Herring Girls – soon to open First Light Festival

Herring Girls – soon to open First Light Festival

Posted on June 1st, 2023

Herring Girls: greater than we are alone, a new song cycle we’ve commissioned, is the first act on stage at this year’s First Light Festival on 17 June at 12:15pm

We’ve assembled an entirely female creative team to curate an innovative musical performance celebrating one of the first instances of women’s protest in the UK. This piece explores the legacy and impact of the herring girls’ fair pay protest of 1936 and will be performed on Lowestoft Beach, the same beach on which the protest was held 87 years ago. 

It’s a project all about coming together to make positive change.

Working with First Light, Britten Pears Arts and The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft, every aspect of the project has been made in co-creation with the ensemble of local choristers, with lyrics, music and costumes formed collaboratively. The intergenerational community choir has choristers ranging in age from 8 to 80 and is comprised of Group A, Kessingland Primary Choir and Voice cLoud, which includes members from the Rogue Shanty Choir, Beccles Community Choir, and the Kirkley Community Choir. Our brilliant artists facilitated a series of workshops to foster this creative collaboration including costume workshop where 38 pieces were crafted for the performance. 

Here’s what some folks have got to say about it:

Clare Slater, HighTide Artistic Director: “I’m so proud that we have brought together a leading, all-female creative team to co-create this piece with an intergenerational community choir from all walks of life across Lowestoft.  Across the devising workshops, the crafting workshops and the group rehearsals – skills are being shared, questions about protest and our rights are being asked, and new friendships are being forged.  The performance day on the beach is going to be very special indeed.”

Jessie Maryon Davies, Composer : Herring Girls: greater than we are alone is a celebration of the power we hold when standing together: whether that is the herring girls striking for better pay in Lowestoft in 1936 or the empowering and unique feeling one gets when singing together in a group. I’ve loved working with librettist Hannah Jane Walker and local choirs in the writing of this piece, diving into the history of these hard-working Scottish fisher-women, who sang while they worked, and what they mean to us today. I can’t wait to hear the singer’s breathing life into the piece on Lowestoft beach at First Light Festival. I hope we capture the heart and guts and grit of the herring girls whose story will forever remind us of the power of having one’s voice heard.”

Moi Tran, Designer : “The idea of the DIY, handmade, up-cycled costumes gave us a way of visually presenting the spirit of community collaboration, collective demonstration, and climate consciousness through design. These are three elements central to this piece.  The choristers have done a brilliant job of embracing the creative prompts and engaging with the design concept.  By exploring textile crafting techniques they have created personal, unique, and vibrant costumes, all the while channelling the spirit of the herring girls into 2023!”

Stephen Amer, local Lowestoft Musician, and leader of the Voice cLoud choirs: “For many years, the Voice cLoud has spearheaded or been involved with arts/heritage projects. We find that people are very keen to be involved in such projects which showcase the rich and unique heritage of East Anglia. For many, many years, these plucky hard working and independent Scots girls would come to East Anglia during the herring season. Many settled here and their grandchildren and great grandchildren may get to listen to these songs as we perform them. While this is all fairly well known here in East Anglia, their strike for fair and better pay maybe isn’t and so we are looking forward to celebrating that they stood up for what was fair and set a great example to other women and future generations. We hope their story inspires other people and we are proud to represent it on stage.”

Catherine Bullough, Community Producer at Britten Pears Arts who run youth choir Group A:“We’re delighted that young people in Lowestoft from Group A and Kessingland Church of England Primary have the opportunity to be involved in this exciting new production with HighTide Theatre. The artistic team are brilliant, and it’s wonderful to see young people being involved in multiple stages of the creative process – including co-devising the new material and making their own costumes for the performance. The chance to perform in such a high-profile event such as First Light Festival in their own town will be a great experience and one they’ll remember for a long time.

First Light Festival always takes place near the summer solstice, celebrating the first sunrise of midsummer on the UK’s most easterly shores with a weekend of performances and events under the solstice sun. Set amongst the sands and gardens of Lowestoft’s South Beach, First Light Festival’s outdoor programme welcomes over 30,000 visitors and is free, unticketed and for all. For more information on First Light Festival please go their website.


Herring Girls is generously funded by: Arts Council England, The D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Geoffry Watling Charity, Nichol Young Foundation and the Suffolk Community Foundation through the E&J Legacy Fund.