> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Herring's Head
> Eliza Carthy > Songs > Herring Song

The Herring's Head / Herring Song / Jolly Herring

[ Roud 128 ; TYG 31 ; Ballad Index VWL086 ; Wiltshire Roud 128 ; trad.]

Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd included The Red Herring in 1959 in their Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Bob Davenport sang The Harrin's Heed in 1959 on his Collector EP Geordie Songs and he and Isla Cameron sang it in 1964 in a Peter Kennedy recording on the album Northumbrian Minstrelsy.

Phoebe Smith of Woodbridge, Sussex, and Richard Blackman of Arundel, Sussex, sang The Herring Song to Peter Kennedy in the 1950s. These recordings were included on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). Phoebe Smith sang Jolly Herring in another recording made by Mike Yates in 1975/76 on her 2001 Veteran CD The Yellow Handkerchief..

Jack Elliott of Birtley sang The Harrin's Head on his posthumous Leader album of 1969, Jack Elliott of Birtley: The Songs and Stories of a Durham Miner.

Cyril Tawney recorded The Herring's Head in July 1969 for his Argo album Cyril Tawney Sings Children’s Songs from Devon and Cornwall. He commented in his liner notes:

Collected by Baring-Gould from James Olver, a tanner from Launceston, in June 1890. Olver had learned it in 1810 from Jane and Tom Hire, two old men of Liskeard, Cornwall.

Isla St Clair sang Herring's Heid in 1972 on her Tangent album Isla St Clair Sings Traditional Scottish Songs, and in 1995 in her BBC Radio 2 series and on the accompanying album Tatties & Herrin': The Sea. Hamish Henderson commented in the former album's sleeve notes:

Popular as a drinking song in many coastal areas of Britain—particularly Northumbria—Herring's Heid contains unmistakable echoes of ritual magic. It is clear that this bountiful fish is no ordinary herring; indeed, one English version makes in “40 feet long and 44 wide”! So, although it has not got the cosmic proportions of the Derby Ram, it is still powerful ju-ju, and a link with very ancient custom and belief. Isla learned it from Danny Coope of the Aberdeen Folk Club.

Johnny Doughty sang Herring's Heads at home in Brighton, Sussex on August 24, 1976 in a Mike Yates recording that was published a year later on his Topic album Round Rye Bay for More: Traditional Songs from the Sussex Coast and in 1998 on the Topic anthology First I'm Going to Sing You a Ditty (The Voice of the People Volume 7).

Mikeen McCarthy sang The Herring in a recording made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in their home in Putney, London, in Spring 1976. This was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Volume 14).

Bandoggs sang The Herring's Head in 1978 on their eponymous Trailer album, Bandoggs.

Ted Chaplin sang The Herring's Head in a recording made by John Howson in 1985. It was published on the Veteran tape Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 5: Songs of Bargemen, Fishermen and Sailors and in 2001 on the Veteran CD When the Wind Blows: An Anthology of Traditional Folk Music from Coastal England. John Howson commented in the liner notes:

This tongue twister seems to have found its way into most country and seafarer's repertoires, although it is not of great antiquity. The earliest version of the song, better known as The Red Herring or the Jolly Herring, is a manuscript of 1831. Ritual origins have been suggested but it was more likely to have been sung just for the fun of it. Ted first heard this song in Redlingfield Crown.

Graham Metcalfe with Folly Bridge sang The Herring in 1992 on their second WildGoose cassette, Unabridged. Claire Lloyd noted:

Versions of this cumulative children's song are found wherever men fished for herring, from Cornwall to Shetland, Kinsale to Newfoundland. It is sung here by Graham Metcalfe with Folly Bridge. The “false start” included on the original recording has been kept for posterity.

Eliza Carthy sang and played Herring Song on fiddle and djembe in 1998 on her album Rice with Soul Rose, melodeon; Ed Boyd and Billericay Fontenot, guitar; Saul Rose, Billericay and Thorngumbold Fontenot and Lucy Adams sang in the chorus.

The Revels sang The Herring's Head in 2002 on their CD Homeward Bound.

Chris Foster sang The Herring's Head in 2004 on his Tradition Bearers CD Jewels.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson sang Herring's Head in 2008 on their WildGoose CD Dead Maid's Land. They commented in their album notes:

From the village of South Zeal, here is a version of The Herring's Head where images of Dartmoor hill-farming have replaced the usual fishing symbols. Sung by Lucky Fewins at the Oxenham Arms, this is from the ‘argumentative’ strain of the song—as opposite to the ‘cumulative’.

Pete Coe sang Herring's Head in 2011 on his Backshift CD Tall Tailes.

Rosie Hood sang The Red Herring on her 2017 RootBeat CD The Beautiful & the Actual. She commented in her liner notes:

Collected from Henry ‘Wassail’ Harvey, Cricklade, and Elijah Iles, Inglesham, by Alfred Williams. His notes say “Perhaps this is imperfect.”

I edited a number of these verses and wrote a bluesy melody for it.

Lyrics

Phoebe Smith sings Jolly Herring

As I were a walking down by the seaside
I saw a red herring washed up by the tide,
And that little herring I took home and dried
Don't you think I done well with my jolly Herring.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring

Now what would you think that I made with his eyes:
The finest of lamps now that ever did shine.
There were big lamps and little lamps and lamps for to shine,
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring.

Now what would you think that I made of his head:
The finest of ovens that ever baked bread.
There was big ovens and little ovens and ovens to bake,
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring.

Now what would you think that I made of his gills:
The finest of boats now that ever did sail.
There was big boats and little boats and boats for to sail,
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring.

Now what would you think that I made of his back:
Just as much money I could pack in a sack.
There was sixpences shillings and crowns by the score,
Don't you think I done well with my Jolly herring.

