BBC Countryfile Magazine
NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL SPRING
Ten songs – old and new – to help you celebrate the new season in the countryside
ONE MAY MORNING EARLY
A May roamer who stumbles upon the sweetest of birdsong, this song has all the elements of a spring classic. We have opted for this 2007 version by contemporary folk band Bellowhead, which itself was inspired by the legendary Copper Family’s take on the song.
THE FALSE BRIDE
This song was first printed on a broadsheet in the 1680s and The Copper Family were again responsible for passing it on, this time to Shirley Collins. Also known as ‘The Week Before Easter’, it has strong similarities with the song ‘I Once Loved a Lass’, as sung by Sandy Denny.
IT WAS A LOVER AND HIS LASS
Found in Shakespeare’s As You Like It but put to music here by the vocalist and jazz guitarist Al Bowlly, this version might not be folk in style or sound, but the fact a song first published in 1623 was still being performed long into the 20th century is very much in keeping with the genre.
THE LARK IN THE MORNING
Many variations of this song were collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the Folk Songs Journal. Some focus more on the pretty ploughboy and others the beatific lark. We’ve opted for this Steeleye Span version, as found on their 1971 album Please to See the King.
A song so well known that it inspired a play by JB Buckstone in 1845, furthering its popularity. There exists a recorded version of ‘Green Bushes’ from 1907, performed by influential Lincolnshire folk singer Joseph Taylor, now digitised by the British Bushes. Here it is faithfully performed by Oxford folk group Magpie Lane.
The freedom of the season isn’t always something to be celebrated, nor are roving young men who leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake. That this ode to abstinence has also been called ‘Young Men Are False’ is an indication of the troubles within.
THE SPOTTED COW
Created for London’s pleasure garden, this urban songwriter’s take on the pastoral spring idyll proved so popular it was appropriated by rural communities across England. This version is performed by Harry Cox, a strong influence on the folk revival of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
THE BONNY BLACK HARE
Spring is a gift for the poetic lyricist. Hunting, hares, guns, love and lust – this isn’t overly subtle but nor is the British tradition of double entendre. This version is taken from the Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick album Byker Hill.
THE SEEDS OF LOVE
The publication of The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs in 2012 was followed a year later with an album containing a selection of the book’s songs. The whole thing is well worth a listen; our pick is this tale of a young lover wishing to bloom like the flowers in her garden.
THE HOUR OF THE BLACKBIRD Ninebarrow
The grand tradition of songs inspired by springtime is alive and well. Ninebarrow’s track portrays the pagan tradition of the robin being crowned ‘King of the Greenwood’ at the passing of the vernal equinox. The blackbirds’ song is a celebration of spring renewal and hope.
Listen to all these tracks on BBC Countryfile Magazine’s spring playlist available on music streaming service Spotify. Simply scan this QR code and enjoy.