> Cyril Tawney > Songs > The Herring's Head
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The Herring's Head / Herring Song / Jolly Herring

[ Roud 128 ; TYG 31 ; Ballad Index VWL086 ; VWML SBG/2/2/198 , RoudFS/S159207 , AW/6/120 ; Wiltshire 862 , 863 ; trad.]

Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams Canow Kernow Everyman's Book of English Country Songs The Wanton Seed Garners Gay The Idiom of the People The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Rhythms of Labour: Music at Work in Britain Songs of the Midlands The Scottish Folksinger Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

Cecil Sharp collected The Red Herring from Mr Trump of North Petherton, Somerset, on 18 April 1906 [VWML RoudFS/S159207] . Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd included this song in 1959 in their Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Edgar Allinton sang The Herring at home in Brandon on 17 June 1955 in a BBC recording made by Peter Kennedy. It was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology The Barley Mow (The Voice of the People Volume 26).

Bob Davenport sang The Harrin's Heed in 1959 on his Collector EP Geordie Songs and he and Isla Cameron sang it in 1964 in a Peter Kennedy recording on the album Northumbrian Minstrelsy.

Phoebe Smith of Woodbridge, Sussex, and Richard Blackman of Arundel, Sussex, sang The Herring Song to Peter Kennedy in the 1950s. These recordings were included on the anthology Animal Songs (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). Phoebe Smith sang Jolly Herring in another recording made by Mike Yates in 1975/76 on her 2001 Veteran CD The Yellow Handkerchief..

Frank Purslow and John Pearse sang The Jolly Herring on their 1961 EP of “English soak song for fools”, Bottoms Up!. Frank Purslow also included The Herring Song, as sung by George Hatherill of Bath, Somerset, in January 1906 to H.E.D. Hammond [VWML HAM/3/12/7] , in his 1968 E.F.D.S. book of English folk songs from the Hammond and Gardiner manuscripts, The Wanton Seed.

Caroline Hughes sang Jolly Herring in a recording made by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1963 or 1966. It was included in 2014 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog. Rod Stradling noted:

Quite a well-known song, with 111 Roud instances; almost all from England with just a handful from Ireland, Scotland and North America. Forty-one sound recordings are noted, though not many of them appear to have ever been published. There are dozens of ways of making the song, but I’ve never heard anything remotely like Caroline’s first two verses!

Ian Campbell sang The Jolly Herring on their 1969 album Ian Campbell and the Ian Campbell Folk Group with Dave Swarbrick.

Jack Elliott of Birtley sang The Harrin's Head on his posthumous Leader album of 1969, Jack Elliott of Birtley: The Songs and Stories of a Durham Miner.

Cyril Tawney recorded The Herring's Head in July 1969 for his Argo album Cyril Tawney Sings Children’s Songs from Devon and Cornwall. He noted:

Collected by Baring-Gould from James Olver, a tanner from Launceston, in June 1890 [VWML SBG/2/2/198] . Olver had learned it in 1810 from Jane and Tom Hire, two old men of Liskeard, Cornwall.

Isla St Clair sang Herring's Heid in 1972 on her Tangent album Isla St Clair Sings Traditional Scottish Songs, and in 1995 in her BBC Radio 2 series and on the accompanying album Tatties & Herrin': The Sea. Hamish Henderson noted on the first album:

Popular as a drinking song in many coastal areas of Britain—particularly Northumbria—Herring's Heid contains unmistakable echoes of ritual magic. It is clear that this bountiful fish is no ordinary herring; indeed, one English version makes in “40 feet long and 44 wide”! So, although it has not got the cosmic proportions of the Derby Ram, it is still powerful ju-ju, and a link with very ancient custom and belief. Isla learned it from Danny Coope of the Aberdeen Folk Club.

Johnny Doughty sang Herrings' Heads at home in Brighton, Sussex on 24 August 1976 in a Mike Yates recording that was published a year later on his Topic album of traditional songs from the Sussex coast, Round Rye Bay for More, and in 1998 on the Topic anthology First I'm Going to Sing You a Ditty (The Voice of the People Volume 7).

Mikeen McCarthy sang The Herring in a recording made by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie in their home in Putney, London, in Spring 1976. This was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Troubles They Are But Few (The Voice of the People Volume 14).

Bandoggs sang The Herring's Head in 1978 on their eponymous Trailer album, Bandoggs. Pete Coe returned to this song on his 2011 Backshift CD Tall Tailes.

