Author Topic: Add: The Grey Cock


Posted - 22 Aug 02 - 05:20 pm

I just think that the tune is fab.

The Grey Cock

I must be going, no longer staying
The burning Thames I have to cross
Oh, I must be guided without a stumble
Into the arms of my dear lass

When he came to his true love's window
He knelt down gently on a stone
And it's through a pane he whispered slowly
My dear girl, are you alone?

She rose her head from her down-soft pillow
And snowy were her milk-white breasts
Saying: 'Who's there, who's there at my bedroom window
Disturbing me from my long night's rest?

Oh, I'm your love and don't discover
I pray you rise, love, and let me in
For I am fatigued from my long night's journey
Besides, I am wet into the skin

Now this young girl rose and put on her clothing
She quickly let her own true love in
Oh, they kissed, shook hands, and embraced together
Till that long night was near an end

O Willie dear, O dearest Willie,
Where is that colour you'd some time ago?
O Mary dear, the clay has changed me
I'm but the ghost of your Willie O

Then O cock, O cock, O handsome cockerel
I pray you not crow until it is day
For your wings I'll make of the very first beaten gold
And your comb I'll make of the silver grey

But the cock it crew, and it crew so fully
It crew three hours before it was day
And before it was day, my love had to go away
Not by the light of the moon or the light of day

Then it's Willie dear, O dearest Willie
Whenever shall I see you again?
When the fish they fly, love, and the sea runs dry, love
And the rocks they melt in the heat of the sun


T:The Grey Cock or The Lover's Ghost
G|A2A2f6ed|[M:4/4]c2e2dc A2-|A6F2|[M:3/2]A A3f6e2|dc e2d6de|f2d2c2d4B2|A2G2A2D2-D2E2|F2Ac d6AG|F2E2D6|]
w:I must be go-ing, no long-er stay-ing__The burn-ing Thames I ha-ve to cross. Oh, I must be guid-ed with-out a stum-ble_In-to th-e arms of_ my dear lass

Source: The Penguin book of English Folk Songs

Sung by Mrs. Cecilia Costello, Birmingham, 1951

Notes from the Penguin book:
A number of lyrical folk songs present the situation of two lovers disturbed by the early crowing of a cock. Perhaps the origin of these songs is found in this supernatural ballad of the lover returned from the dead. The idea that such revenants must go again 'from the world of pity to the world without pity' when the birds cry at dawn is an ancient folklore notion that has spread from the Orient, through the Balkans, as far west as Ireland. Perhaps it is suprising to find such a rare ballad surviving as late as 1951, where it was recorded from an English-born singer of Irish descent. The Grey Cock appears as No. 248 in Child's collection, but not in as good shape as here.

Child: 248

The database entry can be found here


Edited By Ed - 8/22/2002 5:19:37 PM

Edited By Ed - 8/22/2002 5:20:39 PM

Jon Freeman

Posted - 22 Aug 02 - 05:44 pm

It is an interesting tune ed - thanks!


S. in Seattle

Posted - 22 Aug 02 - 09:16 pm

It has similarities to "The Ghost of Willie-O" and "I'm a rover seldom sober", both night visiting songs.




Mary in Kentucky

Posted - 23 Aug 02 - 02:47 am

Ed, I agree, the tune is fab! (Must be our melancholy natures!) Got any more?

I'm still struggling to identify modes. Just a pure guess, but is this one aeolian? How do you identify them?

Edited By Mary in Kentucky - 8/23/2002 2:47:22 AM


Posted - 23 Aug 02 - 08:03 pm


You're doing pretty well by guessing! *grin* Yes, this is aeolian (or natural minor) and The Blacksmith is dorian.

I'm no expert on music theory, but I'll try my best to explain.

I see that you've read the Modes for Mudcatters thread, so I won't bother to go over the basics.

In most cases, the note that a song finishes on is the 'home note' (tonic).

In the case of The Blacksmith, three out of the four lines (including the last one) end on D, so it's pretty obvious that D is the tonic. (if a song doesn't end on the tonic it won't sound 'resolved')

Looking at the sheet music you can see that the song is written in 'C' and there are no accidentals. Played on a piano, it just uses the white notes, but D is the tonic. Therefore dorian.

