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The Week Before Easter

(The False Bride - Roud 154)
Staff notation

The week before Easter, the morn bright and clear,
The sun it shone brightly and keen blowed the air.
And the small birds were singing and changing their notes
All among the wild beasts of the forest.

The roses were red and the leaves they were green,
The bushes and briars so pleasant to be seen.
I went to the forest to gather fine flowers,
But the forest would yeald to me no roses.1

I once loved a fair maid, as I loved my life,
But I never did ask her if she'd be my wife,
And now for my foolishness, I'm well rewarded,2
For she's going to be wed to another.

I was bid to the wedding - how could I say No?3
With her bridesmen and bridesmaids, she made a fine show.
And I followed after, my heart full of woe,
For to see my love wed to another.

And the parson who married them, how loud he did cry
All you who'd forbid it, I would have you draw nigh.
And I thought to myself - I've the best reason why!
But I had not the heart to forbid it.

And the next time I saw my love, in the church stand,
Here's the glove coming off her, there's the ring in his hand.4
And I thought to myself how I should have been that man,
But Id never once mentioned to have her.5

And the next time I saw my love, sat down to dine,
I sat down beside her and I poured out the wine.
And I drank to the lassie that should have been mine,
But now she is wed to another.

And the last time I saw my love, all dressed in white,
Made my eyes run and water, quite dazzled my sight.6
And I threw down my hat and I bid them goodnight.
Bid adieu to all false-hearted true-loves.7

So go dig me a grave that's both long, wide and deep,
And strew it all over with flowers so sweet.
And I will lie down there and take my long sleep
For that's the best way to forget her.......
And I will lay in there and take the long sleep
Bid adieu to all false-hearted true-loves.

Contributed by Rod Stradling (rod @ mustrad.org.uk) - 2.7.04

Notes:

  1. I've reversed the halves of these first two verses, as they seem, to me, to work much better this way round.
  2. The middle two lines are entirely made up.
  3. Stolen from John Watham's version.
  4. This wonderful line was stolen from Lynn Breeze's version.
  5. I heard this in another song, I think, but it fits beautifully here.
  6. Stolen from the incomparable Harry Cox.
  7. These last two lines stolen from Bernie Cherry's version.
This is a song I've been singing, on and off, since the '60s - but I never sang it very much because I wasn't really sure what it was actually about; beyond a generalised feeling of betrayal and unrequited love.  So why did I go on singing it, then?

This was not the sort of question we asked ourselves too much in those heady days - indeed, in my own case, I didn't ask it until rather more recently.  But my dissatisfaction lead me to gradually change it in small ways over the years.  You may remember that the 'folk club' version was in fact an amalgam of The Week Before Easter and a Scots song usually called I Once Loved a Lass - the one that contained the highly-memorable verse beginning The men o' yon forest, they askit o' me, "How many strawberries ...".  I gradually stripped out these accretions, over the years - though I freely admit that I was sorry to loose the strawberries and ships sailing in the forest.

Although the slimmed-down remains was a bit more coherent, it still didn't have much of a story-line or plot motivation.  And the biggest problem, it seemed to me, was the gap between the first two bucolic verses and the protagonist's seeing 'my love to the church go'.  Nor could I find anything which filled that gap in any of the traditional versions I had access to.

Then I heard a song (I don't remember which, or from where) in which the man laments never having plucked up the courage to ask his beloved to marry him.  This, it seemed to me, was exactly what my Week Before Easter needed.  I took the first line of Revett Branch's version of Flash Company ('I once loved a fair maid, as I loved my life'), and shamelessly wrote the next two lines, before finishing in the traditional manner with 'For she's going to be wed to another'.  Another remembered line 'But I'd never once mentioned to have her' slotted in seamlessly, later in the song.  At last! ... it all began to make sense.

I began to do some serious re-making.  Bernie Cherry's 'And I threw down my hat and I bid them goodnight - bid adieu to all false-hearted true-loves' brings a lump to my throat every time - despite my never having worn a hat in my life, nor (as far as I can recall) having suffered any false-hearted true-loves.  Lynn Breeze's fantastic line 'Here's the glove coming off her, there's the ring in his hand.' tells me - tells you - "This is true; I was there, I saw it!"  Finally, I really like the device of repeating the final pair of lines - as so many of the northern Sussex singers did - but in this case I cheat, and use the previous verse's final line instead.


In this instance I've decided not to present all the versions from which my song has taken lines - there are so many of them and, in most cases, it was only a line or two - I hope I've explained how it all worked out, above.  I use basically the same tune everyone else uses for the song, but I do change it about a bit from verse to verse - the staff notation and Midi file above give the plain tune, and the repeat gives a couple of my variations.

Sources:

Records:
Gordon Hall - Country Branch CBCD 095 Good Times Enough
Pop Maynard - Musical Traditions MTCD309-10 Just Another Saturday Night
Duncan Williamson - Kyloe 101 Travellers' Tales 2
Maggie Murphy - Veteran VT 134 CD Linkin' o'er the Lea
Harry Burgess - Topic TSCD665 As Me and My Love Sat Courting
Sarah Makem - Topic TSCD 651 Come Let Us Buy the Licence

Books:
Purslow, Foggy Dew p.28
Palmer, Everyman's Book of English Country Songs pp.152-153
Vaughan Williams & Lloyd, Classic English Folk Songs p.20
Copper, Song for Every Season p.176
Greig-Duncan Collection 6 pp.310-327
Kennedy, Folksongs of Britain & Ireland p.352
Douglas, The Sang's the Thing pp.226-227
Seeger & MacColl, Singing Island p.31
O Lochlainn, Irish Street Ballads pp.170-171
Deacon, John Clare pp.93-97
Karpeles, Cecil Sharp Collection 1 p.272