‘Herring lassies’ choirs sing for their supper

A Newcastle-based theatre company is touring the country with their version of the play 'Get Up And Tie Your Fingers', set against the Eyemouth fishing disaster of 1881. Picture by Steve Chettle
A Newcastle-based theatre company is touring the country with their version of the play 'Get Up And Tie Your Fingers', set against the Eyemouth fishing disaster of 1881. Picture by Steve Chettle

Coastal community choirs from Musselburgh to Great Yarmouth are rehearsing for a new touring production of ‘Get up and Tie your Fingers’.

The award winning play by Berwick’s Ann Coburn is set against the background of the 1881 Eyemouth fishing disaster. It was first performed in Eyemouth in 1995 on the anniversary of the disaster, October 14.

Local lasses Lyndsay Maples, Wendy Summers and Alison Coates took the lead roles in 1995; the Newcastle-based theatre company Guild of Lillians reprised it in 2005 and they are now up-dating it and taking it on a three month tour along the east coast of England and Scotland as part of the ‘Follow the Herring’ project.

This time around the professional cast of three will be joined by a local community choir at each of the 12 venues performing a specially commissioned score by composer Karen Wimhurst, based on the traditional songs that the women sang as they gutted the fish.

The all-female choirs sing the four-part arrangements unaccompanied - a haunting soundscape for the play.

“We’re involving nearly 300 women – some, direct descendants of the women who worked the herring fleets”, said Janine Birkett, producer for the Guild of Lillians.

“The women used to tie their fingers with rags to protect them from the gutting knife, but it is the tie between a mother and a daughter that’s at the heart of Ann’s moving play.”

The tour begins in May at Musselburgh and heads south to Cockburnspath, Berwick, South Shields, Hartlepool, Hull, Grimsby, Kings Lynn, Margate, Hastings, Folkestone and Great Yarmouth.

www.customshouse.co.uk/followtheherring