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  1. Shoals of Herring

From the album The English Lament

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Words & Music by Ewan MacColl

James Miller (Ewan MacColl) was one of the finest contemporary English Folk-Heritage songwriters, undervalued perhaps because of his politics and ill-temper. This is a song that is firmly rooted in England, written for the BBC Radio series ‘Singing The Fishing’ and much of the lyrics and tune are, by general consensus, a direct result of time spent with Englishman Sam Larner. However MacColl’s evocative lyrics are simply wonderful.
Larner was a Norfolk entertainer who understood that traditional songs were to be performed and not just sung and as such his phrasing and presentation were unique. He went to sea when he was eight as a ‘peggy’ (cabin boy) and first performed in public at the age of nine, singing for pennies to coach parties. Later, he sang at fishermen's smoking concerts in ports along the British coast from Shetland to Cornwall, as the fishing fleet followed the annual migration of the herring. Never having been a fisherman himself, MacColl wrote this song relying heavily on Larner’s tales, experiences and songs.


Words & Music by Ewan MacColl

O, 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.

Well 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.

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

We left the homegrounds in the month of June,
And to Canny Shiels we soon were 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 searching for 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 Faroe Islands,
As you're following the shoals of herring.

O, I earned me keep and I paid me 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.

© PhilDrane Music 2016