave he will rot you and turn you to dust,

And an inconstant lover is worse than a thief.

I will meet him in the evening as the evening draws nigh;

Kim Lowings & the Greenwood sangThe Cuckooin 2017 on their CDWild & Wicked Youth.

She loves the summer sunshine, she hates the wind and rain,

She brings us good tidings, she tells us no lies.

And Ill try to forget you as youve forgotten me.

Back to English versions, Jon Boden sangThe Cuckoowith lyrics similar to Anne Briggs ones as the January 21, 2011 entry of his projectA Folk Song a Day. And Fay Hield sang it in 2012 on her CD with the Hurricane Party,Orfeo. She commented in her liner notes:

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies.

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies,

They will kiss you and court you and swear to be true

To meet my true lover, hell be there by and by,

But an inconstant lover will send you to the grave.

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies.

She sucks the sweet flowers to make her sing clear

And the very next moment theyll bid you adieu.

For meeting is a pleasure but parting it is a grief

She brings us glad tidings, tells us no lies,

Rosie Hodgson sangThe Cuckooon her 2016 CDRise Aurora. She noted:

From lark rise in the morning to owl call at night.

For the roots they will wither, the branches decay,

An ambiguous bird, herald of spring and harbinger of cuckoldry, is the hero of this most typical of all English-language lyrical songs. It too is made up of floating verses that zip equally well into a score of other songs. For some reason the song found relatively little favour in Scotland, but it has been one of the commonest of all lyrics in England, Ireland, and upland America. Annes set is one of several Irish versions.

To meet him in the meadow it was all my delight,

But an inconstant lover will send you to the grave.

And the more she cries cuckoo, dont she summer draw near.

I heard two birds whistling, the blackbird and the thrush.

So, Ill take my weeks wages, unto an alehouse III go,

And everytime she singeth cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo,

And the grave, it will rot you and turn you into dust,

Theyll court you and kiss you and vow theyll be true

I heard two birds whistling, the blackbird and the thrush.

Cockersdale sangThe Cuckoowith words quite similar to Anne Briggs in 1997 on their Fellside CDWide Open Skiesand in 2001 on the Fellside anthologyVoices in Harmony. They commented in their liner notes:

And an inconstant lover is far worse than a thief.

Oh, the grave he will rot you, he will rot you all away,

The feathery pillows all under my head.

Sung by Mr Bill Wix of Billingshurst, Sussex to George Butterworth in Summer 1909. Butterworth often returned to Sussex and re-visited people he collected from, but in Mr Wixs case, he seems only to have been once, when he notatedThe Lads of Kilkenny,Its of an Old Miser in London Did DwellandThe Cuckooa song found in many versions here and in North America. We dont, however, have Mr Wix to thank for this beautiful lyric but another resident of Billingshurst.The words to which the tune was sung was of inferior quality,Butterworth complained,and I have substituted these verses which were given to me by Mrs Cranstone.But Mr Wixs tune came through in the endin 1912, Butterworth includedThe Cuckooin his eleven piano settings ofFolk Songs from Sussex.

After deciding there were far too many songs about inconstant lovers, Rowan [Piggott] decided to write a few new verses to this beautiful tune. His Grandma worked many years as an ornithologist, so it was a natural choice to feature more avian stories, whether they be Oscar Wilde fables, English nursery rhymes or references to the obscure Piggott tradition of Wren Day in Dingle!

To meet him in the meadows is all my delight,

And never try and build your nest at the top of a tall tree.

But the thought of that young man still troubles my mind.

I will rise then, I will meet him, love, as the evening draws nigh;

And its there Ill sit drinking till my moneys all gone;

Both The Devils Interval and Jean Ritchie sangThe Cuckooin 2005 on the anthologySong Links 2: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their American Variants, and The Devils Interval (Lauren McCormick, Emily Portman, and Jim Causley) did it a year later on their own CDBlood and Honey. Lauren McCormick returned to the song in 2012 on her albumOn Bluestockings. The Devils Interval commented in their sleeve notes:

Not one young man in twenty can a poor girl trust.

Never set your heart on a sycamore tree.

And where she goes we dont know until another year.

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, no other is as she.

The cuckoo is a bird which has attracted a number of folkloric associations. Its call is used as a signal heralding spring, and the number of times it is heard during the season can translate to the number of years until a death of marriage. From the birds practice of laying eggs in others nests comes the analogy of the cuckolded husband rearing anothers child, and being cuckoo remains a common term for craziness. I got this version from Anne Briggs extraordinary self-titled, mainly a cappella, album.

Neither sleeping nor waking, oh no rest can I take,

The cuckoo shes a pretty bird, she sings as she flies.

As I walked down by the side of a bush

An inconstant lover is worse than a thief.

The cuckoo is a merry bird, she sings as she flies;

As I was walking by the side of a bush

And when she sings cuckoo the summer draws near.

And where she goes we do not know until another year.

Dave and Toni Arthur recordedThe Cuckoounder the assumed name of the Strollers for a Fontana pop-folk single issued in July 1965. This single was included in 2009 on the CD reissue of their Transatlantic LPMorning Stands on Tiptoe.

The grave, it will rot you and bring you to dust,

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