Norfolk fisherman’s song features in Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis

Sam and Dorcas Larner outside their Winterton home. Sam and Dorcas Larner outside their Winterton home.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
11:15 AM

A folk song honouring the life of singing Winterton fisherman Sam Larner is the star turn in a new critically-acclaimed Coen Brothers’ film.

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Sam Larner, of Winterton.Sam Larner, of Winterton.

The Shoals of Herring, written about Norfolk-born Mr Larner, is one of the highlights of Inside Llewyn Davis. The film was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, stars Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake and won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Telling the story of a week in the life of a fictional folk singer in New York’s folk music scene in 1961, the song features in a scene in which Llewyn tries to communicate with his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, by singing one of his favourite tunes.

Written by Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger and first broadcast in 1960, the song is about the infamous Mr Larner, who used to entertain fishermen and other pub-goers in Winterton’s Fisherman’s Return pub with his repertoire of (occasionally risqué) folk songs.

Born in Winterton in 1878, one of nine children, he once recalled that the choice for village boys was going to sea or going to prison – he chose the sea, becoming a cabin boy or ‘peggy’ on sailing drifters in 1892, picking up the songs of other fishermen on his travels.

“We used to have some good old times when we used to come home from sea. We used to get in the old pub, have a pint or two around, give ’em the four-handed reel. Round we’d go and up we’d go and we used to have a rare old, good old time,” he recalled.

He was ‘discovered’ in 1956 by a BBC radio producer and four years later featured in a programme called Singing the Fish. He died in 1965, aged 87.

Johanna O’Donoghue, curator of Great Yarmouth Museums, said: “We are thrilled that such a big international film is featuring the stories of the east coast and fishermen like Sam Larner.

“It is celebrating the impact of fishing in Yarmouth and the unique heritage it has to offer as well as the moving folk music that it has inspired.”

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