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they said no jail could hold me
at the age of twenty-five
but now I am past seventy
and chained up to my lies . . .
Tom Pickard’s Ballad of Jamie Allan recounts the true adventures of an eighteenth-century gypsy musician who lived on the English–Scottish Borders and died in Durham jail, serving a life sentence for stealing a horse. Though once patronized by dukes and earls, Allan lost their support as his wayward behavior began to exceed their own.
Drawing on newspaper accounts and court depositions, Pickard brings the ballad tradition of stark reportage to life with his own genius for the form. Through the words of his cohorts and contemporaries, Allan emerges as a spirit of the Borders, that wild and historically lawless region where rivers and fells set the stage for his captures and escapes.