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The Cuckoo’s Nest
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The Cuckoo’s Nest is a song and a Morris Dance tune.
This bawdy song is from the repertoire of Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen. Her recordings of this song can be found on her Collector EP I Ken Where I’m Going (recorded in London, January 1959), on the anthology Songs of Seduction (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 2; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968), as the title track of her Prestige / Transatlantic LP The Cuckoo’s Nest and Other Scottish Folk Songs and on the Saydisc CD anthology Songs of the Travelling People (recorded in Aberdeen in 1953). Norman Buchan commented in the Collector EP’s sleeve notes:
A flourishing weed in fairly recent Scottish cultural developments was that phenomenon known as “The Kailyard (cabbage-patch) School”, which took its name from the “kailyard” reference in a song called The Bonny Brier Bush. The writers in this school sedulously fostered the curious conception of the average Scotsman as a pawky peasant, stupid, sentimental and altogether sickeningly coy. Here in The Cuckoo’s Nest is a song calculated to smash any surviving remnants of kailyardery. This is a piece of healthy bawdry, set in a real and not a phoney kailyard. The cuckoo’s nest itself is, of course, a conventional sex symbol, of a kind perhaps, more often found in English folksong.
Owen Hand sang The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1966 on his Transatlantic album I Loved a Lass. He noted:
A very thinly disguised bawdy song from the repertoire of Jeannie Robertson.
Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick played the tune of Cuckoo’s Nest in 1967 on their album Rags, Reels and Airs; this track was also included in 2002 on the Topic anthology The Acoustic Folk Box. And Martin Carthy played it in December 2004 live at Ruskin Mill.
The Druids sang The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1971 on their Argo album Burnt Offering. They noted:
A very skilful symbol for a part of the female anatomy which receives its fair share of allegory and symbolism in English popular music past and present.
Barry Dransfield sang Cuckoo’s Nest in 1972 on Ashley Hutchings and Friends’ first Morris Dance album, Morris On. This recording was also included in Troubadours of British Folk Vol. 2 and on the Ashley Hutchings anthology Burning Bright. A live recording by the Albion Dance Band from 1976 can be found on The Guv’nor Vol. 2, and another one by the Morris On Band on Morris On the Road. Two versions of this tune were also published in the Ashley Hutchings’ 1976 songbook, A Little Music.
Miriam Backhouse sang The Cuckoo’s Nest on the 1976 fundraiser album The Second Folk Review Record. The sleeve notes said it is
One of the most blatant versions of this song, and no further comment is really needed.
Kathryn Roberts sang Cuckoo’s Nest in 2001 on Equation’s EP The Dark Ages.
Alva performed three versions of The Cuckoo’s Nest in 2002 on their Beautiful Jo album Love Burns in Me: an Irish fiddle tune, a Lowlands Scots song, and Gaelic mouth music. They noted:
The origins of Gaelic mouth music may lie in providing music for dance in the absence of an instrument, or perhaps for amusing children. Our Gaelic version is inspired by the singing of Kitty McCleod from the Isle of Lewis. Vocalising an instrumental-type melody is an ancient vocal practice, known in English, Irish and Welsh traditions as ‘diddling’, ‘lilting’ or ‘chin music’.
Kirsty Potts sang Cuckoo’s Nest on her 2015 album The Seeds of Life. She noted:
I drew the words for this from a few sources: [Kirsty’s mother] Alison [McMorland], Jeannie Robertson of Aberdeen, Betsy Whyte of Montrose and some of my own. The tune comes from a fragment sung by John Strachan of Fyvie.
The Norfolk Broads sang The Cuckoo’s Nest on their 2017 CD In the Valley of the Flowers.
The Hungarian group Simply English sang Cuckoo’s Nest on their 2017 CD Long Grey Beard and a Head That’s Bald.
Kelly Oliver sang Cuckoo’s Nest on her 2018 CD Botany Bay. She noted:
I refused to sing all the traditional misogynistic lyrics of this song, so I altered some of the lyrics. They now tell a story of female defiance against unwanted affection.
Piers Cawley sang The Cuckoo’s Nest at a #TradSongTues Twitter singaround. He included his recording in 2020 on his download EP Trad Song Tuesdays Volume 0. He also sang in on his download album Isolation Sessions #2 where he noted:
One day I’ll run out of smut to put on these albums. But today is not that day. Usually in a folk courtship song, what happens is the bloke tries his best lines on the girl and she repeatedly rebuffs him before suddenly they’re at the church and getting married. Which is why, when I sing The Sweet Nightingale, I alter the last verse.
In this one though, there’s a sense of playfulness from both parties that I like. Enthusiastic consent is the only consent worth having.
Barry Dransfield sings Cuckoo’s Nest
As I was a-walking one morning in May
I met a pretty fair maid and unto her did say:
“For love I am inclined and I’ll tell you my mind
That my inclination lies in your cuckoo’s nest.”
“My darling,” said she, “I am innocent and young,
And I scarcely can believe your false deluding tongue.
Yet I see it in your eyes and it fills me with surprise
That your inclination lies in my cuckoo’s nest.”
Some like a girl who is pretty in the face,
And some like a girl who is slender in the waist.
But give me a girl that will wriggle and will twist:
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo’s nest.
“Then my darling,” says he, “if you see it in my eyes,
Then think of it as fondness and do not be surprised.
For I love you, my dear, and I’ll marry you, I swear,
If you let me clap my hand on your cuckoo’s nest.”
“My darling,” said she, “I can do no such thing,
For my mother often told me it was committing sin
My maidenhead to lose and my sense to be abused.
So have no more to do with my cuckoo’s nest.”
“My darling,” says he, “it is not committing sin.
But common sense should tell you it is a pleasing thing,
For you were brought into this world to increase and do your best
And to help a man to heaven in your cuckoo’s nest.”
“Then my darling,” says she, “I cannot you deny,
For you’ve surely won my heart by the roving of your eye.
Yet I see it in your eyes that your courage is surprised,
So gently lift your hand in my cuckoo’s nest.”
So this couple they got married and soon they went to bed
And now this pretty fair maid has lost her maidenhead.
In a small country cottage they increase and do their best
And he often claps his hand on her cuckoo’s nest.
Thanks to Terry Rigby for transcribing the lyrics.