40. The Autumn Overture (Liisa Pessi 62v / The Banshee / Farewell To Chernobyl / Charlie Is My Darling)
23rd September 2017
Guests: Nathan Greaves, electric guitar / Tim Yates, electric bass, melodeon / Rachel Wilson, fiddle /
Cristina Crespo, flute
Traditional, except Farewell To Chernobyl (Michel Ferry)
Let’s be honest: Autumn is the most enchanting of all the seasons. The gloom creeps in, nature literally
turns orange and goes to sleep and superstition and the supernatural somehow don’t feel quite so far
away. Throughout the year, I had stashed away a supply of the best material I found, like a particularly
organised, folky squirrel, and I wanted to arrange them with as much detail and darkness as a book of
Grimm’s fairy tales.
It was time to take the gloves off, wheel out the Hammond, power up the Mellotron, crank up the guitars
and embrace the retro textures of folk-rock in all their paisley glory.
And an album of such whimsical grandiosity definitely needed its own overture.
The first tune is a Finnish one called Liisa Pessi 62v (not sure what that means - possibly a name and an
age?) played on a 1960s Silvertone autoharp. It’s only about five notes, but the order changes so many
times, it’s a bit like a musical tongue-twister. I had to colour in the strings with a highlighter in the end.
Next up is the well-loved Irish tune, The Banshee, subjected to one of my What If experiments: What if
Yes had played fiddle tunes? A question I imagine most people lose sleep over, which I have graciously
answered for them. I very directly pinched a passage from Harold Land and took it from there. Following
this brief prog-out is a fierce contemporary tune called Farewell To Chernobyl by Michel Ferry, finished
off with an instrumental of the Scottish Charlie Is My Darling as a nod to the Jean Redpath / Serge Hovay
Songs of Robert Burns albums.
41. The Ballad of the Riddle Rhymer
30th September 2017
Guests: Nathan Greaves, electric guitar / Matthew Mefford, upright bass / Rachel Wilson, fiddle / Jack
Music traditional, lyrics by Joshua Burnell based on various traditional ballads
Have you ever listened to Finnish folk music? It’s haunting, magical and I love it. I discovered the Ballad
of Vestmanviiki on an album by a group called Niekku. It has this timeless, theatrical, perfectly crafted
melody that you’d expect from a musical or a 90s Disney movie. If you want an even more spine-chilling
rendition, complete with eerie polyphonic overtone singing, listen to Merja Soria’s.
A quick copy-and-paste into Google Translate revealed thatVestmanviiki is a riddle-rhyming song, cut
from the same tradition that inspired Bilbo and Gollum’s Riddles In The Dark. In the song, an old pedlar
challenges a boy to a game of riddles. It got me thinking: what if, like in the Hobbit, there was a
consequence for winning or losing the game of riddles? What if this mysterious character promised
unimaginable wonders if the boy wins, but a sentence to hang if he loses? The character of the
Riddle-Rhymer was beginning to take shape.
I started to re-write the words from scratch. For the riddle game, I used some of the original riddles from
the Vestmanviiki, padded out with some favourites from various Danish riddle songs. All seems to be
going well for the young lad, until (SPOILERS!) the Riddle-Rhymer decides he has had enough of toying
with him and tricks him with an impossible riddle, revealing his true identity.
It took an eclectic bundle of influences to get there - from Finnish and Danish folk songs, with a bit of
Tolkien and Faustus sprinkled in, finished off with the crooked combination of a Victorian piano and
Rachel’s violin playing evoking the ghost of the Danse Macabre - and it might just be my favourite of the
entire Seasons Project.
42. The King of the Fairies
7th October 2017
Guests: Jack Woods, mandolin, electric guitar / Mark Waters, electric bass
Apparently, if you play this one three times in a row, the King of the Fairies himself appears. If he’s in a
good mood, he’ll hang around and have a little dance. But if he’s not (and after all, who wouldn’t be a bit
cranky after having been pulled into a parallel dimension?) he might obliterate you in a fit of rage. So if
you’re listening to this one on Spotify, careful with that repeat button.
It is a tune that’s as old as the hills, possibly Irish, possibly Scottish, probably not English and has been
played by pretty much everyone who’s ever picked up a fiddle. Horslips did a synthtastic rendition on a
rooftop on Dublin which is well worth a watch, but the version that compelled me to record this one is by
Jean Luc Lenoir from his Old Celtic & Nordic Ballads with the tagline, ‘about Elfs, Fairies, Trolls, Dwarfs,
Dragons, Mermaids…’ Just my kind of album. You should try it.
I had a great time smashing away on the drums, playing around on rhythm guitar and mellotron, but the
stars of the show are Mark Waters with that stomping bass and Jack Woods with his blistering mandolin
and lead electric. If you accidentally summoned the Fairy King with this one, he’d definitely turn up
looking like a member of Whitesnake.
