[1975:] On July 13 1960 the BBC broadcast what was possibly one of the best of the Ewan MacColl - Peggy Seeger - Charles Parker radio ballads, 'Singing the Fishing', which featured the singing and speech of Sam Larner of Winterton, Norfolk [and included Ewan's song Shoals of Herring].
(Karl Dallas, notes 'The Electric Muse' 4)
[1979:] The majority of the songs on which MacColl's songwriting reputation rests, however, derive from the famous Radio Ballads commissioned by the BBC during the first half of the 1960s. From these eight programmes (and the subsequent six records) came the many magnificent songs still sung by professional and amateur alike. [This one] and others, whether judged by the standard of folksong, popular song or even art song, are undeniably outstanding achievements. Though [...] MacColl has produced nothing to compare with them for some time now, he remains a major songwriter and a potent influence on the younger generation of composers.
(Woods, Revival 122)
[1990:] It is based on the life of Sam Larner, a herring-fisherman of Winterton, Norfolk, whose life spanned the eras of sail, steam and diesel fishing craft. This song has been found in Ireland bearing the title The Shores of Erin, and credited to anonymous or traditional.
(Notes Ewan MacColl, 'Black and White')
- [1990:] When I finished writing Shoals of Herring, we sang it to Sam Larner on our next trip up. He was delighted that I knew it for, as he declared, 'I known that song all my life'. [...] A song about fishermen must please fishermen, a song about miners must be convincing to miners, or there is something wrong with it.
(MacColl, Journeyman 323)
For each of the song sequences I chose a specific model, a song with the kind of melody I thought most suitable for a specific mood. I would then sing the tune into a tape recorder and go on singing it, altering it a little more each time [...]. To break the link [with the original models] would mean risking the loss of the inner feeling of the original model, abandoning the spirit of the tune. For The Shoals of Herring I tried out and rejected more than a score of tune models and, in the course of a fortnight, sang hundreds of first-line variants before I found one that pleased me. After that, it was a matter of seeing whether the rest of the tune soared naturally out of that first line or whether it had to be coaxed into the open.
(MacColl, Journeyman 365)
For Herring Song see http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=7177