The Road To Horn Fair was Josh's third full-length album and was released on the 15th February 2019. Josh has described this one as 'what might happen if traditional folk music got stuck inside Jon Lord's Leslie speaker'. Complete with medieval artwork, a cut-out castle and ten completely bonkers arrangements of trad folk turned up to eleven, it is certainly the most eccentric release to date.
Naturally, it was concept album. The concept? A group of minstrels travel through time collecting songs and styles. Ironically, this concept ended up being more a reality than ever expected - by the time it was finally released, it genuinely was an album from the past, from the date it was recorded to the actual band line-up!
You might need a pen and paper for this next bit...
What, why and ... when?
Did You Know...?
Believe it or not, Josh had never heard any Fairport Convention before The Road To Horn Fair was put together and was very surprised when it turned out they'd done a very popular version of Drowsy Maggie - but then again, who hasn't!? Quite by accident, Josh had come round to discovering folk-rock in the same way many of the bands did in the late 60s, without realised they'd done it.
~ 2015 ~
No sooner had recording finished for Into the Green, Josh got started on The Road To Horn Fair in November 2015. Into the Green had sparked some interest on the folk scene, where many artists share their interpretations of traditional folk music. Josh wanted to have a stab at this too, but continuing the 60s psych/prog-rock style established on Into the Green.
Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Jethro Tull were the three main palettes Josh drew from to colour his arrangements, and so a folk-rock album with the rock part underlined was created. Well, mostly. The project was temporarily put on hold while the live show for Into the Green was prepared.
~ 2016 ~
So, the summer of 2016 came around and Into the Green was released. Once the dust had settled, the job of completing The Road To Horn Fair was meant to begin. Josh had even commissioned the artwork. However, he then had the idea to begin a folk-song-a-week blog - the Seasons Project. Recording started around August 2016 and was taking a lot of time. Perhaps The Road To Horn Fair could be completed and released in 2017...?
~ 2017 ~
Midway through 2017, it seemed that releasing The Road To Horn Fair would prove too confusing with the Seasons Project running concurrently.
The music evolved significantly throughout the Seasons Project and since the project had gained interest from fans, it seemed a wiser move to release a best-of from this project instead of The Road To Horn Fair. The Seasons Project wasn't completed until December 2017, so it made sense for the best-of to be released the following year. The Road To Horn Fair was shelved yet again...
...and so Songs From The Seasons was released on 4th May 2018.
The Seasons Project had been a musical sandbox to trial and test out what could be done with traditional folk music, and by this point, Josh realised that The Road To Horn Fair had been part of that same experimental process. The album was now in a tricky position because it didn't represent where Joshua was musically. The initial idea was to release it before Christmas 2018, not as an official release, but more of a side-project. However, with his biggest tour yet quickly filling up and scheduled for 2019, it seemed good opportunity to save the release for early 2019 to kick off the tour.
Throughout the second half of 2018, The Road To Horn Fair was pulled from the shelf and had the dust blown from it. Josh realised the time-travelling backstory of the album had come true - he was listening to a band from three years in the past. Work began finishing it. This mostly consisted of re-doing some vocals and adding a few missing instruments. In places, Josh and Frances literally duet with themselves from 2015. Ed Simpson then did a remarkable job of mixing and mastering and at last - at long last - The Road To Horn Fair was complete.
The album was launched on the 21st November 2018 at Pocklington Arts Centre (more on this below) with advance copies on sale.
~ 2019 ~
The album was officially released on the 15th February 2019.
Josh and the band then undertook their largest headline tour to date, playing music that was put together four years previously.
One critic said,
'Mr Burnell needs to be careful he doesn't jig himself into a time warp'.
Too little too late - in more ways than one, he already had!
Most of the album was recorded in York by Josh and guitarist Nathan Greaves, with the exception of the drums which were recorded at Teeside University, where Nathan had studied and still had access to the studios.
Drummer, engineer and miracle worker, Ed Simpson mixed and mastered the album at his home studio in Poppleton.
The band joining Josh on the album included Matthew Mefford on bass; Antonio Curiale on fiddle, viola d'amoure and oud; Nathan Greaves on electric guitar; and Frances Sladen adding her vocals. Josh's brother, Ben Burnell added a banjo part on Drowsy Maggie & Rakish Paddy.
In 2018, Rachel Wilson added fiddle to The Knight & The Shepherdess and James Parker added a special something on the hidden track which may or may not be top secret (more on this below...)
