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Come All Ye Fisher Lassies

[ Roud 12504 ; 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 August 16, 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. Elizabeth Stewart also recorded it more than forty years later for her 2004 CD Binnorie. Thomas A. McKean commented in the latter 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:

Lyrics

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 nacht,
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.