I'd begun to think that Joshua Burnell was going to be one of those artists that I would never get to see live. He hails from Yorkshire, and I live in Surrey, so it was not going to be easy to catch him. I first encountered his name in 2016 when reviewing his album "Into The Green", so it has been a three year wait to finally see him perform.
Many artists would not live up to the expectation that builds up over three years of anticipation, but I had no doubt that Joshua would not let me down. I actually own a couple of live albums that he recorded (released for promotional purposes and no longer in print), so although I hadn't seen him live before, I had at least heard him.
After his phenomenal "Seasons" project, (in which he took on the mammoth task of recording a different folk song every week for a year), where better to play your first London gig on your first headline tour, other than Cecil Sharp House, the home of English Folk Music? He, apparently, had been to visit their library before, so the venue knew all about him before booking him but I guess that they too, like me, hadn't seen him before either.
If you have been to Cecil Sharp House before, you'll know that they have a little cafeteria there, just outside of Trefusis Hall, where Joshua was playing. When I arrived, Joshua and his band were in the cafeteria, and it felt as if I'd known him for years. He probably felt overwhelmed by this old, mad hippy accosting him as if he was an old friend. I did manage to ask him a question, though that has perplexed me for a while - how on Earth did he manage to pursuade Annie Haslem (the lead singer from prog rock supergroup Renaissance), to provide the artwork for his "Seasons" project?
Joshua is a multi-instrumentalist, so in a studio, he can play many different instruments, (though he is usually accompanied by a variety of different artists as well), but when playing live he has a full band with him. Nathan Greaves, his electric guitar and mandolin player, has been with him throughout his career, and Edward Simpson, his drummer, seems to have been with him for all his live gigs, (on record Joshua generally performs percussion himself). For his "Seasons" project, a total of around twenty-five musicians were involved, but I think his violinist, Holly Brandon, and his bassist, Oliver Whitehouse are new to his band. Josh, himself, plays keyboards, acoustic guitar, and lead vocals.
He is, of course, always accompanied by Francis (Fe) Sladen, his backing vocalist, who recently took on the additional role of his wife.
The tour is to promote the release of his new album "The Road To Horn Fair", a project which he started before he began "Seasons". Like "Seasons", "The Road To Horn Fair" is largely his take on traditional folk songs. Inspired by bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, the resultant songs, after he has worked his magic on them, are generally much closer to rock, than their original folk roots.
Josh and Fe's introductions to the songs were witty, and demonstrated how comfortably they had fallen in to married life. 'As you know, we're going to play some traditional folk songs for you in our own style, but do you mind if we play something a bit more contemporary as well? Great, because this one was written by Henry the Eighth', was their introduction to "Pastimes With Good Company". In introducing "Cold Haily Windy Night', Joshua had meant to introduce the song by paying respect to the Folk Revivalist bands, such as Fairport, and how he regretted how young he was as he was not able to have been there back in the late 1960's and early 1970's at the dawn of Folk Rock. The way the words came out though ... 'a lot of you were lucky enough to have been around when they were doing it first time round', sounded, at least to Fe, as if Joshua was implying that the audience were decrepit - maybe some of us were so old that we remembered Cecil Sharp - maybe some of us were there at Hampton Court when Henry the Eighth first whipped his lute out. Fe slapped him down with, 'Oooh Josh! Maybe I should introduce this one next time.' None of us in the audience felt the least bit insulted, and we were all delighted to witness this display of marital hierarchy.
The set list included a wide variety of styles, from the purely instrumental "The Banshee Set" and "Tam Lin", through a solo performance of "A Begging I Will Go", through an a capela opening to "Pastimes With Good Company" to an almost stadium rock performance of "Blackleg Miner".
My personal highlights were one of Joshua's own compositions, "Skylark And The Oak", and their cover of the Renaissance song, "At The Harbour". "Skylark And The Oak" was written when Josh and Fe were still at University. Josh wanted an excuse to sing with Fe, so he wrote the song as a duet, and then sold it to her by insisting that it wasn't a love song. Of course, it was exactly that, and Fe was wooed by the song. Now, seven years later, they are happily married, and have released it as a single.
Fe's grandfather was in the Navy during the war, and his ship was torpedoed, and he later became a ship's captain. His family would often wait at the harbour, wondering if he would return, particularly if there was a storm. The song "At The Harbour", from Renaissance's 1973 album "Ashes Are Burning" therefore evokes deep emotions in Fe. She takes lead vocals in their beautiful cover of this track. The original prog rock track lasts for almost seven minutes, with a piano interlude based on "La Cathédrale Engloutie" by Debussy, but their version lasts for just three and a half minutes.
Very happy to report that Joshua and his band will be back in London later this year. My level of anticipation is already climbing.
The Banshee Set
Pastimes With Good Company/ Berkshire Tragedy
Cold Haily Windy Night
Plane Tree & Tenpenny Piece
A Begging I Will Go
Skylark And The Oak
The Knight And The Shepherdess
At The Harbour
Farewell To Tarwathie
Port Of Amsterdam
Run With Me
Sing For The Island/ The Musical Priest
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