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False True Love / False Young Man / Bird in a Cage

[ Roud 419 ; Ballad Index SKE42 ; trad.]

This mournful dialogue was recorded twice by Shirley Collins accompanying herself on banjo. The first version is on her 1960 Folkways LP False True Lovers with the title The False True Love and was also included in her anthology Within Sound. She and Alan Lomax commented in the original album's notes:

From Cecil Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, Volume II. The False True Love is one of hundreds of examples showing that the British folk song tradition has grown steadily more lyrical in the past two or three hundred years. As the role of the ballad singer lost its importance, the narrative pieces were broken down into fragmentary lyric songs. This process has been especially marked and rapid in the Southern Appalachian area, from which this song comes.

The original piece is a tragic ballad, called Young Hunting (Child 68), probably Scots in origin, but widespread throughout Britain and North America. It tells of a young man who rides by to visit an old sweetheart. When she bids him to light down and spend the night, he says that he prefers his new light of love. Whereupon the jealous girl stabs him, throws his corpse into the well and curses him. The remainder of the ballad consists of a dialogue between the murderess and her little parrot, the sole witness, who insists he will tell all and will not be bribed or threatened into silence.

All that is left of this story in the Tennessee lyric form is the opening bit of dialogue. Moreover, the situation has been so generalised that either part may be taken by a man or a woman, and there is no hint of violence. The song dwells upon the faithlessness of lovers, and the tragic position of the betrayed one, twin themes which are paramount in American erotic folk poetry. In the view of an academic critic such as Louise Pound the shortening of the ballad into the lyric song represents merely a decay in the folk tradition. Perhaps she would not hold to this opinion if she could hear the song as it is actually sung. One can say no more than this; at one time there was a fine ballad and later it gave rise to an equally beautiful lyric piece.

Shirley Collins recorded it again in 1967 with slightly different verses as False True Love for her Topic album The Sweet Primeroses, where she commented in the sleeve notes:

This sad and tender lyric fragment is recognisably similar to the opening of the ballad Young Hunting, but it was collected in this short form by Cecil Sharp from Mr Jeff Stockton, Flag Pond, Tennessee, in 1916. Versions of the British original, all involving the young man's murder and drowning have been collected all over the Appalachians. When I started out with singing and researching, the Anglo-Appalachian tradition seemed full of wonders, but lately I feel that the hybrids are like sorrowful ghosts, lost between the purely American forms like the blues and bluegrass, and the robust spirit of the British tradition. However, I still feel that the marvellous sense of loss and loneliness in this particular song makes it worth singing.

This version was also included in her compilations Fountain of Snow and The Classic Collection and on the Topic anthology The Voice of Folk.

June Tabor sang Bird in a Cage live on Sunday March 26, 1972 at the Stagfolk Folk Club at Shackleford Social Centre, near Godalming. This recording has been left out of the album Stagfolk Live Folk but it was included in 1987 on the Folk Roots Magazine anthology Square Roots.

Martin Carter sang Bird in a Cage in 1972 on his Traditional Sound album Ups & Downs.

Keith Kendrick and Lynne Heraud sang Bird in a Cage in 2000 on their WildGoose CD Stars in My Crown. He commented:

Another great song from Stephen Sedley's matchless publication The Seeds of Love (page 110). I've been singing this song for donkey's years in a minor key, as it appears in the book and incidentally so has Lynne. A few years ago, not having sung it for some time, I decided to try it in a major key—for me, transforming the song and bringing it to life. Anyway, here's the result.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan sang The False Young Man in 2002 on their Fellside CD Between the Dark and Light. She commented:

Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians was the source for The False Young Man, another slant on the popular Love-Gone-Pearshaped theme.

James Yorkston sang False True Love in 2003 on his promotional EP Someplace Simple.

