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Fisherman’s Wife

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Ewan MacColl wrote Fisherman’s Wife for the 1959 Radio Ballad Singing the Fishing.

Steeleye Span sang Fisherman’s Wife in 1970 on their first album Hark! The Village Wait. A live recording from The Forum, London, on 2 September 1995 was released on the double CD The Journey. The original album’s sleeve notes commented:

The words by Ewan MacColl, set to a traditional Scots tune, manage effectively to convey the quiet despair of the fisherman’s wife resigned to the frequent absence of her husband with lapsing into self-pity but rather extending an underlying feeling of pride at her lot in life. The song was first heard in the 1959 Radio Ballad Singing the Fishing. Ashley Hutchings: “Although it was written in the 1950s, it is in traditional style and I got it from the tape library which Ewan had in his house.”

Elspeth Cowie sang Fisherman’s Wife on her 2000 CD Naked Voice.

Heather Heywoon sang Fisherman’s Wife at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in January 2001’s Celtic Connections festival. This recording was included in the following year on the festival anthology Scots Women.

Lucy Pringle & Chris Wright sang Fisherman’s Wife on their 2010 CD The Speaking Heart. They noted:

Composed by Ewan MacColl in 1960 for the radio programme Singing the Fishing, the third installment in his epic BBC Radio Ballads series. While the programme explored many different aspects of life in fishing communities, this particular song describes the hardship endured by the wives left alone on shore.

Fiona Hunter sang Fisherman’s Wife on her 2024 album Atween the Salt Sea and the Sand.

Landless sang The Fisherman’s Wife on their 2024 album Lúireach. They noted:

Written by Ewan MacColl for the 1960 BBC Radio Ballad, Singing the Fishing. We are grateful to Peggy Seeger for letting us record this very bleak and beautiful song.

Note: The Fisherman’s Wife on Cilla Fisher’s album Songs of the Fishing, and the Peterhead song The Fisherman’s Wife on Janet Russell and Christine Kydd’s CD Dancin’ Chantin’ are quite different traditional songs.


Ewan MacColl’s Fisherman’s Wife

A’ the week your man’s awa’
And a’ the week you bide your lane;
A’ the time you’re waiting for
The minute that he’s comin’ hame.
Ye ken whit wha’ he has tae wark,
Ye ken the hours he has tae keep;
And yet it mak’s ye angry when
Ye see him just come hame tae sleep.

Through the months and through the years
While you’re bringing up the bairns,
Your man’s awa’ tae here and there
A-followin’ the shoals o’ herrin’s.
And when he’s back there’s nets tae mend
You’ve maybe got a score or twa;
And when they’re done he’ll rise and say,
“Wife it’s time I was awa’.”

Work and wait and dree your weird,
And pin yer faith in herrin’ sales;
And ofttimes lie awake at nicht
In fear and dread of winter gales.
But men maun work tae earn their breid
And men maun sweat to gain their fee,
And fishermen will aye gang oot
As long as fish swim in the sea.