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Herring Girls

Herring Girls

Herring girls call to song

There’s a novel opportunity for people who love to sing, to sing in a choir with a difference and would love to be on stage. HOT reporter, Lauris Morgan-Griffiths, went along to talk to Carol Prior who is asking for volunteers to audition for the chance to be part of a professional play, called Get up and Tie Your Fingers.

The play, a three-hander, was written in 1995 about the Herring Girls, the ‘Herring Lassies’, the women from Scotland and the Scottish isles who would follow the fishing boats down the east coast as they followed the herring shoals, ‘the silver darlings’ migrating down to their spawning grounds.

The women would camp in the ports where the fleet moored, some times for several weeks and then moving down the coast to the next fishing as the late spawning fish shoals passed by. Their task was gutting, sizing and packing the fish. It was hard work and the women had to be tough. They were paid piece-work by the barrel-load of stacked fish. Novices working slower earned less than the experienced women, who worked fast and could almost gut the fish in their sleep.

However skilled, it was still dangerous work; a knife can slip and inflict serious wounds often infected by the brine the herrings were stacked in. So the women bound strips of cloth around their thumbs and forefingers to protect them from the knives – hence the play’s title Get Up and Tie Your Fingers. It was the call that went up as the herring fleets were sailing in with their catch.

And if that is dangerous, fishing was, and still is, extremely perilous. Although about the herring fleets and migration it is ostensibly a family drama set around the worst fishing disaster Britain has ever known. On 14 October 1881, 45, six-man fishing boats left Eyemouth for the fishing grounds. That night a freak storm blew up that took the lives of one hundred and twenty nine men and boys all from one small community. Get Up and Tie Up Your Fingers tells the story of the Eyemouth fishing disaster and its effects through the eyes of three local women – their hopes, dreams, loss and learning how to let go of children.

Carol Prior is organising a choir to accompany the drama. The play by Ann Coburn was written in 1995 and is set in the North East, Eyemouth, on the day of that fatal storm. The music, written by Karen Wymhurst, is folk orientated, morphing into something of a soundscape – the wind, the sea, the sea birds.

Over the twenty years Carol has lived in East Sussex Carol has started several community choirs in Hastings and Brighton. She is now asking anyone who is interested to audition for a different singing experience on Saturday 8 February to be part of the play. She believes it is a great opportunity for anyone who can sing in tune and hold a part to take their singing to another level with the goal of five to six songs, 4-part harmony performance at the end of it.

The group will be called The Herring Girls and Carol sincerely hopes that it will have a life outside of the play.  The play will be touring thirteen venues – each with their own local choir – starting from Musselburgh in May. The production follows the route of the Herring migration down the east coast, down through Berwick, Hartlepool, Hull, Great Yarmouth, Folkestone, reaching Hastings on August 1.  Hastings boats would have been amongst them, sailing up to the Great Yarmouth area to harvest the valuable crop of the ‘silver darlings’.

The auditions will be held in small groups on February 8 at the Stade Hall.  First, there is to a questionnaire to fill in.  Email carolsinger@talktalk.net, she will then send out CDs and MP3 files so that singers can listen, have a feel for the music and prepare before the audition.  The project will require a certain amount of commitment, rehearsals and homework. But Carol stresses it will be fun. Anyone can join and she would really welcome young voices – teenagers – to come forward.

This is a call to arms.  An enjoyable opportunity to share some fishing history of which Hastings is certainly part. There is the popular Hastings Herring Festival Herring in November where the  industry is celebrated. And, Carol has high hopes for the Herring Girls to give the Hastings Shanty Singers a run for their money.

Auditions Saturday 8 February at The Stade Hall, 10am–5pm

Questionnaire from carolsinger@talktalk.net

Rehearsals for the Herring Girls start 10 February.

Tie Up Your Fingers performances Friday 1 & Saturday 2 August, 2014

Posted 15:57 Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 In: Performance