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The radio ballads were the joint creation of Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger.

A radio ballad is a sound-tapestry woven of four basic elements: songs, instrumental music, sound effects and the recorded voices of those with whose lives each program deals.

These programs were revolutionary for their time, using as they did the actual spoken words of the ‘informants'. Up until this time, this 'actuality' (as the trio dubbed it) was transcribed and then interpreted by trained radio speakers. The radio ballads lead you effortlessly from to song to music to sound effect to the spoken word and back again, revealing the effect of a way of life upon those who lead it. They are entertaining, informative, musical, poetic and educational.

There were eight radio-ballads, created, between 1957 and 1964.

The third program in the series, Singing the Fishing features the men and women of the herring fishing fleets of East Anglia and Northeast Scotland. It was based on 250 tapes of conversation with fishermen and their families, a wealth of material described by Parker as "all but overwhelming". MacColl and Seeger hit paydirt with the discovery of Sam Larner, an 80-year old ex-fisherman from Norfolk who was also a singer with a large repertoire of country songs, traditional ballads and seafaring material. Progressing from Larner's rich, sail-based memories to the reminiscences of a retired steam-drifter skipper from Great Yarmouth, they moved on to the new centre of the industry, the Scottish northeast coast where a new fleet of diesel-driven boats was built after the Second World War.

The program reveals the tough lives of these hardworking people, dominated by the herring trade and full of insightful humour, in their everyday speech and the songs inspired by the richness of their tales.

Singing the Fishing won the Prix d'Italia for radio documentary in October 1960 and was eventually transmitted in 86 countries. It was this ballad which crystallized the innovative production techniques devised to interweave the music with the actuality, a process minutely described in MacColl's autobiography Journeyman (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1990). The exhaustive process perfected for this program over its three to four months of production made Singing the Fishing the first fully integrated work produced by the team and it became the flagship for the series, the ballad most remembered and talked about. The techniques for research, field recording, musical scoring and recording were then set for the rest of the series.


released August 16, 1960

Script, song lyrics and music - Ewan MacColl
Orchestration and music direction - Peggy Seeger
Production - Charles Parker
Chorus direction - Katharine Thomson
Actuality recording - Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger
Technical direction - John Clarke
“℗ 1960 BBC [(BBC Worldwide Ltd)]; this recording ℗ and © 2019 Ewan MacColl Limited”

lan CampbelI, John Clarence, A.Llloyd, Ewan MacColl, Elizabeth Stewart, Jane Stewart

Martin Marshall, Gordon McCulloch, John O'Reilly, David Phillips, Jack Thomas, J.R.S.Wright

Jim Bray - double bass
Fitzroy Coleman - guitar
Alf Edwards - English concertina
Kay Graham - fiddle
Peggy Seeger – autoharp, guitar, mandolin, 5 string banjo
Bruce Turner - clarinet, alto saxophone


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Ewan MacColl London, UK

This site is maintained by the MacColl family, aiming to make Ewan's catalogue available to download.
Ewan MacColl is known to most as a songwriter and singer, but he was also of significant influence in the worlds of theatre and radio broadcasting. His art reached huge numbers through the folk clubs, greater numbers through his recordings and untold millions through the radio. ... more

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