This song, has a Bflat in the key signature. Again there are no accidentals, and again the song ends on D. A Bflat indicates a key of F or Dm. This is therefore in Dm or aeolian.

Hope that explains a bit, someone with a bit more knowledge could probably explain more.


Mary in Kentucky

Posted - 23 Aug 02 - 09:22 pm

Thanks Ed, that's exactly what I was doing! That's why the sheet music helps. (Jon told me you were responsible for those...thanks again.) My problem is that I still don't have the vocabulary to talk about (correctly) what I intuitively reason out.( For instance, determining the tonic.) On the first one, I "heard" what I called a flatted 6th, thus my guess that it was Aeolian, then I reread the Modes thread and realized that it was the same as a minor scale! (which I can determine easily from the key signature.) I think I can figure them out when I see the sheet music, I'm working on hearing them now.


Posted - 23 Aug 02 - 11:21 pm

Pleased to be of help, Mary

I've never really thought about 'hearing' modes, but for me the Myxolydian, with it's blusey flattened 7th, would probably be the easiest for me to recognise.


Mary in Kentucky

Posted - 24 Aug 02 - 02:09 am

I'm a Dorian myself. ;-)

I have another question which I need to think about before I even try to ask it. It involves chord progressions. To my ear "the English/Greensleeves sound" is very recognizable. (going from a minor chord to the adjacent major one step lower, ie d minor to C Major) There must be a name for it. I suspect it is somehow inherent in the modes...I need to do some more reading...

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 04 Sep 02 - 04:27 am

Mrs. Costello's set was first printed in The Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol.VII no.2, 1953. It was recorded from her by Patrick Shuldham Shaw and Marie Slocombe. The editors of The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, 1959) commented, on the subject of the melody:

"The singer... constantly sang a final F on the recording. Her son remembers that she used to sing a final D. The D preserves the modal character of this beautiful tune, whereas the F comes as a disappointment. In our transcription we have retained the D, but have indicated the F as a variant."

The tune file here omits the variant (F) ending. Perhaps that could be included?

The Grey Cock family is quite large and widespread in the usual countries. Most traditional forms contain no supernatural elements, however, being normal "night-visiting" songs. Some have argued that this is because the supernatural aspect has dropped off over time, but there is also a strong argument that -particularly since the discovery of Mrs. Costello's version- it has simply been assumed that the revenant sub-plot belongs to the song, whereas it may equally well be an inadvertent borrowing from Sweet William's Ghost or something similar. Hugh Shields (who has recorded a number of Grey Cock variants from tradition in Ireland) argues that point very convincingly in his paper The Grey Cock: Dawn Song or Revenant Ballad? (Ballad Studies, ed. Emily B. Lyle, 1976).

Roud 179.

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 04 Apr 03 - 05:52 pm

Perhaps I should be more specific. Shields points out that the "supernatural" verses here are all borrowings from Willy O, a 19th century Anglo-Irish broadside ballad, apparently based on the earlier Sweet William's Ghost (Child 77, Roud 50). Verses 6 and 9 above are from that song, and without them the supernatural element disappears altogether. Mrs Costello sang another verse, in penultimate place, which was omitted by the "Penguin" editors:

So when she saw her love disappearing
The tears down her pale cheeks in streams did flow
He said "Weep no more for me, dear Mary
For I am no more your Willy-O".

This too is borrowed from Willy O, broadside examples of which can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

Willy O

Phil Taylor

Posted - 06 Apr 03 - 02:32 pm

I learned this song from the record of Mrs Costello, so I learned it with the F ending. It struck me as strange at the time, but I got used to it. Mrs Costello was very old when she was recorded, but there's nothing wrong with her sense of pitch, and she sings every verse with that ending. An unresolved "hanging" ending actually suits the grim subject of the song very well.

Another thing I notice is that I now sing the all the Cs in the first four bars sharp. I don't remember whether Mrs Costello did that or not. I really must get a turntable so I can play the old vinyl again:-)

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