> John Kirkpatrick > Songs > The Chickens They Are Crowing

The Chickens They Are Crowing

[ Roud 3650 ; Ballad Index R541 ; trad.]

Peggy Seeger sang The Chickens They Are Crowing in 1962 on her Topic EP of courting songs, Early in the Spring. All of her Topic albums, including this song, were reissued in 1996 on her Fellside anthology CD Classic Peggy Seeger. Angela Carter commented in the Topic album's sleeve notes:

This courting song is a collation of two texts from Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. The verse sung here “I won't go home till morning” possibly refers to the old American custom of “bundling” when to conserve fuel, the couple would take themselves to bed with a board between them. The song is a favourite among banjo players.

Sue Harris and Janet Russell sang The Chickens They Are Crowing in 1989 on John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris' Topic album Stolen Ground. They commented in their sleeve notes:

Collected from Ben Finlay at Goose Creek, Kentucky, USA by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles in 1916. Published in Eighty English Folk Songs ed. Karpeles, published by Faber. Sue has added a couple of verses of her own.

Dave Arthur sang Chickens Are A-Crowing as the title track of The Rufus Crisp Experience's 1997 Fellside CD Chickens Are A-Crowing. Their liner notes commented:

Collected twice by Cecil Sharp, in Kentucky and Virginia during his Appalachian field trips of 1917/18, and published in English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, Vol. 2 [Oxford University Press, 1932]. We like to think that the young man in the song is returning to his parent's cabin following a night's ‘bundling’—the old European custom which allowed young couples to share a bed during courting in cold weather, just so long as they kept a bolster between them. In earlier days the demarcation was marked by a sharp drawn sword; possibly a more effective sexual deterrent than a bolster. The wonderfully evocative tune really seems to conjure up dawn in the mountains.

Learnt from Art Rosenbaum, a major inspiration to us.

Vance Randolph in his Ozark Folksongs [Vol. III, no. 541] printed a related piece My Pappy He Will Scold Me which Mr William Lane of Webb City, Mo. remembered as a children's game song back in the 1890s. A second version from Arkansas has the following admonitory opening verse:

Oh girls you ought to be drownded, drownded, drownded,
Oh girls you ought to be drownded,
To fall in love with a boy.

An early Sapphic protest song?

Sarah McQuaid sang The Chickens They Are Crowing in 2008 on her CD I Won't Go Home 'Til Morning.

One album I played over and over—and still have, scratched and battered and missing its sleeve—was Peggy Seeger's 1958 recording Folksongs and Ballads on the Riverside label. This song was on it, with Peggy accompanying herself on the banjo. Many years later, I had the good fortune to see her live at Whelan's in Dublin. I shouted out a request for The Chickens They Are Crowing, and to my great delight she did it. The effect was mesmerising as ever.

Peggy Seeger provided the chords and transcriptions for Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America, so it's possible that she learned the song from the version there, which is credited in turn to Cecil Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, “as sung by Ben Finlay, Little Goose Creek, Clay Co., Ky., as a play-party song.” Sharp indicates that the song was collected from Finlay in 1917, and gives slightly different words to Lomax's. However, the “boys come a-courting“ verse doesn't feature in either book, so Seeger must have either added it herself or learned the song from a different source.

Lyrics

Ben Finlay sings The Chickens They Are Crowing

The chickens they are crowing, a-crowing, a-crowing,
The chickens they are crowing, for it is almost daylight.

My mother she will scold me, will scold me, will scold me,
My mother she will scold me for staying away all night.

My father he’ll uphold me, uphold me, uphold me,
My father he’ll uphold me and say I'd a-done just right.

I won’t go home till morning, till morning, till morning,
I won’t go home till morning, and I’ll stay with the girls all night.

The chickens they are crowing, a-crowing, a-crowing,
The chickens they are crowing, for it is almost daylight.

Sarah McQuaid sings The Chickens They Are Crowing

The chickens they are crowing, a-crowing, a-crowing,
The chickens they are crowing, for it is ’most daylight.

The boys they come a-courting, a-courting, a-courting,
The boys they come a-courting and then they stay all night.

I won’t go home till morning, till morning, till morning,
I won’t go home till morning, I’m staying away all night.

My mother she will scold me, will scold me, will scold me,
My mother she will scold me for staying away all night.

My father he’ll uphold me, uphold me, uphold me,
My father he’ll uphold me, he’ll say I done a-right.

And the chickens they are crowing, a-crowing, a-crowing,
The chickens they are crowing, for it is ’most daylight.