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The Bonny Cuckoo

[ Roud 24351 ; trad.]

The Bonny Cuckoo as sung in 1793 by Henry Joy of Ballinascreen, Co. Londonderry, was printed by Edward Bunting in his 1840 book Ancient Music of Ireland.

Shirley Collins recorded The Bonny Cuckoo several times. Two BBC archive recordings made by Alan Lomax on October 20, 1957 (one unaccompanied, the other accompanied by herself on banjo) were released on the occasion of her 80th birthday in July 2015 on her 7" EP The Bonny Cuckoo. Her earliest published recording of The Bonny Cuckoo is on her 1960 album False True Lovers. A 1966 demo recording was included in March 2006 on her CD Snapshots. Finally, she sang Bonny Cuckoo in 1969 on her and her sister Dolly's album Anthems in Eden. This recording was also included in her anthology Within Sound. Shirley Collins commented in its booklet:

We sang this at home, in three-part harmony—Mum, Dolly and me. When Alan Lomax visited us in Hastings back in the 1950s he had tears in his eyes as he listened to this song.

And Alan Lomax commented in the 1960 album's notes:

Published in The Clarendon Song Book, Oxford University Press, and learnt by the Misses Collins in their school choir in Hastings. My Bonny Cuckoo is perhaps the most charming of the many songs which celebrate the cuckoo, the harbinger of spring and the natural symbol of cuckolds.

Kerry Andrew aka You Are Wolf sang both My Bonny Cuckoo and The Cuckoo in 2014 on her album Hawk to the Hunting Gone. She commented:

A combination of two traditional English cuckoo songs: the lyrics to My Bonny Cuckoo from the Shirley Collins version, and some lyrics from the oft-recorded The Cuckoo or The 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.

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

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.

Lyrics

Henry Joy sings The Bonny Cuckoo Shirley Collins sings The Bonny Cuckoo

My bonny cuckoo, I tell thee true
That through the groves I'll rove with you;
I'll rove with you until the next spring
And then my cuckoo shall sweetly sing.
Cuckoo, cuckoo, until the next spring,
And then my cuckoo shall sweetly sing.

My bonny cuckoo, I tell thee true
That through the groves I'll rove with you;
I'll rove with you until the next spring
And then my cuckoo shall sweetly sing.

The ash and the hazel shall mourning say,
My bonny cuckoo, don't go away;
Don't go away, but tarry here,
And make the season last all the year.

The ash and the hazel shall mourning say,
Oh bonny cuckoo, don't go away;
Don't go away, but tarry here,
And sing for us throughout the year.
Cuckoo, cuckoo, pray tarry here,
And make the spring last all the year.