Nul plus qu’Ewan McColl n’a fait pour populariser le riche patrimoine folklorique des Îles britanniques. D’abord seul, puis, à partir de la fin des années 50, le plus souvent avec Peggy Seeger, il a enregistré des chapitres entiers de la chanson traditionnelle des gens de peu, des travailleurs, des mineurs, des marins, composant également quelques belles chansons aussitôt entrées dans le répertoire.

Le voici dans une chanson de marins, ces pêcheurs dont la vie entière, dangereuse et misérable, est tournée vers la recherche du hareng dans les mers du nord. D’abord comme mousse, puis comme cuistot, enfin comme pêcheur, la vie du héros de la chanson s’est déroulée au milieu de ces bancs de harengs d’argent, pour ne posséder en bout de course que sa tenue de travail.

THE SHOALS OF HERRING

With our nets and gear we’re faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean.
Its there on the deep that we have is to keep our bread
As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring

O it was a fine and a pleasant day
Out of Yarmouth harbor I was faring
As a cabinboy on a sailing lugger
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring

O 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 my feet
And I’d dream about the shoals of herring

Well 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 following 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
While you’re following the shoals of herring

Well I earned my keep and I paid my way
And I earned the gear that I was wearing
Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes
We were following the shoals of herring