Crews from three clubs, Boatie Blest, Newhaven and Portobello, gathered on the Forth off Porty beach last Wednesday and performed their recreated Oyster Dreg songs to a large crowd of onlookers, gathered on the beach. The songs were originally sung as local fishermen towed small dregs (dredges) over the oyster beds, which once lay under much of the south shore of the Forth from Newhaven to Cockenzie. It was only with the recent rediscovery of recordings of the songs, made by American James Maddison Carpenter in the 1930s, that it become possible to reinterpret the songs. They are a bit of a musical curiosity as they were intended not just as work songs but also as lures to the gentle Oysters themselves. They also take a very odd pattern, with three beats of a call (often comprising local gossip) followed by a two beat response. This makes no sense when
rowing but add in a dreg towing behind the boat and it becomes much
Boatie Blest crews got particularly involved in the project and turned out in mid-19th Century fisherman’s costume complete with two oyster dregs, one of which was a replica of the only known surviving dreg now held in the collections of the Scottish Fisheries Museum. The replica was funded by local fish suppliers J K Thomson and made by P Johnson and Co. at their Ratho Byres Forge.
The Portobello event was captured by Radio Scotland and a feature appears on last weekend’s Radio Scotland programme Out of Doors. The show was broadcast live from the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival and is now available on iPlayer here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01k2k93/Out_of_Doors_23_06_2012/
The Portsoy broadcast makes up the final hour of the programme.
Further report on Bob Walser’s website: http://bobwalser.com/what-a-night/