43. Reynardine, The Werefox
15th October 2017
Guests: Nathan Greaves, electric guitar / Mark Waters, electric bass
There is something so wonderfully Mighty Boosh-esque about the concept of a Werefox. They’re like the
dandy, cheeky-chappy version of Werewolves and almost undoubtedly wear a pin-striped suit and a top
hat. Apparently it was the Victorians who added the foxy element into this song, presumably because of
the link with the French renard. I’m pleased they did though.
In older versions of the song, Reynardine is a bandit, over time he has transformed, giving us the dark
allure of the fairytale villain, teeth gleaming like the wolf from Red Riding Hood, luring our protagonist
to his green castle. And I just love the gothic imagery.
If you’ve heard the Fairport Convention version, you won’t be surprised to hear that was my starting
point for this one. Their version is beautifully psychedelic, but I kept waiting for it to get going and it
never did. So I decided to do another ‘What if?’ experiment. Clearly I was very into Yes at the time,
because they got the job again. What if Yes had decided to play Reynardine?
I switched my acoustic for a telecaster, tuned it to open D and started off very much in the Fairport camp
with a bit of mellotron as a proggy premonition of things to come. Then I found the wackiest interval I
could at the top of the fretboard and riffed away to an odd rhythm by way of homage to Steve Howe,
found a drum beat reminiscent of Yours Is No Disgrace and off we went. Nathan brought an entire legion
of Starship Troopers on board with yet another epic solo, and Mark smashed out a crunchy bassline à la
Squire. A few unexpected modulations, rhythmic shifts and harmonic runs played by duelling Hammond
and guitar and we were there. I just wish my voice had been about ten octaves higher, so I could have
sounded like Jon Anderson.
44. Tri Martolod (Three Sailors)
20th October 2017
Guests: Frances Sladen, vocals / Nathan Greaves, electric guitar / Jack Woods, mandolin / Matthew
Mefford, electric bass
Music traditional, lyrics by Joshua Burnell, inspired by the original
A particularly epochal rummage in a record shop led to the discovery of Alan Stivel, the legendary Breton
harpist who made a name for himself in the 1970s. His live album, À L'Olympia, is a folky, proggy riot that
would be on my bucket list to attend if I had a time machine. Amongst other gems is the legendary Tri
Martolod. It is a bit of an anthem in Brittany and it’s not surprising since it is essentially a weapons-grade
earworm. Nolwenn Leroy reintroduced it to the French masses in 2011 and if they’d have submitted it for
Eurovision, it would definitely have won.
The song is from the 18th century and the title means Three Sailors in Breton. It tells the story of three
sailors who meet a woman who reveals she has met them before. In my English translation I took a bit of
liberty with the storyline, adding a spooky plot twist.
For me, the highlight is the trio of solos in the middle shared between myself, Nathan and Jack. What a
45. Two Magicians
31st October 2017
Guests: Nathan Greaves, electric guitar / Matthew Mefford, electric bass / Jack Woods, mandolin
Music traditional, lyrics re-written by Joshua Burnell
Traditionally, this is a song about a blacksmith who fancies a young woman and won’t take no for an
answer. The pair are shapeshifters, and every time she thinks of a cunning way to escape, he outsmarts
her. The idea of shapeshifters duelling is ancient and cinematically brilliant. It crops up in folklore all the
time and most notably in the The Sword and The Stone during the wizards’ duel between Merlin and Mad
I loved the tune of this one and coming up with new verses is a great game, but I hated how the
blacksmith gets his way at the end. So I wrote a version where she outsmarts him for a change because
I’m fed up with the bad guy winning.
46. Guy Fawkes, Prince of Sinisters
5th November 2017
Guests: Ben Burnell, electric guitar, acoustic guitar (that funky riff!) / Dan Webster, telecaster solo
Music by Joshua Burnell, lyrics traditional
It was a no-brainer that I should do something Guy Fawkes related for the 5th November, especially since
I live in the city where he was born and raised. Luckily, there is an old song about him. It is a ‘comic song’
which was a form of political satire popular in music halls, a bit like a 19th century version of Cassette
Boy. I’m not sure exactly who wrote this originally, but it cropped up in ‘A Collection of National English
Airs’ by W. Chappell in 1838.
When it came to recording this one, my worst fears came true. I had run out of time. I either couldn’t find
the traditional tune or didn’t like it, so had thought, “I’ll get to that later,” but never did. The only realistic
way to get my drums recorded on the albums was to batch them in as few studio sessions as possible,
and the session for Autumn came and went without anything started on this track.
A musical bonfire night was fast approaching and I’d be turning up without so much as a sparkler.
Backed into a corner, I had to get creative. What could I use for percussion on a song about Guy Fawkes?