Last chorus:
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
For you don't get an herring like that every day

Ted Chaplin sings the The Herring's Head Folly Bridge sing The Herring

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
The herring is the king of the sea,
The herring is the fish for me.
The herring is the king of the sea,
Sing fol-the-rol-diddle-ol-day

Now what shall we do with the herring’s head?
We’ll make them into loaves of bread.
Herring’s heads and loaves of bread
And lots of other things.

Now what'll I do with the herring’s head?
I'll make it into a loaf of bread.
I'll make it into a loaf of bread
And all sorts of things.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
For all the fishes in the sea
The herring it is the fish for me
Fol-lo-do-rue-da li-do
Fol-lo-da rue da li

Now what shall we do with the herring's eyes?
We’ll make them into puddings and pies.
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
Herring's heads and loaves of bread
And lots of other things.

Now what'll I do with me herring's eyes?
I'll make 'em into puddings and pies,
I'll make 'em into puddings and pies
And all sorts of things.
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
Herring's heads, loaves of bread
And all sorts of things.

Now what shall we do with the herring's fins?
We’ll make them into needles and pins.
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's fins?
I’ll make 'em into needles and pins,
I’ll make 'em into needles and pins
And all sorts of things.
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
etc.

Now what shall we do with the herring's backs?
We’ll make them into boys and Jacks.
Herring's backs and boys and Jacks,
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's back?
I’ll make it into a laddie called Jack,
I’ll make it into a laddie called Jack
And all sorts of things.
Herring's back, a laddie called Jack,
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
etc.

Now what shall we do with the herring's bellies?
We’ll make them into girls and Nellies.
Herring's bellies and girls and Nellies,
Herring's backs and boys and Jacks,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's gills?
I'll make 'em into window sills,
I'll make 'em into window sills
And all sorts of things.
Herring's gills, a window sills,
Herring's back, a laddie called Jack,
etc.

Now what shall we do with the herring's tails?
We’ll make them into ships and sails,
Herring's tails and ships and sails,
Herring's bellies and girls and Nellies,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's tail?
I’ll make it into a barrel of ale,
I’ll make it into a barrel of ale
And all sorts of things.
Herring's tail, a barrel of ale,
Herring's gills, a window sills,
etc.

Mikeen McCarthy sings The Herring Eliza Carthy sings the Herring Song

There was an old man who lived in Kenmare,
He used have some herrings and herrings for sale,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.
And yet I have more of my song to be sung,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.

So what do you think they made of his back?
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.
A fine old man and his name it was Jack,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.
Sing herring, sing back, sing man, sing Jack,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.

So what do you think they made of his belly?
A fine old girl and her name it was Nelly.
Sing herring, sing belly, sing girl sing Nelly,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his head?
The finest sledge that ever cut stones.
Sing herring, sing head sing sledge, sing bed,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his teeth?
The finest chisels that ever cut steel.
Sing herring, sing teeth, sing teeth, sing steel,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his tongue?
The finest spring that ever did sprung.
Sing herring, sing tongue, sing spring, sing sprung,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his mouth?
The finest kettle that ever did spout.
Sing herring, sing mouth, sing kettle, sing spout,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his nose?
The finest hammer that ever broke stones.
Sing herring, sing nose, sing hammer, sing stones,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his eyes?
The finest saucer that ever held spies.
Sing herring, sing eyes, sing saucer, sing spies,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his bones?
The finest punches that ever punched stones.
Sing herring, sing bones, sing punches, sing stones,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think we made of his tail?
The finest ship that ever sought sail.
Sing herring, sing tail, sing ship, sing sail,
And now I have no more of my song to be sung.

There once was a man who came from Kinsale
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn
And he had a herring, a herring for sale
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn
Sing man of Kinsale, sing herring for sale
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn

So what do you think they made of his head?
The finest oven that ever baked bread
Sing herring, sing head, sing oven, sing bread
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his back?
A nice little man and his name it was Jack
Sing herring, sing back, sing man, sing Jack
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his eyes?
The finest dishes that ever held pies
Sing herring, sing eyes, sing dishes, sing pies
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his scales?
The finest ships that ever set sail
Sing herring, sing scales, sing ships, sing sails
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his fins?
The finest cases for needles and pins
Sing herring, sing fins, sing needles and pins
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his hair?
The finest rope for the seat of a chair
Sing herring, sing hair, sing rope, sing chair
And indeed I've no more of my herring to sing

Rosie Hood sings The Red Herring

What do you think I made of my red herring's head?
The very best oven that ever baked bread.
There's quarterns, half quarterns and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

Chorus:
Of all the fish that swim in the sea
The red herring is the king for me.

What do you think I made of my red herring's eyes?
Forty jackdaws and fifty magpies.
There's linnets and larks and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

What do you think I made of my red herring's gills?
Bottles of medicines and boxes of pills.
There's medicines and pills and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

Chorus

What do you think I made of my red herring's fins?
The very best case that ever held pins.
There's needles and bodkins and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

What do you think I made of my red herring's ribs?
Aylesbury great tower and Aylesbury great bridge.
There's bridges and towers and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

Chorus

What do you think I made of my red herring's tail?
The very best ship that ever set sail.
There's sailcloth and rigging and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

2 × Chorus

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Eliza Carthy by Vic with many thanks from the Wide World and Garry Gillard. This song was the subject of animated discussion on the Mudcat Café (Lyrics: The Herring Song) and participants were not able to agree on the words of the chorus. Eliza herself clarifies what she sings in the chorus in the Mudcat Café thread Eliza C Herring Song chorus. She believes these Welsh words mean something like “over the hills and over the bridge.”