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The Birds in the Spring / (Down) By the Green Groves /
One May Morning Early

[ Roud 356 ; Ballad Index RcTBiITS ; trad.]

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang The Sweet Nightingale (The Birds in the Spring) at home in Copthorne, Sussex, in 1955, where he was recorded by Peter Kennedy for the BBC. His version was printed in 1970 in Ken Stubbs' book The Life of a Man, and it was included in 1976 on Maynard's Topic album of traditional songs from Sussex, Ye Subjects of England. Mike Yates and Ken Stubbs commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Surprisingly The Birds in the Spring only appears to have been previously collected in Surrey, Sussex and Essex. The repetitive nature of the tune suggests an 18th century stage origin and, like some of Pop's other songs, it is also in the repertoire of the Copper family of Rottingdean in Sussex.

Bob and John Copper sang this song as By the Green Grove in 1971 on their 4 LP Leader box set, A Song for Every Season. Bob, John, Jill and Lynne Copper and Jon Dudley sang it again in 1987 on the anthology LP Square Roots: An Unlikely Selection from the Pages of Folk Roots Magazine, and Bob, Jill and John Copper and Jon Dudley sang it in 1995 on their CD Coppersongs 2: The Living Tradition of the Copper Family.

Peter Bellamy and Chris Birch sang this song as Down By the Green Groves on Bellamy's 1983 cassette of English, Irish, Australian and American traditional songs, Fair Annie. This recording was also included in 2001 on the Fellside anthology Voices in Harmony: English Traditional Songs.

Bellowhead recorded this song in 2007 as One May Morning Early for their CD Burlesque. In their liner notes they give the Copper Family as their source and inspiration for this song.

Andy Turner learned The Birds in the Spring from Pop Maynard's album and sang it as the March 15, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sings The Birds in the Spring

𝄆 One Spring morning early I chanced for to rove,
I sit myself down by the side of a grove, 𝄇
And there did I hear the sweet nightingales sing.
You never heard so sweet, you never heard so sweet,
You never heard so sweet as the birds in the spring.

𝄆 All on the cold ground I sit myself down
And the voice of the nightingale re-echoes all round. 𝄇
Hark, hark how she warbles her notes, I'll declare,
No music, no songster, no music, no songster,
No music, no songster could with them compare.

𝄆 Come all that are here these birds for to hear,
I pray you pay attention and quickly draw near. 𝄇
And when you grow old you will have it to sing,
You've heard so sweet, you've heard so sweet,
You've heard so sweet as the nightingales sing.

Peter Bellamy and Chris Birch sing Down By the Green Groves

One May morning early I chanced for to roam
And strode through the fields by the side of a grove.
It was there that I did hear the harmless birds sing.
And you never heard so sweet, you never heard so sweet,
You never heard so sweet as the birds in the spring.

At the end of the grove I sat myself down
And the song of the nightingale echoed all around.
Their song was so charming, their notes were so clear,
No music, no songster, no music, no songster,
No music, no songster could with them compare.

All you that come here the small birds to hear
I will have you pay attention so pray all draw near.
And when you are growing old you'll have this to say:
That you never heard so sweet, you never heard so sweet,
You never heard so sweet as the birds on the spray!

Bellowhead sing One May Morning Early

One May morning early I chanced for to roam
And strode through the fields by the side of the grove.
It was there that I heard the harmless birds sing.
And you never heard so sweet, you never heard so sweet,
You never heard so sweet as the birds in the spring.

At the end of the grove I sat myself down
And the song of the nightingale echoed all around.
Their song was so charming, their notes were so clear,
No music, no songster, no music, no songster,
No music, no songster with them can compare.

All you that come here the small birds to hear
I'll have you pay attention so pray all draw near.
And when you're growing old you'll have this to say:
You never heard so sweet, you never heard so sweet,
You never heard so sweet as the birds on the spray!