Lorna Tarran of West Mersea, Essex, sang The Herring Head in the 1970s to Basil Sloughter. This recording was included in 2010 on the Veteran CD of traditional singers from Essex, The Fox & the Hare. John Howson noted:

The earliest version of this song, often known as The Red Herring or Jolly Herring, is a manuscript from 1831. Lorna Tarran learned this from her father, who was from Rowhedge, and it is a song which is known all around the coast of England as well as being popular with many rural singers. There are over ninety submissions in the Roud database. It was certainly favoured by East Anglian singers and in Essex Ralph Vaughan Williams noted it in 1904 from Ted Nevill of Little Burstead, Francis Collinson collected it from Alfred Hills in Braintree and in the 1960s Joy Hyman recorded it from Herbert Chapman (who called it The Yarmouth Herring) in Great Dunmow.

Bill Hingston, a retired labourer of Diddisham, Devon, sang The Herring's Head, in a recording made by Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs, on the 1981 Folkways album An English Folk Music Anthology. They noted:

A small but popular group of songs, often cumulative in form and variously concerning the herring, the mallard, the old sow, or the wren are generally agreed to derive from sacred rituals concerning divine animals. The animal is sacrificed, dismembered, its parts and blood being of giant proportions, and put to use as all kinds of unlikely sounding things for the good of the whole community. This pagan idea survives in the divine sacrament of the Christian church.

It hardly needs saying that singers who know these songs have a different purpose in mind when singing them. They are nearly always uses as sociable songs, often in pubs or, more traditionally, at harvest gatherings and seasonal events, and the cumulative incantation often serves as a test of sobriety of sheer bravado. This is how Bill Hingston uses this songs, and very effective it is too. He learnt it in the 1930s from a local village singer who only had this one item in his repertoire, always performed in a particular pub.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang Herrin's Head at a concert at Holstein's, North Lincoln, Chicago, in November 1982. This recording was included in 2000 on their CD Live at Holsteins!. They noted:

Herrin's Head is another of those songs which became widely known through the folk clubs, this Tyneside version primarily through the singing of Louis Killen.

Ted Chaplin sang The Herring's Head in a recording made by John Howson in 1985. It was released on the Veteran tape of songs of bargemen, fishermen and sailors, Songs Sung in Suffolk Vol 5 and in 2001 on the Veteran anthology of traditional folk music from coastal England, When the Wind Blows. John Howson noted:

This tongue twister seems to have found its way into most country and seafarer's repertoires, although it is not of great antiquity. The earliest version of the song, better known as The Red Herring or the Jolly Herring, is a manuscript of 1831. Ritual origins have been suggested but it was more likely to have been sung just for the fun of it. Ted first heard this song in Redlingfield Crown.

Graham Metcalfe with Folly Bridge sang The Herring in 1992 on their second WildGoose cassette, Unabridged. Claire Lloyd noted:

Versions of this cumulative children's song are found wherever men fished for herring, from Cornwall to Shetland, Kinsale to Newfoundland. It is sung here by Graham Metcalfe with Folly Bridge. The “false start” included on the original recording has been kept for posterity.

The Gaugers sang The Herring is the King o’ the Sea on their 1994 cassette Awa wi the Rovin Sailor.

Eliza Carthy sang Herring Song in 1998 on her album Rice. Her verses were very similar to those of Bandoggs. She wrote in the Mudcat Cafè thread Eliza C Herring Song chorus:

[The chorus is] as far as I know: “sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn”. I think it is a corruption of Welsh, and means something like “over the hills and over the bridge”, although I don't speak Welsh and wouldn't take badly to being corrected.

The Revels sang The Herring's Head in 2002 on their CD Homeward Bound.

Jim Eldon sang The Cullercoats Fishers' Song on his 2004 CD Home from Sea.

Chris Foster sang The Herring's Head in 2004 on his Tradition Bearers CD Jewels.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson sang Herring's Head in 2008 on their WildGoose CD Dead Maid's Land. They noted:

From the village of South Zeal, here is a version of The Herring's Head where images of Dartmoor hill-farming have replaced the usual fishing symbols. Sung by Lucky Fewins at the Oxenham Arms, this is from the ‘argumentative’ strain of the song—as opposite to the ‘cumulative’.

Tom and Barbara Brown sang The Herring's Head in 2008 too on their WildGoose CD Beyond the Quay. They noted:

All round the coast of the U.K. there are versions of The Herring’s Head (or The Red Herring, or The King Of The Sea, etc., etc.,). This version was in the local Devon repertoire way back in the 1960s and we think it originates from the version in the Baring-Gould mss., the ‘as collected’ version of which can be heard with other Baring-Gould collectibles on Paul Wilson & Marilyn Tucker’s CD Dead Maid's Land Whatever the source, it’s amazing what you can (claim to) do with a herring. Our friends say this version suits us because it is an argument song—we don’t know what they mean!

Sandra Kerr sang The Herring's Head on her 2009 Smallfolk/Fellside CD of “songs of creatures great and small”, ‘Hi!’ Said the Elephant.

