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The Shoals of Herring

[ Roud 13642 ; Ewan MacColl]

The Shoals of Herring 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 about the herring fishery and fishermen, and the song was designed specifically to highlight the life-story of Sam Larner, who had spent a long life as a herring fisherman, but was retired at the time of the recording. He first went to sea, he said, in 1892, when he was just a boy. In this moving documentary, the song is sung partly by Ewan MacColl and partly by Bert Lloyd, all skilfully interpolated among the spoken words of Mr Larner. An extract of this with A.L. Lloyd and Sam Larner is on the last track of the first side of Karl Dallas' brilliant 4 LP anthology, The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock.

(A 12" LP of Mr Larner was later produced: Now is the Time for Fishing: Songs and Speech by Sam Larner of Winterton, England, collected and edited by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger; Folkways 1961; Topic 2000.)

Ewan MacColl sang The Shoals of Herring in 1963 on his Folkways album New Briton Gazette Volume Two and again in 1983 on his album Black and White; the latter recording was also included in 1996 on the 3 CD anthology The New Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang The Shoals of Herring on the 1964 LP Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 2, and Nigel Denver recorded it in the same year for his eponymous LP Nigel Denver.

The Three City Four (Martin Carthy, Leon Rosselson, Ralph Trainer and Marian McKenzie) sang The Shoals of Herring on their 1965 LP The Three City Four.

The Exiles sang Shoals of Herring in 1967 on their Topic album The Hale and the Hanged.

Louis Killen recorded Shoals of Herring in 1968 for his 1973 LP Sea Chanteys, sang it in 1973 with the Clancy Brothers on their album Greatest Hits, and sang it solo in 1979 on the Folkways album Sea Songs Seattle and in 1995 on his CD Sailors, Ships & Chanteys.

Derek Sarjeant sang The Shoals of Herring in 1970 on his album Derek Sarjeant Sings English Folk.

Dave Burland, Tony Capstick and Dick Gaughan sang Shoals of Herring in 1978 on their album Songs of Ewan MacColl, and Dave Burland returned to it in 1996 on his CD Benchmark.

Isla St Clair sang The Shoals of Herring in 1995 in her BBC Radio 2 series and on the accompanying album Tatties & Herrin': The Sea.

Bob Fox sang Shoals of Herring in 2003 on his Topic CD Borrowed Moments.

Mick Groves sang The Shoals of Herring on his 2004 album of songs of Ewan MacColl, Fellow Journeyman.

Robert Lawrence sang The Shoals of Herring in 2010 on his CD The Journey Home.

Jon Boden sang Shoals of Herring as the February 20, 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog that it's a “powerful song from the Radio Ballads. Sung on FSC, despite being a tad wordy for communal singing—the strength of the melody drives it on.”

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd on Singing the Fishing

[EM, track 1] With our nets and gear we're faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean.
It's there on the deep that we harvest and reap our bread
As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring.

[ALL, track 4] Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day,
Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring
As a cabin boy on a sailing lugger,
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring.

[ALL, track 4] Oh, the work was hard and the hours were long
And the treatment surely took some bearing.
There was little kindness and the kicks were many
As we hunted for the shoals of herring.

[ALL, track 4] Oh, we fished the Swarte and the Broken Bank;
I was cook and I'd a quarter-sharing.
And I used to sleep standing on my feet
And I'd dream about the shoals of herring.

[ALL, track 4] Oh, we left the homegrounds in the month of June,
And to canny Shields we soon was bearing,
With a hundred cran of the silver darlings
That we'd taken from the shoals of herring.

[EM, track 4] Now you're up on deck, you're a fisherman.
You can swear and show a manly bearing.
Take your turn on watch with the other fellows
While you're searching for the shoals of herring.

[ALL, track 5] Oh, I earned my keep and I paid my way,
And I earned the gear that I was wearing,
Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes,
We were sailing after shoals of herring.

[EM, track 15] Wi' our nets and gear we're faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean.
It's there on the deep that we harvest and reap our bread
As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring.

[ALL, track 15] Night and day the sea we're daring,
Come wind or come winter gale, sweating or cold,
Growing up or growing old or dying,
While we're hunting for the shoals of herring.

(EM = verse sung by Ewan MacColl, ALL = sung by A.L. Lloyd; the track numbers refer to the Topic CD reissue of Singing the Fishing)

Ewan MacColl on Black and White

With the nets and gear we're faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean.
It's there on the deep that we harvest and reap our bread
As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring.

Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day,
Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring
As a cabin boy on a sailing lugger,
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring.

Oh, the work was hard and the hours were long
And the treatment, sure it took some bearing.
There was little kindness and the kicks were many
As we hunted for the shoals of herring.

Oh, we fished the Swarte and the Broken Bank;
I was cook and I'd a quarter-sharing.
And I used to sleep standing on my feet
And I'd dream about the shoals of herring.

Well, we left the homegrounds in the month of June,
And to canny Shields we soon was bearing,
With a hundred cran of the silver darlings
That we'd taken from the shoals of herring.

Now you're up on deck, you're a fisherman.
You can swear and show a manly bearing.
Take your turn on watch with the other fellows
While you're following the shoals of herring.

In the stormy seas and the living gales
Just to earn your daily bread you're daring
From the Dover Straits to the Faeroe Islands
While you're following the shoals of herring.

Well, I earned my keep and I paid my way,
And I earned the gear that I was wearing,
Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes,
We was following the shoals of herring.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Reinhard Zierke with a bit of help from Matt Rose. Thank you!

See also the Mudcat Café threads Origins: Shoals of Herring (MacColl) and Lyr Req: The Shoals of Herring (MacColl).