Scots Sangs Fur Schools

Traditional and new Scots songs for use in Scottish schools

[WHA'LL BUY MY] CALLER HERRING

About how dangerous the work of fishermen was. It still is. About how the fisherman’s wives sold the herring through the streets in Edinburgh, calling out 'Caller Herring' - 'caller' means 'fresh'..

The words are by Lady Nairne, the tune is by Nathaniel Gow.

 

Chorus

Wha'll buy my caller herrin

They're bonnie fish and halesome farin,

Wha'll buy my caller herrin,

New drawn frae the Forth.

 

When ye were sleepin on your pillows,

Dream'd ye aught o our puir fellows,

Darkling as they faced the billows,

Aa to fill the woven willows!

 

O when the creel o herrin passes

Ladies clad in silk and laces,

Gather in their braw pelisses,

Cast their heads and screw their faces.

 

O neighbour wives now tent my tellin,

When the bonnie fish ye're sellin,

At a word aye be your dealin,

Truth will stand when a' thing's failin.

 

Wha'll buy my caller herrin,

They're no brought here without brave darin,

Buy my caller herrin,

Ye little ken their worth:

 

Wha'll buy my caller herrin.

O ye may ca' them vulgar farin

Wives and mithers maist despairin,

Ca' them lives o men.

 

The melody of this song is played by Tony Cuffe, guitar. 

 

The original of the above lyric was written by Lady Nairne, though singers have altered it a little and dropped one of her verses. The tune is by Nathaniel Gow. The opening "Wha'll buy my caller herrin" is based on the cries of Newhaven fishwives who carried the fish that were caught over night to town using a large creel or basket resting on their backs. They stopped at people's homes selling fish, a little like modern door-to-door salesmen. The start of the tune used for the verse is said to be based on the sound of the chimes of St. Andrew's Church on George Street in Edinburgh.

Lady Nairne wrote many songs, under the pseudonym of Mrs Bogan of Bogan She never admitted authorship of any of her songs. She wrote this lyric for the benefit of Nathaniel Gow, composer of tunes, son of the more celebrated Niel Gow. The manuscript, ‘written in a borrowed hand” i.e. she disguised her handwriting, was passed on to Gow by an Edinburgh gentlewoman, to whom Lady Nairne had confided her secret.

 

For more about Lady Nairne press #

 

For more about the Gow family of fiddlers and composers press # [o/s]k here to edit text