Rosie Hood sang The Red Herring on her 2017 RootBeat CD The Beautiful & the Actual. She noted:

Collected from Henry ‘Wassail’ Harvey, Cricklade, and Elijah Iles, Inglesham, by Alfred Williams [VWML AW/6/120] . His notes say, “Perhaps this is imperfect.”

I edited a number of these verses and wrote a bluesy melody for it.

Lyrics

Phoebe Smith sings Jolly Herring

As I were a walking down by the seaside
I saw a red herring washed up by the tide,
And that little herring I took home and dried
Don't you think I done well with my jolly Herring.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring

Now what would you think that I made with his eyes:
The finest of lamps now that ever did shine.
There were big lamps and little lamps and lamps for to shine,
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring.

Now what would you think that I made of his head:
The finest of ovens that ever baked bread.
There was big ovens and little ovens and ovens to bake,
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring.

Now what would you think that I made of his gills:
The finest of boats now that ever did sail.
There was big boats and little boats and boats for to sail,
Don't you think I done well with my jolly herring.

Now what would you think that I made of his back:
Just as much money I could pack in a sack.
There was sixpences shillings and crowns by the score,
Don't you think I done well with my Jolly herring.

Last chorus:
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
Toorali ladi rye toorali laye
For you don't get an herring like that every day

Caroline Hughes sings The Jolly Herring

Oh, there was all three men, they went out on a ship,
La, da dee da, lie dee da, dee dee dee, dee.
I’ve hunted, I’ve syphed, all these words he went through,
But I can’t get the writing, the stick that I want(?).

Now, ‘tis hunting, ‘tis hunting I did want to go,
I couldn’t find no horses, nor hounds nor no dogs;
I made it me mind now to catch a large ship,
I done it by duty right out of my head.

Now what do you think that I made of his head?
I made the finest large ship that ever were sail;
There was life-boats and little boats and sailors, right true,
Don’t you think I done well with my jolly herring?

Now, what do you think that I made of his tail?
I made the finest pack hounds that ever was made;
There was footmens and whipmens and all such nice things,
Don’t you think I done well with my jolly herring?
Oh yes, if ‘tis true what you says.

Oh, what do you think that I made of his back?
I made the finest lot of ridin’ horses that ever you seen;
There was little ones and big ones and all things like that,
Don’t you think I done well with my jolly herring?
Oh yes, if ‘tis true, oh now what you’ve told me.

Now, what do you think that I made of his legs?
I made the finest lot of whip mins(?) that ever you seen;
There was little ones and big ones and all things like that,
Now, don’t you think I done well with my jolly herring?
Yes, if it is true now what you have told me.

Lie, tooral lie, di diddle, lie dee dee, dee;
Lie, die dee dee, lie dee dee, deedle ee, day.
Lie, die dee dee, dee dee dee, lie did dee, dee,
But I’m not such a fool as you take I to be!

Ted Chaplin sings the The Herring's Head Folly Bridge sing The Herring

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
The herring is the king of the sea,
The herring is the fish for me.
The herring is the king of the sea,
Sing fol-the-rol-diddle-ol-day

Now what shall we do with the herring’s head?
We’ll make them into loaves of bread.
Herring’s heads and loaves of bread
And lots of other things.

Now what'll I do with the herring’s head?
I'll make it into a loaf of bread.
I'll make it into a loaf of bread
And all sorts of things.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
For all the fishes in the sea
The herring it is the fish for me
Fol-lo-do-rue-da li-do
Fol-lo-da rue da li

Now what shall we do with the herring's eyes?
We’ll make them into puddings and pies.
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
Herring's heads and loaves of bread
And lots of other things.

Now what'll I do with me herring's eyes?
I'll make 'em into puddings and pies,
I'll make 'em into puddings and pies
And all sorts of things.
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
Herring's heads, loaves of bread
And all sorts of things.

Now what shall we do with the herring's fins?
We’ll make them into needles and pins.
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's fins?
I’ll make 'em into needles and pins,
I’ll make 'em into needles and pins
And all sorts of things.
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
Herring's eyes and puddings and pies,
etc.

Now what shall we do with the herring's backs?
We’ll make them into boys and Jacks.
Herring's backs and boys and Jacks,
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's back?
I’ll make it into a laddie called Jack,
I’ll make it into a laddie called Jack
And all sorts of things.
Herring's back, a laddie called Jack,
Herring's fins and needles and pins,
etc.

Now what shall we do with the herring's bellies?
We’ll make them into girls and Nellies.
Herring's bellies and girls and Nellies,
Herring's backs and boys and Jacks,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's gills?
I'll make 'em into window sills,
I'll make 'em into window sills
And all sorts of things.
Herring's gills, a window sills,
Herring's back, a laddie called Jack,
etc.

Now what shall we do with the herring's tails?
We’ll make them into ships and sails,
Herring's tails and ships and sails,
Herring's bellies and girls and Nellies,
etc.

