Fresh link with Fife’s fishing heritage for exhibition finale

A busy harbour during the days of a thriving east coast herring fishing industry
A busy harbour during the days of a thriving east coast herring fishing industry
  • Old documentary
  • New soundtrack
  • Revisiting heritage

Anstruther provides the perfect setting this weekend for a commemoration of the area’s industrial past, embellished by a 21st century soundtrack.

The Dreel Halls is the venue this Sunday evening as a touring commemoration of the herring trade comes to and end – and the East Neuk town was specially chosen as a fitting venue at which to conclude.

It made its mark on communities, families and towns.

Shona Thomson

‘Following The Fleet’ has traced the route of Scotland’s original herring fleets, at some of the nation’s best-known historical fishing ports, and featured a presentation of ‘Drifters’, a ground-breaking documentary from 1929 by John Grierson.

The 40-minute film follows North Sea herring trawlermen through their dramatic daily routines, as they shadowed the once-abundant herring shoals from the Northern Isles down the east coast.

It also captures the industry’s struggles between tradition, modernity, technology, the environment and nature.

The production is garnished by a live vocal score from leading composer, sound artist and beatboxer, Jason Singh.

His semi-improvised composition blends sound effects, voice manipulation and live sampling to create “an exhilarating cinematic experience”.

Shona Thomson, the tour producer, said Anstruther was deliberately selected as the place on which to end the six-date run and there had been tremendous interest in Jason’s score, in which all sounds were generated by his body and his voice.

It was especially effective during sequences which showed the speed at which the fishermen hauled the nets in – wearing no gloves – when storms were approaching and they were being blown about at sea.

Also depicted was business at the quayside when the herring was being auctioned off, and the soundtrack “created a feeling of atmosphere through it”, said Shona.

One main aim was to share the heritage, she added, and many people were finding out a great deal about it. While 1929 was “a bit before everybody’s time”, some fishermen who had worked on the steam-driven drifters of the 1950s had recollected their days at previous screenings.

Shona added that the production team, A Kind Of Seeing, had enjoyed an excellent collaboration with the Scottish Fisheries Museum, which had a great collection and fantastic stories.

“The tour took a jounery following the fleet and it felt right to end it at Anstruther,” said Shona.

Everyone hoped the new airing of ‘Drifters’, with its modern treatment, might launch a fresh interest in the legacy of herring fishing.

“It’s not such a big industry any more but it made its mark on communities, the families and the towns,” said Shona.

“There are still people who remember it and remember their families being involved in it.

“Maybe people new to the area can find out more as well.”

She added: “We are profiling that heritage and the industry itself, and how large and important it was at one time.

“It raises a lot of issues about the environment and the importance of looking after our seas.

“It was a local indutry and a Scotland-wide industry, and the issues are very relevant today.”

Sunday’s presentation also includes an opportunity to hear more from Jason about his score, while the Newhaven Community Choir will be sharing songs and stories from the community’s fishing traditions to complement the film event.

Jason is also doing a pre-event workshop on Friday at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, with pupils from Bell Baxter High School.

The young participants will be encouraged to explore their own voices, culture, local histories and music technology, looking at sound and the ways in which the human voice can mimic both the natural and mechanical world.

The film screening is a bonus addition to the ‘Anster Cinema’ programme at the Dreel Halls and is being held in collaboration with the Fisheries Museum, while the tour itself was supported by the National Lottery, through Creative Scotland, and by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.

The presentation begins in the Dreel Halls at 6.45pm on Sunday, September 18.

More information is available from the Fisheries Musem’s assistant curator Jen Gordon on 01333 310628, email or log on to

Jen Gordon, assistant curator at the Scottish Fisheries Museum, said: “We are so pleased to have played a part in bringing this tour to Anstruther. While we won’t host the screening itself – our friends at Anster Cinema over in Dreel Halls are better equipped to do this in terms of space and technical resources – it will be a privilege to host a pre-event workshop for teenagers. We hope the participating pupils become engaged with the history of fishing in their area through an innovative and creative process led by Jason Singh.

“We also hope that, following the screening, we can encourage attendees to revisit the museum displays on steam drifting and learn more about what was a significant chapter in Scotland’s economic and social history.”

Clare Hewitt, of Creative Scotland, added communities with strong identities around the fishing industry could contribute their own stories, while exploring the powerful connections between tradition and their present-day lives.