This is a song of obscure origins but I understand that the earliest recording of it was done by the BBC – A Peter Kennedy recorded Harry Cox singing it in 1956. It is surely of older stock and references place it to perhaps the late 19th century – In “Ships, Sea Songs and Shanties” (1913) , Capt. W. B. Whall indicates that it is not of recent composition and at one time was used to the tune of “Blow The Man Down”. In “Captains Courageous”, Rudyard Kipling comments that it was a common song among the Banks fishermen and other sources comment that it was peculiar to fishermen of East Anglia on the east coast of England… Clearly it had been adopted by the mid-20th century throughout the English speaking sea song world. It was first introduced to me as a pumping chantey but being used for that does not necessarily mean that it was made for that. It is a good one for singing in the presence of children and there are myriad versions now in circulation. The version below I learned from the singing of Tommy Makem.
. In this windy ol’ weather. Stormy ol’ weather.
. Boys, when the wind blows, we’ll all go together.
Well up jumped the herring, the king of the sea.
He sang out, “Ol’ skipper, now you can’t catch me!”
Then up jumped the mackerel with his striped back.
He sang out, “Ol’ skipper, come haul the main tack”
Then up jumped the sprat; the smallest of all.
He sang out, “Ol’ skipper, come haul your trawl haul.”
Then up jumped the crab with his great long claw.
He sang out, “Ol skipper, you’ll run us ashore!”
Then up jumped the herring all broken and spent.
He sang, “Drifting’s finished, now who’ll pay the rent?”
Then up jumped the herring right under the lee.
He sang, “Drifting’s finished; who’ll bother with me?”
Then up jumped the herring, the king of the shoal.
He sang, “Drifitng’s finished. Gotta stay on the dole.”