Summoning my inner actor, I imagined I was there, skulking in the wet basement beneath the houses of
parliament, wearing a silly hat and surrounded by barrels of gunpowder. And what did I hold in mine
own treacherous hands? Matches! That was it. Guido himself had given me the solution, like the crafty
gent he was.
I pegged it to the shop and bought Co-op’s finest box of Cook’s matches. Back at home, I recorded my
debut performance on the twelve centimetre match-box. Using the best bits, I created my own sample
library, padded out with drums chopped out of the session files for High Germany. Then I came up with
my own melody and copied and pasted my matchstick drums underneath. I snuck in a new verse
incorporating the ‘remember, remember’ rhyme and a little moral message to tie it up neatly.
The shelves in the firework shops were growing bare and I was nearly ready, but to truly capture the
spirit of the gunpowder plot, the track needed two more things: a guitar solo and an outrageously funky
riff. Fellow Yorkie Dan Webster provided a twangtastic telecaster solo and my eldest brother Ben
travelled over from France and brought with him the funk. The Fawkes Funk.
If ever we record a music video I can imagine Ben dressed as King James - ruff and all - leg slung over his
throne, rocking out with an acoustic guitar. Let’s hope that unlike Guido Fawkes, we are successful in our
scheme. Happy bonfire night.
47. The Witch of the Westmorland
12th November 2017
Guests: Antonio Curiale, fiddle
Music and Lyrics by Archie Fisher
So far I had managed to cover dragons, fairies, mermaids, werefoxes, ghosts and shapeshifting magicians,
so I thought I ought to get a song about witches in there somewhere. I got searching, expecting to find a
song about the warty, cackling-on-a-broomstick sort of witches but instead I found something you’d
expect to find written by one of the romantic poets. The Witch of the West-mer-lands, as it was originally
titled, was written by Archie Fisher in the 70s and tells the story of a wounded knight and his mystical
encounter with a centaur who arises from a lake to heal his wounds.
It has a nostalgic tune that always reminds me of growing up in the Lake District. Every time I hear the
song I miss it.
48. The Curse of Hoxne Bridge
18th November 2017
Guests: Tim Burnell, vocals / Mark Waters, electric bass
Lyrics by Dick Miles, tune traditional
According to legend, King Edmund was hiding under Goldbrook Bridge from the Danes when a newly
wedded couple spotted his shiny boots and grassed him up. As they dragged him off, he cursed the
couple and all newly wedded couples who cross the bridge. It sounds dramatic, but then again, they did
tie him to a tree and shoot him with so many arrows he ended up looking like some kind of medieval
It is such a good story, that a concertina connoisseur Dick Miles wrote a set of words for it and put it to
the tune of The Bold Richard. I came across his 1984 LP Cheating the Tide in a record shop and
immediately heard the potential for folk-rockery. The rhythmic concertina was a big selling point, but I
can’t play the concertina, so I had a go on accordion instead.
The trouble with finding old rarities like this one is that it’s tricky to find all the relevant facts. Thankfully
Dick Miles got back to me with everything I wanted to know after I bombarded him with questions via
email which goes to show what a decent chap he is.
49. Dowie Dens of Yarrow
25th November 2017
Guests: Ben Burnell, electric guitar / Matthew Mefford, electric bass
If you’ve heard the story behind Shelagh’s Song, you’ll have heard this one, so feel free to put this down
and go and get a sandwich. If you haven’t heard it, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
It all began when visiting a record shop in Haworth after visiting the Brontë parsonage. An album with a
particularly trippy album cover caught my eye: Stargazer, by Shelagh McDonald. It was fairly pricey, so I
left it. When I got home, I eBay-ed it, expecting it to be much cheaper, only to find it was worth over three
times the price. “It’s probably rubbish, anyway,” I thought, typing the title into YouTube. But of course, it
was spectacularly beautiful. To make me regret not buying it even more, I read up about Shelagh
McDonald, discovering she was a legend of the folk world, having vanished for thirty years following a
fast ascent to stardom in the 70s.
The following day, I cancelled all my plans and began a pilgrimage back to Haworth to get the record. I
wrote the story in full in an article for Folk Radio UK which should come up if you Google ‘Joshua Burnell A Folk Quest’, but to cut a long story short, I got the record, then developed a fever. Stargazer is quite a trippy album as it is, but when you’ve got a fever, it is quite a psychedelic experience. It is the kind of album that makes you nostalgic for a time you never experienced, full of summery tales and
half-remembered memories, and was profoundly comforting in a way I can’t describe.
