Fish and Chips

I wrote this song in March 1982. I had been listening to Ewan McColl's song about herring fishing, the one that featured in his earlier radio programme on 'The singing and the fishing'. I had also listened to a documentary on BBC Radio 4 on the perils of trawler fishing around the UK coast. In particular, the documentary was concerned about the statistically high incidence of widows in some of the Scottish fishing villages, for obvious reasons. The programme pointed out that modern technology and radar might be expected to reduce loss of life at sea and then speculated that because it was so expensive there could be a pressure to put to sea in inclement weather (in order to pay the interest on the large mortgage loans that were necessary to buy modern fishing vessels). In the old days, it was suggested, the captain's experience and rules of thumb about the weather and the sea may have resulted in cautious decisions (leading to fewer trips out in bad seas).

I have no idea how sound that point of view is but it set me to thinking more generally about the harvest and consumption of fish. I then wondered whether it would be possible to write a Marxist critique in which the practice of eating fish and chips could be related to the economics of harvesting the potatoes from the land and the fish from the sea. Once embarked on this journey, I slipped in a verse about the newspapers in which the fish and chips were inevitably wrapped. And while I was about it, I indulged myself in a bit of gratuitous PC comment about Page Three girls, too. In order to soften the pill of so much weighty moralising, I hung the verses on what I felt was a moderately catchy chorus:

All I asked for was a bag of fish and chips
All I asked for was a bag of fish and chips
Do you want 'em wrapped or open
Salt and vinegar is free
A lot has changed since I wrote this song. Some might say that Marxist-style critiques are past there sell-by date now. Still, that doesn't hold up, in my view. Marx was an excellent cost accountant and that aspect of his economic ideas remains vibrantly relevant to societies that sign up to the free market econonomics of Milton Freedman and so forth. The crumbling of a Berlin wall is quite irrelevant to the insights one might gain from looking at double-entry book keeping from a socialist standpoint.

I think the more important change in UK society, since I wrote the song, is that Fish & Chips no longer has the monopoly as the major accessible fast food in England. Kebabs, pizzas, and burgers have all challenged the supremacy of the British Fish & Chip shop, over the past two decades. For this reason, the song seems to work best with the older members of my audiences. At the time, Tyne-Tees TV did a short feature on the song and filmed some footage at the Fish & Chip shop near where I lived in Alice Street in Sunderland, along with some shots of the fish quay on the river Wear. I don't think I had a video recorder in those days and I never got a copy of the programme.

ISRC = GBGHU0300006

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