Lihou and the song ‘Un Vert Bocage’

Lihou and the song ‘Un Vert Bocage’

Formed to keep the songs of the Channel Islands alive, Lihou is a traditional music band with members from the UK, Guernsey and France. The song Un Vert Bocage came out of a unique collaboration with this band.

Below you’ll find the history of this song, a mini-documentary about Lihou, the lyrics to Un Vert Bocage in French and English and more…

“Along beside the green hedgerows, beside a flowing stream, the small birds are singing.”

It’s the start of one of those songs about taking advice from birds…

Un Vert Bocage is a traditional song once sung in Flexagon’s home island of Guernsey – a warning to women about the misery of marriage. Sung in French, just one verse of this song was recorded in Guernsey, collected in the 1950s. The rest of the lyrics have been reconstructed by Roland Scales of Lihou, using other versions of the song from across France.

Flexagon’s contemporary arrangement of Un Vert Bocage came from working as Lihou’s recording engineer on an album of traditional Channel Island songs in spring 2023. Lihou’s album Réveillez-vous car il est jour will be available on all streaming services and Bandcamp in early 2024.

The album is currently available to order as a CD from La Loure’s website and on Spotify.

The song was recorded in 1957 by Peter Kennedy on a trip to the Channel Islands as part of his travels around the UK and Ireland recording traditional musicians and local customs.

Amazingly the diary of this recording trip is online. A day by day account of travelling around the Channel Islands trying to find people to sing traditional songs for him. Among other things he notes borrowing a tractor in Sark, everyone disappearing to watch the Muratti and people too drunk to record… Nothing changes I guess!

Un Vert Bocage reviews

“A dark and stunning piece of work that I may just be falling in love with!” – review link
Louise Toal – Fresh On The Net

“..very much front and centre, come the frankly astonishing vocals of Emmanuelle Bouthillier…which are mesmerising and work with the sounds of the hurdy gurdy to transport us that half step off reality that both folk music and Flexagon’s brand of the psychedelic often do.” – review link
Tommy Girard

“this magnetic collaboration captivates with its unique blend of sounds and storytelling.” – review link
Last Day Deaf

Recording the modern arrangement of Un Vert Bocage

“Un Vert Bocage has haunted me for some years now. I saw Lihou perform ‘Le long d’un vert bocage’ in 2019 at a concert of traditional Channel Island music and it captivated me. It was arranged with drones from violin and hurdy gurdy combined with an incredible vocal performance from Emmanuelle Bouthillier.

Moving on to Spring 2023 and I was lucky enough to be recording with Lihou. We all spent four or five days locked away together and recorded an album of traditional Channel Island songs which became the album ‘Réveillez-vous car il est jour.’

‘Le long d’un vert bocage’ was the first song recorded. And again it grabbed hold of me. I waited several days until all work on the album was completely finished and asked the band if I could re-record the song with just vocal and hurdy gurdy, (sorry to James and Etienne, no violins needed for my version!) and produce my own arrangement of the song. They said yes, and we quickly set up a mic for the gurdy outside in the garden so I had isolation between the gurdy and Manu’s haunting vocals..

Just ten minutes after asking (!) I already had what I needed recorded, and that included an improvised gurdy melody I asked Aline to play. The gurdy only holds a drone in the version of the song they usually perform, but I really wanted to hear more from it now I was in charge of musical direction, and Aline is an amazing player.

I then added bass, synths, extra drones by taking the sound of the Gurdy and pitching up and down in various ways… and a LOT of reverb. Also back at my music room I took the beautiful melody Aline played in the middle of the song onwards and also used it as an introduction. It was too good not to hear twice!

I really hope you enjoy my version of the song.” – Flexagon.

Un Vert Bocage – Lyrics

Le long d’un vert bocage
Près d’un courant ruisseau
J’entends le chant des p’tits oiseaux
Qui chantent leur langage
J’entends le chant des p’tits oiseaux
Qui chantent leur langage

Les p’tits oiseaux sauvages
Se mirent à chanter :–
Garde à vous filles à marier
De vous mettre en ménage
Garde à vous filles à marier
De vous mettre en ménage

Pour se mettre en ménage
Faut bien avoir de l’argent
Et si vous avez homme et enfant
Faut embrasser l’ouvrage
Et toujours en recommençant
L’embarras du ménage

Le jour de vos grandes noces
Quel habit prendrez-vous?
Vous prendrez bien un blanc habit
L’habit de réjouissance
Et les rubans de trois couleurs
Les couleurs de souffrance

Le jour de votre mariage
Quel mouchoir prendrez-vous?
Vous prendrez bien un blanc mouchoir
Pour essuyer vos larmes
Vous vous engagez pour la vie
Adieu le badinage

Mon père, oh ma mère
Vous me faites grand tourment
Car vous m’avez mariée
Mariée avec un homme
Qu’est nuit et jour au cabaret
Ma foi je l’abandonne

Along a green hedgerow
Near a flowing stream
I hear the small birds singing
Who sing [in] their language
I hear the small birds singing
Who sing [in] their language

The little wild birds began to sing:
Beware, young girls who would marry,
Of setting up home and family
Beware, young girls who would marry,
Of setting up home and family

To set up home and family
You really must have money
For with a husband and child
You must devote yourself to hard graft
There’s no end
To the encumbrances of marriage

On your wedding day
What garment will you wear?
You will wear the white garment of rejoicing
And the ribbons of three colours:
The colours of suffering

The day you marry
What handkerchief will you take?
You will take a white handkerchief
To wipe away your tears
You have committed yourself for life
Farewell to all levity

O Father, O Mother
You do me much wrong
You have married me to a man
Who spends all day and night in the tavern
My word, I shall abandon him.

Released November 17, 2023
La musique/Music: Flexagon & Lihou
Chanteuse/Singer: Emmanuelle Bouthillier
Vielle à roue/Hurdy Gurdy/Chifournie: Aline Pilon
Paroles/Lyrics: Traditional arr. Roland Scales

Recorded, mixed and arranged by: Flexagon
Mastered by:Nick Cooke – Nick Cooke Mastering

Documentary on Lihou and the album recording

Guernsey Press article