May brings warm weather and blooming flowers here in the northern hemisphere. In folk songs, it also brings courtship. Countless traditional ballads in the English language (and other languages as well) begin by specifying that the action takes place in May. Some end happily, some not. Here are a few of them.
Maddy Prior is probably best known as the lead singer of the seminal English folk-rock band Steeleye Span. Here she sings a song about the English custom of dancing around the maypole and the attendant shenanigans.
The lyrics have a known author: 17th-century comic actor Robert Cox published them in 1656 as “The Maypole Song." It’s not known what tune Cox used, though. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the words were joined up with a traditional dance tune called “Staines Morris.”
Bluegrass greats The Country Gentlemen sing this song of a chance meeting and courtship by music. The story ends in betrayal. The man is married, and he’s going back to his wife. This song has roots in the British Isles, but several versions have been collected in America as well. In some versions, the soldier is a cowboy, with a wife in Arizona.
Ariko is a family band from Lafontaine, Ontario, fronted by the three Lafaive sisters, with their parents occasionally joining in as a rhythm section. The lyrics say “it’s in the month of May that the girls are beautiful, and the men all change their lovers. But I won’t change mine, because she’s too beautiful.”
Here’s a song of courtship and intrigue. This time, we know from the start that the man is married, and so does the object of his affections. Despite her mother’s warnings, she agrees to go with him, and they ride off together, perhaps to live happily ever after?
Irishman Noel Lenaghan sings this song of dalliance in May, accompanied by Elizabeth Nicholson on harp and Bob Sopor on bouzouki. Interestingly, in this song it’s the man who wants to settle down, but the woman leaves without telling him her name.