A lot of songs about the sea have lyrics that tell a story and Shoals of Herring is one such song. When I first sang it with the Jurassix shanty group it reminded me of a geography lesson (could’ve been history) back when I was a lad. The east coast fishing industry was already in decline; people were losing their taste for salted herring, in favour of Cap’n Birdseye fish-fingers. But in the late 19th, early 20th century, Great Yarmouth catered for a thousand drifters (fishing boats), ten thousand fisherman and five thousand fisher-girls (mainly responsible for the gutting and preserving the ‘silver darlings’). Many of these workers and boats were Scottish and just there for the season.
The song mentions ‘a hundred cran of the silver darlings’. A cran is thirty-seven and a half imperial gallons and the fisherman on the left is loading a creel basket that would hold roughly a quarter cran of fish. Herring fishing was hard dangerous work; a fact conveyed in the lyrics of Ewan MacColl’s evocative song.
Anyway, to the song. Some while ago I rewrote the lyrics and recorded ‘Shoals of Pouting’ about a seasick grockle on a day charter out of Lyme Bay. I feel guilty about this, but not guilty enough to delete it. Never mind, this is my version of the proper song, which, if I can get the technology to work, will be replaced in due course by the Jurassix shanty version…
2 thoughts on “Shoals of Herring”
I’m exhausted reading this!
sleep well xx