Joshua Burnell’s music takes you to places others simply don’t reach.
Recent winner of the Rising Star accolade in the 2020 Folking Awards, Burnell is an extraordinary talent, seemingly with his own musical time machine – able to teleport listeners back into a rich, retro past or into a bold, other-worldly future.
A highly original songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (from his trademark Hammond organ to acoustic guitar, accordion, mellotron, synths and a Steinway grand) the York-based performer is adept at conjuring up vast, layered theatrical soundscapes and moodscapes as well as simpler, starker, equally captivating arrangements.
Together with his six-piece band he has become a festival favourite with a growing reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative acts on the scene, never afraid to push the boundaries.
Born in the Haute-Savoie in France, Burnell’s music has been described as ‘folk baroque ‘n’ roll’. It is a heady brew from a melting pot of genres – English folk, prog, contemporary classical and vintage pop-rock.
Proving equally appealing to Radio 2 and 6 Music listeners, Joshua started making waves with his 2016 ‘fantasy epic’ Into the Green. The ambitious Seasons project saw him release a folk-rock arrangement of a traditional song or tune every week for a year leading to the critically acclaimed Songs From The Seasons album in 2018 which he followed up a year later with folk-rock odyssey The Road To Horn Fair.
Now he is ready to uncover Flowers Where The Horses Sleep which sees him returning to original songwriting. He says: “Having dedicated the past three years to rearranging traditional material, I wanted to build on that experience to produce an album of folk songs for a modern audience.”
Recorded and mixed just before the world went into Covid-19 lockdown, the 10-track album has a pertinent theme. Says Josh: “The songs were all inspired by people, past and present and explore humankind’s remarkable ability to find beauty, even in the hardest of times.”
He alighted on the album title after listening to a moving podcast in a series called Family Ghosts. A Japanese-American woman who had been interned in a U.S. concentration camp during WW2 told how the prisoners, forced to live in stables, grew flowers to bring a touch of beauty into the ugly reality of their days.
With all music and lyrics written and arranged by Burnell, he is joined by Frances Sladen on lead and backing vocals, Nathan Greaves on electric guitar, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin , Paul Young (melodeon) , Oliver Whitehouse (electric bass) Tom Mason on electric and upright bass and Edward Simpson, who also mixed the album, on bass drum.
The opening song ‘Labels’ was inspired by something said by actor Sir Ian McKellen in an address at Oxford University in 2017 -“The only label any of us needs is our name” – something that could also apply to Burnell’s own pigeonhole-dodging music. Gentle acoustic strumming opens the track with Burnell’s effortless, wide-ranging vocal telling us “Throw your labels away – for love has no use for them”.
The striking ‘papercut’ album cover by Mumbai-husband and wife artists Hari & Deepti depicts another stand-out track – ‘Run With Me’. Based on a surreal experience when Joshua and partner Fe explored a ruined fortress near Yorkshire’s Harewood House. Seeing men approaching with guns, they took to their heels. Says Josh: “As we were running, a deer leapt out of the undergrowth and for one gloriously fairy tale moment locked eyes with me and ran alongside us.” A sweeping fusion of styles, it has a modern pop feel and features open-tuned guitars and the soothing vocal of Frances Sladen.
An album chock full of style, poetic lyrics and impressive musicianship it marks Burnell out as an artist with a true difference. Whatever box you might try to put him into you can be sure he’ll be thinking outside it!
Flowers Where The Horses Sleep is released on September 4th and distributed by Proper Music.
Artist’s website: www.joshuaburnell.co.uk
‘Le Fay’ – official video: