The hard life of the herring fishers

THE hard life of the North Sea herring fishermen was memorably captured in a 1929 documentary film which has been reissued with a new live score by the sound artist, nature beatboxer and composer Jason Singh. The film, Drifters, with Singh’s soundtrack and a new film is being shown at two Dorset venues on 15th and 17th March, in an event called The Fleet: Drifters and Seiners.

Premiered alongside the acclaimed Soviet silent film Battleship Potemkin in 1929, John Grierson’s monumental silent documentary Drifters is a ground-breaking portrayal of the dramatic life of North Sea herring trawlermen, following them through their daily routines as well as the industry’s struggles between tradition, modernity and nature.

Originally commissioned by the British Film Institute (BFI) to create a new soundtrack to Drifters, in 2012 for a Blueray version of the film, Jason Singh’s critically acclaimed solo score combines live vocal sound effects, beatboxing techniques and live sampling to create a thrilling cinematic experience, drawing on the original intention of Grierson – to portray the lives of the working man and woman in 1920s Britain.

Weaving ghostly fragments of the south west seine fishing heritage alongside atmospheric visuals by Common Ground, Dorset-based writer Sarah Acton and local musician Emily Burridge will open each Dorset performance with a specially commissioned piece, Seiners. A series of sketches, drawing on conversations, records, walks and memories, recalls fishing communities, seine boats and everyday life along the coast, linking the story of these communities to the wild coastal seasons and cycles of mackerel, salmon and pilchards once fished in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

Praising Singh’s Drifters soundtrack, musician and film critic Mark Kermode wrote in The Observer: “It was so powerful and so beautifully done. The soundtrack was every bit as big as the image you were seeing and it’s very, very hard to do that – to get the sound as powerful as the film. It felt like it was drawing everything out of the images. I thought it was thrilling, genuinely properly thrilling. I loved it.”

The Fleet: Driftrers and Seiners comes with Artsreach to Portland’s Royal Manor Theatre on Friday 15th and Langton Matravers village hall on Sunday 17th, both starting at 7.30pm. Other dates on the south west tour are: Combeinteignhead village hall on 14th March, with Devon’s Villages in Action, Hythe and Dibden Parish Hall on the eastern edge of the New Forest, on 16th March, Bideford’s Kingsley School theatre on 23rd March and several in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.