All the sleeve notes about the songs can be found in the CD booklet with the exception of Raggle Taggle Gypsies, which was inexplicably missing. Just as the band were admiring the CDs for the first time, Josh proudly declared he had finally produced a CD without any typos. It was at this point Nathan held up the booklet and said, "shouldn't there be a song here?"
Here is the long-lost text that mysteriously vanished from the booklet:
Did You Know...?
The photo of Josh recording drums in the Into the Green CD booklet is actually from The Road To Horn Fair sessions.
Raggle Taggle Gypsies
This is an extremely popular song, sung all over the British Isles. It is also known as ‘The Gypsie Laddie’, ‘Black Jack Davy’, ‘Seven yellow Gypsies’ and in the 21st century as the more politically correct ‘Raggle Taggle Travellers’. It is Child Ballad 200 for those keeping score and has numerous different melodic settings. Compared to the far gentler version I explored on the Seasons Project, here is the more popular tune to which I’ve given a bit of attitude as the characters in this classic tale are full of it.
Behind the Artwork
When hunting for a cover artist, Josh wanted someone who could create something very authentically medieval. The idea was that someone could pick up the album and see an authentic medieval piece of art, but on closer inspection, see it is actually Josh and the gang brandishing their not-so-medieval instruments.
Randy Asplund was the man for the job! Hailing from Michigan and having created art for card game Magic the Gathering, there was no-one better suited.
The Road To Horn Fair is an album full of hidden features. As well as band members on the front cover, the artwork for the reverse cover contains details from the songs.
Pictured here are some of the drafts he sent through and below is a video he created explaining his painstakingly authentic methodology.
Did You Know...?
The original title for the album was A Collection of English And Scottish Songs And Tunes Arranged For Rock Band And Fiddle. This gives a fairly clear insight as to how seriously Josh took the album.
Thankfully, Randy Asplund suggested The Road To Horn Fair. Not only is it a far better title, but it must have saved him hours of tediously crafting all that medieval lettering.
As with Into The Green, The Road To Horn Fair also included a die-cut panel. This time, a castle was the order of the day and caused all kinds of delightful complications in the manufacturing stage.
It was expertly designed by Randy Asplund.
Did You Know...?
The castle caused so many complications that they weren't ready in time for the album launch. The manufacturer kindly sent 100 copies in jewel cases (without the castle) for the event. So if you were at the launch, you may have one of these rarer copies.
The Road To Horn Fair was launched at Pocklington Arts Centre on 21st November 2018. In the spirit of the album cover, the band returned to the stage as minstrels for the encore.
Photos: Robert Mitchell
For the photoshoot, Josh & the band headed over to the countryside around Sheffield with photographer Elly Lucas. The photos show the time-travelling minstrels trying to catch a bus to their next stop in history. Apparently the bus never turned up, so they just got an ice cream instead.
Here are some outtakes:
The final photograph on the tour poster.
Photos from The Road To Horn Fair tour. An immense thank you to Robert Mitchell who photographed many of the performances.
A review of th performance at Cecil Sharp House, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society:
The Snickelway To Horn Fair
The Snickelway To Horn Fair was a 'bonus EP' made exclusively for those who pre-ordered The Road To Horn Fair.
It featured some traditional songs alongside re-recordings of some of Josh's original songs from his 2013 EP Lend An Ear.
Its name comes from the alleyways in York, which are known locally as 'snickelways'.
It is the first EP titled to 'Joshua Burnell & Frances Sladen'.
The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered by Ed Simpson at his home studio in Poppleton.
The packaging was hand-printed using a lino block carved by Frances. Josh took various design motifs from both The Road To Horn Fair and Into the Green to assemble a new design.
In 2020, two copies were cut on vinyl as part of the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Flowers Where The Horses Sleep. These were also hand-printed and the vinyl themselves were cut in real time by Birdshitrecords.
According to legend, there is a hidden track on the CD edition of The Road To Horn Fair. A carving dating from the mid 13th century was found etched into the wall of a long-forgotten castle, which read:
"He who rewindeth backwards before tracke 1, shall find the true meaning of all ye albume."
Others say it's just a rumour.
Those with the CD may also have noticed the inside bears a curious inscription. Many have pondered over this, wondering, wishing, craving to know what it may read.
Research has only got us so far. What we do know, is that when the disc is set upon the foam button, the lettering around the edge of the disk lines up with the markings to form what appears to be some kind of cryptogram. If only we could find the correct number of rotations, the text may be decipherable.
Experts are confident the text is in relation to the history of the infamous Horn Fair and that it is strictly rated '15' at the very least.