Now what'll I do with me herring's tail?
I’ll make it into a barrel of ale,
I’ll make it into a barrel of ale
And all sorts of things.
Herring's tail, a barrel of ale,
Herring's gills, a window sills,
etc.

Mikeen McCarthy sings The Herring Eliza Carthy sings the Herring Song

There was an old man who lived in Kenmare,
He used have some herrings and herrings for sale,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.
And yet I have more of my song to be sung,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.

So what do you think they made of his back?
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.
A fine old man and his name it was Jack,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.
Sing herring, sing back, sing man, sing Jack,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung,
   Sing avaro lin, sing avaro lin.

So what do you think they made of his belly?
A fine old girl and her name it was Nelly.
Sing herring, sing belly, sing girl sing Nelly,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his head?
The finest sledge that ever cut stones.
Sing herring, sing head sing sledge, sing bed,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his teeth?
The finest chisels that ever cut steel.
Sing herring, sing teeth, sing teeth, sing steel,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his tongue?
The finest spring that ever did sprung.
Sing herring, sing tongue, sing spring, sing sprung,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his mouth?
The finest kettle that ever did spout.
Sing herring, sing mouth, sing kettle, sing spout,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his nose?
The finest hammer that ever broke stones.
Sing herring, sing nose, sing hammer, sing stones,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his eyes?
The finest saucer that ever held spies.
Sing herring, sing eyes, sing saucer, sing spies,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think they made of his bones?
The finest punches that ever punched stones.
Sing herring, sing bones, sing punches, sing stones,
And yet I have more of my song to be sung.

So what do you think we made of his tail?
The finest ship that ever sought sail.
Sing herring, sing tail, sing ship, sing sail,
And now I have no more of my song to be sung.

There once was a man who came from Kinsale
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn
And he had a herring, a herring for sale
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn
Sing man of Kinsale, sing herring for sale
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing
    Sing aber o vane, sing aber o linn

So what do you think they made of his head?
The finest oven that ever baked bread
Sing herring, sing head, sing oven, sing bread
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his back?
A nice little man and his name it was Jack
Sing herring, sing back, sing man, sing Jack
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his eyes?
The finest dishes that ever held pies
Sing herring, sing eyes, sing dishes, sing pies
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his scales?
The finest ships that ever set sail
Sing herring, sing scales, sing ships, sing sails
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his fins?
The finest cases for needles and pins
Sing herring, sing fins, sing needles and pins
And indeed I have more of my herring to sing

So what do you think they made of his hair?
The finest rope for the seat of a chair
Sing herring, sing hair, sing rope, sing chair
And indeed I've no more of my herring to sing

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing Herrin's Head

What'll we do with the herrin's head?
What'll we do with the herrin's head?
We'll mak' it into loaves of bread
Herrin's head, loaves of bread
And all manner of things:
      And of all the fish that swim in the sea
      The herrin' is the one for me
      How are you the day? How are you the day?
      How are you the day, my hinny-o?

And what'll we do with the herrin's eyes?
And what'll we do with the herrin's eyes?
We'll mak' 'em into puddings and pies
Herrin's eyes, puddings and pies
Herrin's head, loaves of bread
And all manner of things:

Then cumulative to:

And what'll we do with the herrin's belly?
And what'll we do with the herrin's belly?
We'll mak'it into a color telly
Herrin's belly, a color telly
Herrin's tail, Newcastle Brown Ale
Herrin's guts, a pair of boots
Herrin's fins, needles and pins
Herrin's scales, a ship with sails
Herrin's eyes, puddings and pies
Herrin's head, loaves of bread
And all manner of things:

Rosie Hood sings The Red Herring

What do you think I made of my red herring's head?
The very best oven that ever baked bread.
There's quarterns, half quarterns and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

Chorus:
Of all the fish that swim in the sea
The red herring is the king for me.

What do you think I made of my red herring's eyes?
Forty jackdaws and fifty magpies.
There's linnets and larks and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

What do you think I made of my red herring's gills?
Bottles of medicines and boxes of pills.
There's medicines and pills and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

Chorus

What do you think I made of my red herring's fins?
The very best case that ever held pins.
There's needles and bodkins and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

What do you think I made of my red herring's ribs?
Aylesbury great tower and Aylesbury great bridge.
There's bridges and towers and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

Chorus

What do you think I made of my red herring's tail?
The very best ship that ever set sail.
There's sailcloth and rigging and other fine things,
You think I made much of my jolly herring?

2 × Chorus

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Eliza Carthy by Vic with many thanks from the Wide World and Garry Gillard. This song was the subject of animated discussion on the Mudcat Café (Lyrics: The Herring Song) and participants were not able to agree on the words of the chorus. Eliza herself clarifies what she sings in the chorus in the Mudcat Café thread Eliza C Herring Song chorus. She believes these Welsh words mean something like “over the hills and over the bridge.”