Here, at long last, is the sound of a Dreg Song sung by the good folks of Port Seton’s Boatie Blest. Leading the song are Gareth Jones and Archie Johnston with Shelley Jones, Angus McDonald, Lucy Hyde, Carmel Daly, Robin Abbey, Eilish Guy, Martine Robertson, Bernadette (Berni) Goslin, Stuart Mack and John Johnston. Tom Donaldson was also part of the group but not present on this occasion. The recordings were made by Michal Jankowski and Dr. Paul Ferguson of Edinburgh Napier University with the cordial assistance of Graham Weir.
The Dreg Songs Project
In the nineteenth century, Scotsmen fished for oysters in the Firth of Forth by dragging dredges over the oyster 'scalps'. To maintain a steady speed they sang as they rowed. Overfishing brought the industry to a close near the turn of the twentieth century and with it, the use of the dreg songs. In the 1930s James Madison Carpenter gathered some of these songs on wax cylinders and typewritten pages. For years the songs were hidden away - lost. Now, with the work of the James Madison Carpenter Project these songs have come back to life first at Mystic Seaport Museum and - after a century's absence - in their home waters of the Firth! Three Scottish Coastal Rowing Clubs: Rowporty, Newhaven Coastal Rowing and Boatie Blest brought the songs home to the Firth at 7:30 pm on 20 June, 2012 near the Dalriada Bar. It was a memorable and historic evening! (Scroll down for photos and audio from the night.)
Word is spreading about last week’s celebration. Radio was first, then blogs and now video. The link to the BBC Radio Scotland programme is in a previous post.
Here is a report of the event on the Scottish Coastal Rowing website.
Gavin Atkin writes a maritime blog ‘In the Boatshed’. Here is his take on the Dreg Songs Project.
The Caledonian Mercury is an online news source for Scotland. David Calder’s lovely video is posted on their site and you can view it here.
Thanks to everyone for their coverage. May the songs enjoy a renewed life on the Firth (and I’ve just had a query from Orkney . . .)
Many thanks to Gavin Akin – it was he who first put folks from Row Porty (the Portobello rowing club) in touch with me and it was that contact which led to the whole Dreg Songs Project. Here is a link to his website and his report of the project. Thanks, Gav!
BBC Radio Scotland’s programme ‘Out of Doors’ broadcast last Saturday and Sunday included the Dreg Songs Project. You can listen to it here. The Dreg Songs portion of the programme begins at 1:18:45. Enjoy!
HUGE thanks to everyone for an unforgettable evening! The singing, the rowing, the hospitality – unparalleled. A lovely crowd of locals and visitors gathered on the beach as five skiffs from the three clubs rowed into view. The groups brought the boats onto the beach and sang for the crowd who enthusiastically cheered and applauded. Then back to the pub where the special Dreg Songs ale was finished by 9PM! A good sing-song in the pub, thanks and congratulations all round. A fabulous success! As it’s gone quite late here, I’ll post a few photos for now and provide a fuller report and some multimedia later. Thanks again to everyone – you brought the songs back to life!
Thanks to Graham Weir students from Edinburgh Napier University’s MA Sound Production Programme will be recording the Dreg Songs on Wednesday overseen by Dr. Paul Ferguson. One way or another I’ll try to get some samples online following the event. If the Port Seton group’s radio performance last week is any indication, there’ll be some fine and fascinating music!
Just one week from today the Dreg Songs Project will restore to the Firth of Forth the nearly-lost songs of the local oyster fishery. From 7:30 PM, just off Portobello Promenade near the Dalriada Bar three Scottish Coastal Rowing Clubs will offer their interpretations of these unique traditions both in their boats (weather permitting) and in the pub. This will be the first singing of these songs on their home waters in a century!
To add to this festive occasion, the Museums Department from the City Art Centre will be bringing traditional fishwives costumes from Newhaven and a display of photographs related to fishing in the Firth of Forth. In addition, a special ‘Dreg Songs Ale’ has been brewed by Inveralmond Brewery and will be available on the night. Of course, a celebration of oyster fishing songs requires oysters and Michael Pollington of Pollington’s Fine Food and Drink has arranged with a local fishmonger to have fine Scottish oysters for your pleasure.
This will be a truly historic occasion. Recognizing this, both the Edinburgh Napier University and Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh will be sending students to document the evening, interview participants and create an archival record of this once-in-a-lifetime event.
On behalf of the James Madison Carpenter Project based at the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen, I’d like to thank everyone who has put so much effort into bringing this event to life. In addition to all the particpants, thanks are due to the National Endowment for the Humanitites (USA), the American Folklore Society and The British Academy for supporting the research that enables these communities to celebrate their traditions in this unique way.
See you on the beach!
Just to whet your appetite, Michael Pollington wrote that he’ll be getting oysters from a fine fishmonger between the Dalriada and Cockenzie. Don’t know the source the oysters, but the shop’s location is extremely appropriate, don’t you think? I’m getting hungry just thinking about them!
Michael sent along this photo of his van. Look for it outside the Dalriada on the 20th!
Bob Hogg from Inveralmond Brewery sent this artwork for the Dreg Songs Ale pump clip. For those not familiar with real ale (my preferred style of beer, as it happens), the beer is pulled from the cask using a pump with a long handle to which a clip identifying the beer is attached. Here is Bob’s artwork:
And, for a lark, here is a photo of my cellar ‘pub’ showing a pump clip in use. My hand is on the pump handle and the pump clip is right at the bottom of the image.
Are you curious about the Dreg Songs? Come along to Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh on Friday, 22nd June where Bob Walser will present “Dreg Songs: Out of the Archive and on to the Firth“. This talk will trace the history of the dreg songs from the earliest descriptions and images, on to archival recordings including those made by James Madison Carpenter, up to the present work of the Scottish Coastal Rowing clubs and the 20th June gathering in Portobello.
Where? Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, First Floor Conference Room, 27 George Square.
When? Friday, 22nd June at 1:10 PM.