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John Harle

Publisher: Chester Music

The Ballad of Jamie Allan (2004)
Text Writer
Tom Pickard
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 20 Minutes
alto, baritone, Northumbrian pipes
Programme Note
John Harle The Ballad of Jamie Allan (2004)
Jamie Allan was a Northumbrian piper, a border gypsy, born 1734 in Rothbury and who died in the Durham Lock Up in 1810 where he was serving a life sentence for stealing a horse from Gateshead seven years earlier. During his lifetime he became a legendary rogue, but one of immense talent as a musician, often patronised by the aristocracy who, however, became wary of him when his wayward behaviour began to match their own. As he grew older his attraction to them diminished and his struggle to survive intensified along with the other gypsies who were regarded as rogues and scum and treated as such. He retained a few loyal supporters, mostly on the North side of the Tyne, who tried to get him released, but they failed and he died confined miserable in Durham.

For some he represents the spirit of the borders and he retains the affection and admiration of most musicians carrying on the tradition. This opera is written as a celebration and salute to Jamie Allan, warts an’ all.

© 2005 Tom Pickard

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Or browse the vocal score here.

  • Ensemble
    Northern Sinfonia
    Omar Ebrahim (balladeer), Sarah Jane Morris (balladeer), Bill Paterson (narrator), Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes), Neil MacColl (guitar) Steve Lodder (keyboards)
    John Harle
    Harle Records:
The colourful life of border gypsy Jamie Allan was resurrected in a world premiere at the Sage Gateshead - on what could have been the very spot where he stole the horse that led to his imprisonment and death in a Durham gaol in 1810. Just as the Northumbrian piper had packed so much into his long life, so Newcastle-born saxophonist and composer John Harle managed to fit about every musical style and theatrical device into the folk opera. Northern Sinfonia performed the Ballad of Jamie Allan, with the catchy libretto by Tom Pickard. Kathryn Tickell composed some magical passages on her Northumbrian Pipes. Jamie, who became a legendary rogue and talented musician patronised by the aristocracy, was portrayed with penetrating insight by the charismatic baritone Omar Ebrahim. He was perfectly counterbalanced by his consort Annie Bennet, played by jazz/rock/R&B singing star Sarah Jane Morris. Her command of the lower end of the register with her deep earthy voice was a treat, while both her and Ebrahim's tones were perfectly married in the duets. The score straddled several musical genres, with the evershifting tapestry threatening to overwhelm the senses at times. The opera, supplemented by video and photographic footage from Tom Pickard, was challenging but rewarding. Jamie died a miserable death in Durham - his spirits would have been lifted by the spectacle.
Gavin Engelbrecht, Northern Echo,26/04/2005
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