Music Q&A:
Joshua Burnell & Band

Promoting new album The Road to Horn Fair, the folk band play Kardomah 94, Hull, 23 March, East Riding Theatre, Beverley, 31 March, Oporto, Leeds, 17 April and Eagle Inn, Salford, 27 April

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What informs your music and songwriting?
Anything that tells a story or pulls you into another world for a few minutes. I love how you can squish an entire book’s worth of complex feelings and atmospheres down into a four minute piece of sound – how amazing is that?! For the past couple of years I’ve been really into traditional folk music, especially the old Scandinavian songs (that’s where you find all your elves and dragons and shapeshifters) and also the often overlooked traditional English songs, which are full of murder ballads and other such light listening topics. I love taking something so old that has been loved for centuries, giving it a 21st century twist, then reintroducing it to a new audience.

How have you evolved over the years?
There’s no doubt I’ve improved as a performer but I don’t think you ever stop learning in this respect. As a band, we’ve evolved from a solo performer to a duo, to an acoustic quartet and now to a six, sometimes seven-piece band, all in the space of two years. Where will it end? Bring on the orchestra! We’re starting to sharpen up on the physical performance as well as the music, which people are responding to really well. I’m getting a bit more ambitious about clothing and stage set ideas too. I always love it when you go to a show and there are theatrics to make it into a full experience. As long as the show is rooted in quality, honest music, I’m excited to explore how far we can go with theatrics. The albums are about creating worlds for people and I’d like the shows to be too.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I have been delving back into my own original writing with quite a fierce passion recently. This is not to say I’m leaving trad material behind, but there are lots of new ideas I’ve been desperate to explore. There’s a bit of a backlog of material which I’ve grouped into two main albums: one is inspired by trad folk, which I’m hoping to chisel into something a bit shinier and more contemporary than anything previously. It’s riddled with dark characters and mythological imagery. The other album is quite a departure from anything I’ve done so far, but has been churning about in my head since before Into the Green. It’s drawn from stuff like Bowie, Roger Waters, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed. Very different. We’ll see if it turns out anything like that – sometimes what you put into your work comes out completely differently. In fact, that’s usually where you end up creating something unique and exciting.

What’s on your rider?
Just the blue M&Ms taken from two and a half packets.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
Cor blimey, the list is endless! There was one particular shocker I had at City Screen Basement when I was just starting out. I was scraping about for gigs and was offered a slot supporting this chap who’d been the singer in a punk band. The place quickly filled up with what felt like the entire punk population of Leeds and York. Then I, the bright-eyed, budding folk singer, stepped up onto the stage and proceeded to regale them with my tales of smugglers and wistful maidens. I was entirely ignored and, despite the PA, inaudible over the noise of the crowd.
Then the headline act came on and also struggled to be overheard over the audience’s hollering along. As soon as he finished a song, anything he said was shouted down by everyone heckling for their favourite song. When he eventually buckled and played the song they wanted, such a wave of euphoria swept over the crowd that they started to pummel the ceiling along to the beat until it actually cracked under the pressure.
He finished his set early (presumably to escape his own fans) and we hid in the back room until they’d all left. I stayed behind to help pick up plastic cups and pieces of plaster and in the hope of getting my promised fee. In the end, the promoter flung me a tenner and told me I was lucky I wasn’t stabbed.

What song do you wish you’d written?
Wannabe, by the Spice Girls.

What’s your worst lyric?
What an odd question! The really shocking ones tend not to make it onto albums… I hope! But there is a funny story of one of the songs from Into the Green. Half of the album is this sprawling, fantasy adventure of which Spinal Tap would be immensely proud, and at one point, the main character meets a dwarf fishing in a pool (as you do) and I wrote this thing that wouldn’t be out of place in a rejected episode of Camberwick Green. “With a glint in his eye he was three feet high, he puts his rod on his back and he takes him back to his home…”
I read the lyrics out to my other half and at this point she burst out laughing. It was promptly, and quite rightly, removed from the song.

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