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Come All Ye Fisher Lassies / The Fish Gutters' Song

[ Roud 12504 ; Mudcat 43867 ; Ewan MacColl]

Come All Ye Fisher Lassies was written for the third of the eight BBC radio ballads by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger, Singing the Fishing (first broadcast on 16 August 1960, released on an Argo LP in 1966 and now available on a Topic CD). It was sung by sisters Elizabeth and Jane Stewart from Fetterangus. Peggy Seeger noted in The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook:

Elisabeth and Jane Stweart are Scots travelling women from Fetterangus. When we heard a tape of them in 1959 singing The Back o' Benachie with a bouncy piano accompaniment it was so beguiling that Ewan wrote a whole new set of words to the tune and asked them to come down and record it for Singing the Fishing. We were recording in Birmingham and it was the first time either of them had ever been on a train or indeed been out of Scotland! Their exuberance and cheer dominated the whole fortnight of recording.

The fisherwomen followed the boats along the coast. They would be away from home the whole season.

Elizabeth Stewart also recorded Come All Ye Fisher Lassies more than forty years later for her 2004 CD Binnorie. Thomas A. McKean noted in that album's booklet:

The Fisher Lassies will be far more familiar to listeners than almost any other song in Elizabeth's repertoire. In 1960, Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, along with Charles Parker, were preparing a “radio ballad”, a montage of interviews, ambient sound of working life, music and new songs, on the life of English and Scottish fisher-folk: Singing the Fishing. Arthur Argo, grandson of Gavin Greig, sent the team a tape of Elizabeth and her sister Jane singing Up Among the Heather, with piano, jazzed-up to quickstep time. Peggy Seeger recalls,

I remember those two aligned voices and the gutsy piano. We were dancing around listening to it; it was so bouncy and full of life.

The resulting tune was used by MacColl for the now classic Come A' Ye Fisher Lassies, a song now usually assumed to be traditional and which perfectly encapsulates the hard graft of the gutting quines. Peggy Seeger:

When the sisters came down to record on Singing the Fishing, I believe it was the first time they had been on a train. Ewan and I went to meet them at Snow Hill Station and they were full of it, absolutely thrilled to be coming down south, to be recording, to sing on the radio ballad. They were a joy to work with. Everything was new and exciting. And they did such a good job. (30/6/2004).

The Fisher Family led by Ray Fisher sang Come All Ye Fisher Lassies in 1966 as the first track of their Topic album Traditional & New Songs from Scotland; a nice pun to introduce the nearly all-female Fisher Family to us. This track was also included in 2009 on Topic's 70th anniversary anthology, Three Score and Ten.

Cilla Fisher sang Fisher Lassies in 1979 on her and Artie Trezise's Topic album Cilla & Artie. They also sang it in 1988 on the Radio Derby charity cassette The Derby Tup Presents.

This video shows Ray and Cilla Fisher singing Come All Ye Fisher Lassies at a come-all-ye in honour of the late Norman Buchan, so it must have been in between 1990 and 2011:

The Gaugers sang Come All Ye Fisher Lassies in 1994 on their City of Aberdeen Libraries cassette Awa wi the Rovin Sailor, which was reissued in 1999 on a Sleepytown CD.

Jock Duncan sang Come All Ye Fisher Lassies in 2001 on his Sleepytown CD Tae the Green Woods Gaen.

Wilson & Swarbrick sang The Fish Gutters Song on their 2014 CD Lion Rampant.

Janice Burns & Jon Doran sang the Song of the Fishgutters in 2020 on their eponymous EP Janice Burns & Jon Doran. They noted:

Written as part of [the] BBC Radio Ballads series, this song was featured on Singing the Fishing, released in 1960. This episode followed the lives of the men and women from East Anglia and Northeast Scotland working in the herring trade.

Lyrics

The Fish Gutters' Song in The Essential Ewan MacColl Songbook

Come a' ye fisher lassies, ay, it's come awa' wi' me,
Fae Cairnbulg and Gamrie and fae Inverallochie;
Fae Buckie and fae Aberdeen an' a' the country roond,
We're awa' tae gut the herrin', we're awa' tae Yarmouth Toon.

Rise up in the morning wi' your bundles in your hand,
Be at the station early or you'll surely hae to stand;
Tak' plenty to eat and a kettle for your tea,
Or you'll mebbe die of hunger on the wa' to Yarmouth quay.

The journey it's a lang yen and it tak's a day or twa,
And when you reach your lodgin's sure it's soond asleep you fall;
But ye rise at five wi' the sleep still in your e'e,
You're awa' tae find the gutting yards alang the Yarmouth quay.

It's early in the morning and it's late into the nicht,
Your hands a' cut and chappit and they look an unco' sicht;
And you greet like a wean when you put them in the bree
And you wish you were a thoosand mile awa' frae Yarmouth quay.

There's coopers there and curers there and buyers, canny chiels,
And lassies at the pickling and others at the creels.
And you'll wish the fish had been a' left in the sea
By the time you finish gutting herring on the Yarmouth quay.

We've gutted fish in Lerwick and in Stornoway and Shields;
Warked along the Humber 'mongst the barrels and the creels;
Whitby, Grimsby, we've traivelled up and doon,
But the place to see the herrin' is the quay at Yarmouth Toon.

The Fisher Family sing Come All Ye Fisher Lassies

Come all you fisher lassies, it’s come awa with me,
Fae Cairnbulg and Gamrie and fae Inverallochie,
Frae Buckie and frae Aberdeen an' all the country roond,
We’re awa to gut the herring, we’re awa tae Yarmouth toon.

Oh, we rise up in the morning wi your bundles in your hand.
Be at the station early or you’ll surely hae to stand.
Tak plenty to eat and a kettle for your tea,
Or you’ll maybe die of hunger on the way to Yarmouth Quay.

Noo the journey it’s a lang yen and it taks a day or twa,
And when you reach your lodging, sure it’s soon asleep you’ll fa’,
But you’ll rise at five with the sleep still in your e’en,
You’re awak to find the gutting yards along the Yarmouth quay.

Noo there’s coopers, there are curers there and buyers, canny chiels,
And lassies at the pickle and others at the creels,
And you’ll wish the fish had been all left in the sea
By the time you finish guttin' herring on the Yarmouth quay.

Well, it’s early in the morning, it’s late into the nicht,
Your hands are cut and chappit and they look a nasty sight,
And you greet like a ween when you put ‘em in the bree,
And you wish you were a thoosand mile awa from Yarmouth Quay.

Noo we’ve gutted fish in Lerwick and in Stornaway and Shields.
Worked all on the Humber ‘mongst the barrels and the creels.
Whitby, Grimsby, we’ve traivelled up and doon,
But the place to see the herring is the quay at Yarmouth Toon.