"The fals fox came vpon a day, And with our gese he made affray."
February 28, 2014 4:21 AM   Subscribe

“The Fox” tells the simple story of a fox who attacks a farmer’s birds. In most versions, he is spotted by the farmer’s wife and chased away by the farmer himself, but gets away with a duck or a goose. Although it often sounds thoroughly modern, it is in fact one of the oldest folksongs we have in English. The earliest texts are in Middle English and come from the 15th century.
Folklife Today, a blog from the Library of Congress, provides a short history of this well-loved song.

You can hear its medieval roots -- “The Fals Fox” -- even today. My favorite cover of "The Fox" comes from Nickel Creek, here featuring a very young Chris Thile. Here's the Pete Seeger version. And one from Cisco Houston.
posted by MonkeyToes (15 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
What sayeth yon folkloric fox?
posted by spitbull at 4:51 AM on February 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

My toddler son was absolutely mesmerized by Nickel Creek's version when he first heard it in the car. For years, we couldn't drive anywhere without cries for The Fox!, The Fox!, The Fox!
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:25 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid I had a record (a big vinyl LP) of Pete Seeger's, which included that song. I must have listened to it thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of times. I think Burl Ives' version was in the house, too, but it was Seeger who was the music of my childhood. Learning that the song has such a rich history really made my morning and brought back such pleasant memories.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:27 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love this story, thank you! There's something about the mythic strains of folk memory coming down through the ages, still being sung today, that is very comforting.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 5:41 AM on February 28, 2014

Wikipedia has two versions with 15th century lyrics (also referenced in the original article but not linked directly above). I'd be interested to hear a recording using one of those sets of lyrics; the modernized version is a lovely song but there's just something about the idea of hearing a song written so long ago.
posted by graymouser at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I ended up distracted by that fascinating 1918 photograph. I really want to know what the story is behind that. There's something about the way they stand together as equals that I don't usually see in photos from that era. Not to mention, what's up with the fox?
posted by tavella at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2014

I can't find audio online, but I'd also recommend the Harvey Reid version.
posted by eviemath at 5:57 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the way Laura Viers does it. She sticks pretty close to Seeger, but simplifies it a bit on her great kids album, Tumble Bee.
posted by montag2k at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2014

He toke a goose fast by the nek,
And made her to sey 'wheccumquek.'

This significantly raises my expectations about what the fox is going to turn out to have said.
posted by heyforfour at 7:36 AM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

There's a singer named Raymond Crooke who has done a large collection of the ballads collected by Francis James Child, and he did do a cover of The Fox but I was disappointed he didn't try out a version with the old lyrics. My computer is completely refusing to play videos or load pages right now, but if anyone has attempted to do an old version of the song my guess would be people doing Child cover's and their collections would be a good start to look for such a thing.

It seems unless I'm wrong, doing the old version would essentially require making up the tune- A collection of the tunes for Child songs was compiled in the 1960's and there was a resurgence of some of the old folk collections around that time, but I could see how it would be hard to make up the tune of a very old song unless you were very knowledgeable. (But I'm terrible at writing either lyrics or tunes so maybe some would have a knack for such educated guess work..)
posted by xarnop at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2014

This significantly raises my expectations about what the fox is going to turn out to have said.





posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:44 AM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love the mando in the Nickel Creek version, which I had not heard.

(Also I cannot hear the tune now without hearing the Da Vinci's Notebook parody about Bill Gates.)
posted by immlass at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2014

I've never heard the Nickel Creek version before, it's pretty good. Thanks, MonkeyToes.

If you like this kind of stuff, I would strongly recommend that you check out the modern English folk project "The Full English." It's kinda like a cooperative, an archive and a supergroup all in one, and they featured heavily at this year's Radio 2 Folk Awards. (Sorry. second link may not work for outlanders)
posted by Jakey at 6:10 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

And the little ones said
"Daddy, Daddy, go back again!
It must be a mighty fine town-o!"

And the fox said "listen, you little shits,
you'll take what you've got and be glad for it,
for I've already wagered my life 'gainst my wit,
and I'm going to bed to sleep long-o!"

Sorry, but that bit's always annoyed me about the song.
posted by Lexica at 8:28 PM on March 1, 2014

If you like this kind of stuff, I would strongly recommend that you check out the modern English folk project "The Full English."

I do. I will. Thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:40 AM on March 2, 2014

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