The photo above is one of Bob’s and was borrowed from his weblog. Click on it to visit his site
Crews from three Scottish Coastal Rowing clubs, Boatie Blest, Newhaven and Portobello this week dressed up in old fashioned clothes, assembled on the beach at Porty and sang the traditional dreg songs as recorded and noted in the 1930s by US folklorist James Madison Carpenter.
The result was captured by BBC radio programme-makers – you can hear it here, for as long as the BBC keeps it online. The relevant segment starts at 1:18:45, and in it US folklorist Bob Walser explains how the songs work.
There’s also some video here.
Academics from Edinburgh Napier University including Graham Weir recorded the singing. There’s a sample here.
Bob found the songs while studying Carpenter’s material, and it was originally his dream that they should be sung in their proper setting by authentic voices.
He and the rowing clubs organised it all to coincide with Bob’s visit to Scotland to perform at the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy last weekend.
Bob seems more than delighted with the results – his weblog makes it clear that it was a great night with lots of singing.
There’s a report also at the Scottish Coastal Rowing website.
I’m so glad it all came off. I couldn’t be at the event, but did manage a small contribution of my own.
When Bob asked whether I could tell him anything about the dreg songs I couldn’t help directly but suggested local rowers might be interested in learning and using them. I’d already had a communication from coastal rower Osbert Lancaster in the old Firth of Forth oyster fishery area enquiring about rowing songs… So I put the two gentlemen in touch and they got to organising. The rest, as they say, is hard work by Bob and the clubs to bring it about, a memorable night of singing, a good story… and history. Fabulous stuff!
This Illustrated London News engraving from 1862 is the latest clue in Bob Walser’s continuing investigation into the background of a series of ‘dreg songs’ recorded by folklorist James Madison Carpenter from families in the Firth of Forth area.
Bob asks whether intheboatshed.net readers can provide any information about the boats pictured, the use of two sweeps simultaneously, and about oyster fishing in the Firth generally please?
I haven’t any specialist knowledge of the area, but I’d say that the boats rather resemble the early fifie shown in the Washington Report of 1849, though rigged with a single mast rather than two – which makes sense what appear to be fairly small boats. The full sized early fifies are described by the Chatham Directory of Inshore Craft as beamy, double-ended entirely open boats with upright stems, which seems about right. The boats were made to be full ended at the sheer and had hollow waterlines forward but were a more bouyant shape aft.
The two sweeps make practical sense to me, not least because they would enable the boat to travel in a reasonably straight line, without using the rudder so far over that it acted as a brake and made hard work for the crew.
These are just my untutored guesses. What do the rest of you think – or, even better, know about Firth of Forth oyster boats of this era please?
Saturday, Portsoy 2009. Not really a day for a race! As usual,
click on the thumbnails for some nice big photos
Award-winning lapstrake boat builder and Iain Oughtred boat plan specialist Chris Perkins has written to tell us a little about this year’s Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy, and to share some of his photos. If you enjoy these, there are lots more at his weblog Strathkanchris’s Little World.
‘A few snaps for you from a very sultry Scottish Trad Boat Fest. Went to the seminar on Thursday. The session with the Swedish boatbuilders, the Ravinis brothers, was brilliant and I would have liked more, Iain Oughtred’s talk was enjoyable if a bit rushed, and our American visitor Bob Walser on shanties was enjoyable – he has a good voice. I’m afraid that for me the history of the clippers, although well presented, wasn’t of great interest – they are far too big! Unfortunately I had to leave before Nigel Irens talk.
‘Saturday was a magical day. We were up at 05:30 so we could make the three-hour drive over in plenty of time to see the boats away. Lots of boats, bright skies and very little wind so the race turned into a bit of a drift around on glassy water – but the consolation was that the light was pretty darned good and created some good shots – well I like to think so!
‘It was an event that I think you and Julie would have hugely enjoyed. As always there was far to much to see and hear in the one day, one of these days I will take a boat over and ”do” the weekend properly.‘
Well Chris, it sounds irresistable. I’ll talk with Julie about 2010… Thanks for the photos!
I should add that Chris is a leading light of the Home Built Boat Rally group of British-based home boat builders.
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