Look what I’ve found! YouTubes in which Sam Larner, who spent his working life aboard drifters fishing for herring off the East Coast of Scotland and England, talks about his life and work, and sings the old songs. That particular fishery largely died out in the late 50s, so stand by to be fascinated, I say…
I love to listen to him, for his way of speaking reminds me strongly of my grandparents, who were also Eastern counties folk. For more posts mentioning Sam Larner, click here.
There’s also a bit of film of steam drifters under way and at work here:
I really don’t know how this series of Youtubes came about. There seems no question that the soundtrack is based on the 1950s radio ballad Singing the Fishing about about the rise and decline of the herring industry on the east coast of Scotland and East Anglia made by Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in the 1950s.
The radio ballads were artistic pieces created using a mixture of songs and authentic working people’s speech made to create am impression of an aspect of their lives, and Singing the Fishing is perhaps the best known example of the genre.
If I’m right, the songs are sung by McColl, with music by Seeger, concertinist Alf Edwards and others, including a jazz clarinettist – I guess that last element is the 1950s equivalent of the rock band lead guitarist (tell that to kids today!) but it sounds simultaneously pleasant and bizarre now. I think I also recognise Bert Lloyd’s voice in the mix.
I gather the visual material is footage is made up of archive photos and clips from various films including John Greirson’s film Drifters, Harry Watts’ North Sea, and Campbell Harper’s Calling Herring.
Fishing historian Mike Smylie’slatest book Herring: A History of the Silver Darlingsexamines the effects of herring and the herring trade on the communities who catch them over the past 2000 years, including the way of life, superstitions and of course their boats.
Herring’s importance to the coastal peoples of Britain cannot be measured – at one time tens of thousands were involved in catching, processing and selling the fish from Stornoway to Penzance, and many towns on Britain’s East Coast grew rich as a result. In Herring: a History of the Silver Darlings Mike also explains the natural history of the herring and even includes recipes including baked buttered bloaters, salmagundy and super sgadan.