Kieron Means sang The False Young Man in 2005 on his CD Far As My Eyes Can See and in the American half of the anthology Song Links 2: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their American Variants. (Probably) Martyn Wyndham-Read commented in the latter CD's notes:

Jeff Stockton of Flag Pond, Tennessee, sang this lovely song to Cecil Sharp, on September 3, 1916. It's printed in Sharp's English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians where there are eight other variants. This was one of the first Appalachian songs I learned and sang over fifty years ago. I still feel it is one of the most beautiful songs I know, and I'd guarded it jealously over the years. I suggested it to Kieron for this album, because I knew he could be entrusted to do it justice.

Cath and Phil Tyler sang False True Love in 2008 on their CD Dumb Supper.

Lady Maisery sang The False Young Man in 2013 on their CD Mayday. They commented:

[…] The woman in False Young Man unwittingly falls for one such false lover and the song takes place when she encounters him again sometimes after. Many songs of women wronged in love seem to be full of self-pity, but the woman in this song seems to possess an inner strength despite her heartbreak. Our version is based on one collected by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles from Mr T Jeff Stockton of Flag Pond, Tennessee, in 1916.

Ewan McLennan sang The False Young Man in 2014 on his Fellside CD Stories Still Untold. He commented in his liner notes:

This is a traditional Appalachian ballad that seems to be closely derived from an English ballad of a similar theme and feel, as so many are. It crops up in lots of different guises in many different publications, in particular Cecil Sharp's Folk Songs of English Origin collected in the Appalachian Mountains. I tried to somehow work into the performance the huge range of emotions inherent in the text. To me, it's a short but moving ballad.

Lyrics

Shirley Collins sings The False True Love on False True Lovers

Come in, come in, you old true love,
And chat for a while with me,
For it's been three quarters of a long year or more,
Since I spoke one word to thee.

I shan't come in, I shan't sit down,
I ain't got a moment's time,
And since you are engaged with another true love,
Then your heart is no longer mine.

When you were mine, my old true love,
Then your head lay on my breast,
You could make me believe by the falling of your arm,
That the sun rose up in the west.

There is many the star shall jingle in the west,
There is many the leaf below,
There is many the damn that shall light upon a man,
For treating a poor girl so.

I wish to the Lord I'd never been born,
Or had died when I was young,
Then I never would have mourned for my old true love,
Nor have courted no other one.

Shirley Collins sings False True Love on The Sweet Primeroses

Come in, come in, you old true love,
Won't you chat for a while with me,
For it's been three quarters of a long year or more,
Since I spoke one word to thee.

No, I shan't come in, no, I won't sit down,
For I don't have a moment's time,
And since you are now engaged with another true love,
Then your heart is no longer mine.

But when you were mine, my own true love,
And your head lay upon my breast,
You could make me believe all by the falling of your arm,
That the sun rose up in the west.

Now there's many's the star shall jingle in the west,
And it's many the leaves all below,
And there's many's the damn that shall light upon a man,
For treating a poor girl so.

Now I wish to the Lord I'd never been born,
Or had died when I was young,
Then I never would have mourned for my own true love,
Nor have courted no other one.

June Tabor sings Bird in a Cage

As I walked out one May morning
To hear the birds sing sweet,
I sat my back to a garden wall
And watched two lovers meet.

You courted me, was what she said,
You got me to comply,
You courted me with a merry mood
All night with you to lie.

And when your heart was mine, false love,
And your head lay on my breast
You could make me believe, by the fall of your arm,
That the sun rose in the west.

My parents they have brought me up
Like a small bird in a cage,
And now I am with child by you,
Not fifteen years of age.

There's many's a girl can go about
And hear the birds sing sweet,
While I poor girl must stop at home
And rock the cradle and weep.

Rock the cradle o'er and o'er
And sing sweet lullabies.
There never was a poor young girl
So crossed in love as I.

Go down to you father's garden, love,
Go down and cry your fill,
And when you think on what you've done,
You can blame your own good will.

There's many's the star shall fade in the west,
There's many's the leaves shall blow,
And there's many's the curse shall light on a man
For treating a poor girl so.