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. Rumour has it that the album was so tongue in cheek that Josh had to have it surgically removed post-release.
What, why and ... when?
No sooner had recording finished for Into the Green, Josh got started on The Road To Horn Fair. Since the folk festival circuit was the main outlet for the music, The Road To Horn Fair was born out of the desire to continue the 60s/70s prog rock sound established with Into the Green, but this time applying it to traditional materials.
The album was actually put together very quickly as a means to inject some trad material into the live setlist to make the act more appealing to folk festivals. The material was bundled together from favourite folk or early music pieces he'd heard whilst growing up, before he became much better versed in the folk repertoire through the creation of the Seasons Project a year later. 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. 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.
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. However, Josh had the idea to begin a simple folk-song-a-week blog - the Seasons Project. This quickly became far more complex than intended, and mid way 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 - and so Songs From The Seasons was released on 4th May 2018. The Road To Horn Fair was shelved yet again.
The Seasons Project had been a musical sandbox to trial and test out what could be done with folk music, and at this point, Josh regarded The Road To Horn Fair as being part of that same process. It was now in a tricky position because it didn't really have the same relevance. The music had moved on, and most of the material from it had already been in the live set for a good two years. The initial idea was to put it out before Christmas that same year in 2018, not as an official release, but more of a side-project. However, with the biggest tour to date quickly filling up and scheduled for 2019, it seemed good opportunity to save the release for early 2019 to kick off the tour.
The album was launched on the 21st November 2018 at Pocklington Arts Centre (more on this below) with advance copies on sale, and then officially released on the 15th February 2019. Josh and then 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!
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.
Nearly every musician who has ever performed in York in the past five-or-so years has been photographed by Robert Mitchell. He captured some moments from the album launch of Into the Green which took place at City Screen Basement on 25th June 2016. As you can see, the lighting took that album title very literally. It was the only time the album was played through from front to back.
Josh - Vocals, Hammond, acoustic guitar
Frances Sladen - vocals
Ben Burnell - acoustic guitar, mandolin
Matt Mefford - bass
Antonio Curiale - fiddle
Nathan Greaves - electric guitar
Ed Simpson - drums
This video shows a performance at the same venue on 4th December 2015. Peggy Seeger's Song of Choice was a staple in the set during that time, as were velvet jackets.
Reviews & Interviews
Into The Green was written during the summer of 2012 at Josh's parents house in a tiny hamlet called Le Sappey in the French alps. The view from the house inspired the story, so three years later in 2015, Frances took some photos for the release. Most people who see the photos assume it's photoshopped and if you look closely, you may notice Josh is wearing the same shoes as in the music video for 'Skylark & The Oak' which means Josh really needs to buy some more shoes.
The album was recorded & mixed by Dan Webster at Paper Plane Studios, York, with the exception of the grand piano, which was recorded at a private location, and of course... the Hammond organ!
Throughout the process, Josh insisted every instrument had to be real (i.e. not software, or imaginary and ideally, organic) so when it came to the Hammond organ, Josh had to find one. He bought one only to discover it was the 'wrong one' (whatever that means) so had to give it away to some neighbours (who may also have thought it was the 'wrong one' as the box of chocolates they promised never appeared). When eventually the 'right one' was found (T202, apparently, with authentic cigarette burn), it was carried upstairs by some disgruntled delivery men and carried up and down stairs much to the dismay of anyone who has been around each time Josh has moved house since.
Here's some photos of the recording process, including Ben Burnell (mandolin), Antonio Curiale (viola d'amore), Matt Mefford (bass), Angela Gordon (flute) and Paul Young (melodeon).