Alongside Shelagh’s original songs was an acid-rock version of traditional Scottish border ballad, Dowie
Dens of Yarrow. It is a beautiful but heartbreaking story featuring every word they could think of that
rhymes with ‘Yarrow’. The story is about a man and a woman who love each other, but her father and
brothers disapprove and threaten to kill him. Despite being outnumbered, he agrees to fight every one of
them. They meet on the dowie dens of Yarrow, and though he fights bravely, one of them sneaks up
behind him and stabs him in the back. She wraps his body in her hair and carries him away to be buried.
Shortly after, she dies of a broken heart and is buried alongside him.
My version is a tribute to Shelagh McDonald’s and features one of my brother Ben’s rare and brilliant
50. Tam Lin
2nd December 2017
Guests: Sarah Loughran, fiddle / Nathan Greaves, electric guitar / Tim Yates, electric bass, melodeon
Music by Davey Arthur
There is a Scottish legend in which Tam Lin is captured by the Queen of the Fairies and is rescued by his
true love. This is not that song. This is a reel of epic proportions, written by Davey Arthur, and in my
mind, the musical interlude as Tam Lin is transformed into an array of terrifying things by the fairies in
an unsuccessful attempt to dissuade his true love from saving him.
She doesn’t fall for it though - she’s hardcore; as are Sarah, who smashes the fiddle part; Blackbeard’s Tea
Party’s own Tim, rocking out on bass and melodeon; and Nathan who brings the thunder with that
outrageously epic guitar solo at the end. I hit some objects, swooshed about on some keyboards and most
notably, waggled a tambourine, a role I get to reprise at live shows, where this one never fails to go down
51. Scarborough Fair
6th December 2017
You’ll know this one from the duo who brought you the best haircuts of the 60s. That’s right: Simon &
Garfunkel. They learned this song from Martin Carthy, then made it a worldwide hit. Can you imagine
what the world would be like if he’d played them The Devil And The Feathery Wife? (Google it…)
It is a song about someone telling someone else to give a list of obscure tasks to their ex who lives in
Scarborough, interspersed with a refrain featuring the contents of their herb cupboard. I’ve never
thought it makes much sense, to be honest, which may be because the motif of the tasks was possibly
lifted from an older song called The Elfin Knight, in which this poor lady has to keep coming up with
impossible tasks to keep an elf at bay as he tries to abduct her.
The words might be completely barmy, but the tune is beautiful. So I decided to do something a bit
different and focus on the specific parts of this song that draw me to it. The Mellotron is an early form of
synthesiser that plays back each note from an individual reel of tape. At some point in the 1950s or 1960s,
a choir sang each individual note so that people could make them sing new songs forever.
I borrowed their voices for this arrangement, which I think they sing beautifully and ethereally. It is
strange to think that on the day their voices were recorded, the singers may never have heard
Scarborough Fair, yet here they are singing it, over fifty years later.
52. She Moved Through The Fair & The Seasons Finale
13th December 2017
Guests: Frances Sladen, vocals / Rachel Wilson, fiddle / Ben Burnell, electric guitar solo & reverse electric
guitar solo / Matthew Mefford, electric bass
She Moved Through The Fair (trad.) / Seasons Finale (Joshua Burnell)
I must admit, there were times I thought I would never finish the Seasons Project. Those late nights,
frantically trying to make things sound finished; the times when inspiration wouldn’t come; and the
times when life just got in the way. But when I finally got round to the final track, I knew exactly what I
wanted to do.
She Moved Through The Fair is an old Irish song about someone who is visited by the ghost of their lover.
It is tragic but beautiful in its simplicity. I love how irregular yet natural the rhythms of the lyrics are and
how the modal melody conjures up another time with authenticity. In many ways, it is the perfect folk
song: it sounds both ancient and accessible with a story that is universally relatable. That must explain
why it is one of the most played folk songs of all time.
Fe and I take on the roles of the two characters as the music builds in intensity, until the song bursts into
an instrumental section in which I tried to recreate a full band version of the free-form melody.
(Everyone looked at me like a mad person, so I muddled through on the telecaster.)
Since it had been such an epic project, I treated myself to the sort of epic ending you might find on a Rick
Wakeman album. I guess I was trying to look back across the whole year’s worth of music, collaboration
and experience and distil it all into one moment.
As much as I loved working with traditional material, it was so glorious to free myself from all restraints
and write something new that was both much more me and what I wanted to do. It was also a welcome
return to the cathartic soundscapes Nathan, Ben and I created on Valénor, including one of Ben’s
reversed guitar solos, which we used to have fun creating as teenagers.
Then it burns out and just like that, the whole project comes to an end.
The Seasons Project never really ended though. It introduced me to a whole world of music I will enjoy
for the rest of my life and taught me skills and techniques I will use in projects long into the future.
Besides, I never actually played the last chord, which if you want a tidy-sounding resolution, could have
been a D minor. Funnily enough, I’m sure that’s where God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen starts…
Copyright © 2021 Joshua Burnell.