This is one Jon picked up from Fay, in fact he says, “I meant to record this with Fay but we haven’t found the time yet, so we may post it up later-on (she sings it much better than me). I hadn’t realised until recording it how close the tune is to In The Month Of January.”
Here’s another example of something you think you know, but… I have a tune in my head, it’s not this one and nor is it the American variant that seems to dominate the YouTube clips of everyone form Rory Gallagher and Janis Joplin to bloke-in-bedroom. Thank heavens then for the reissue of Shirley Collins Sweet England, which restores my faith that I am not simply delusional. Interestingly her sleeve notes for that attribute her source as ‘Great-granny’, so straight down the family line, obviously giving the tune a much wider life span than the confines of my head. The version that Jon sings is, however, very similar to Anne Briggs, but seems to have an extra verse, making this an even more cautionary tale about the falsehood of lovers. Mainly Norfolk covers Anne Briggs version and Bert Lloyds sleeve notes make interesting reading. He refers both to the ambiguity of the bird as the herald of spring and the nest stealing root of the cuckold. I guess it explains to some extent the odd conjunction of what Bert describes as ‘floating verses’ and the marriage of the pretty bird imagery with infidelity. There do seem to be several variants and the American versions in particularly seem to involve cards, whiskey, log cabins and more, in a right old stew of frontier-type imagery. It’s perhaps not surprising, given the seasonal nature and distinctive call, that cuckoo songs in The British Isles go back many centuries and I even came across one translated from Middle English dated from C13th. You also won’t be surprised to learn that there’s more to cuckoos than brood parasitism. Should you fancy a quick nature ramble Wiki here and note that the Roadrunner is a cuckoo. Pass me my Acme rocket-skates. As for the song? Super-genius!
You can buy the January digital album now from all good download stores: