Oyster dredgers’ ‘dreg songs’ will be heard again on the waters off Portobello Beach on the 20th June 2012 from 7:30pm into the evening.
Formerly sung by oyster fishermen as they rowed, towing dredges across the oyster scalps of the Firth, the songs nearly vanished when over-fishing ended the harvest many years ago.
Cockenzie, Port Seton, Fisherrow, Newhaven and Leith were among the
Scottish harbours visited in the 1930s by the American folklorist James Madison
Carpenter in search of sailors’ songs, ballads and other folksongs.
Carpenter’s wax cylinder recordings and manuscripts contain many delightful songs but none more intriguing than the dreg songs which, it was said, would ‘charm the oysters into the nets’.
Three local clubs, Newhaven Coastal Rowing, Rowporty from Portobello and
Boatie Blest from Port Seton, are collaborating with scholars from the Elphinstone
Institute at the University of Aberdeen and the Library of Congress in the USA to recreate these songs on their home waters.
Musician and folklorist Bob Walser, who has been working with the Library of Congress on the material collected by Carpenter, is thrilled by the chance to see and hear these songs on the water much as they would have been done a century or more ago.’
In honour of the event, Terry Magill of the Dalriada Bar in Portobello has arranged with Inveralmond Brewery for a special dreg songs ale to celebrate the occasion, which will include performances by the rowing clubs in their boats and additional music and displays along the promenade.