The Cuckoo | Sparven Lilla

from Mountscribe by Rowan Piggott

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This is a song I had from the singing of Breda Keville, though it also has strong ties to Sussex where I live now. The cuckoo's call is a harbinger of summer in England, but in the original it's linked with melancholy warnings of the fickleness of love. I always found myself drawn more to the first two verses (which carry on the Romantic tradition of symbolic birdsong) – perhaps something to do with my Grandma being a professional ornithologist! – and so I wrote new verses in the same vein relating some of my favourite birdlore from an Oscar Wilde tale, a nursery rhyme, and my family’s involvement with the Dingle Wren. The tune that follows is a Swedish polska called The Little Sparrow from Värmland.


Oh the Cuckoo is a pretty bird, she sings as she flies
She brings us good tidings and tells us no lies
She sucks the little birds eggs to keep her voice clear
And when she sings cuckoo, the summer draws near.

As I walked down by the side of a bush,
I heard two birds whistling; the Blackbird and the Thrush
I asked them the reason so merry they be
And the answer that they gave me: We are single and we are free.

But the Nightingale sings so sweetly for true love she knows.
She's pierced her brown breast on the thorn of a rose.
That rose once as white as the first fall of snow
Glows scarlet in the moonlight, her heartache to show.

A-walking a-talking, a-walking was I,
When I spied Cock Robin in a ditch he did lie,
I asked him who caused him such sorrow, such strife
And he told me that the Sparrow had taken his life.

So when the year's a-turning and wassailing we go,
I'll spy our small king as he dashes through the snow.
The Wren singing boldly is out aways in front
Of the boys in straw costume who are out on the hunt.


from Mountscribe, released January 14, 2018
Rowan Piggott – Voice / Shruti Box / Fiddle
Anna Tabbush – Fiddle


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Rowan Piggott Sheffield, UK

Rowan is a fiddle-singer, writer and tunesmith who grew up in the foothills of the Burren on the west coast of Ireland, surrounded by traditional music. The author of two successful tunebooks, he has also written articles for The Living Tradition magazine and led fiddle workshops at festivals all over the country. In 2016, he won the Future of Young Folk Award at Bromyard Folk Festival. ... more

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