If ever you were going to look for the most unlikely array of instruments the combination of mandolin, bouzouki, and guitar would finish high on the list. Yet using these instruments along with a tenor banjo, The Trials of Cato take notions of traditional music and stand them on their ear. Hide And Hair is more than an auspicious debut it is quite simply one of the best albums of the year, folk or otherwise.
Hailing from Wales and Yorkshire, they spent a year in Lebanon distilling their hybrid of traditional and modern influences, while filling some of the country’s biggest venues. Along the way, William Addison’s bouzouki and accordion, blends with the mandolin and tenor banjo of Robin Jones, and the acoustic and electric guitars of Tomos Williams, creating a new way of looking at the folk traditions of Ireland and Britain.
Unquestionably the woodshedding they did in Lebanon has helped to create a set of music coming from, but not tied to, traditional music. ‘Gloria’ tells the tale of a sixteen-year-old miner whose chance encounter leads him to his realise his true self is not the one he was born into. A different kind of freedom is at work in ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, where a chance meeting leads to Paine recounting, “Well I only talked about freedom and justice for everyone, but ever since the first word I spoke I’ve been looking down the barrel of a gun.”
Combining their untraditional instrumentals with songs like ‘These Are The Things’, you get the picture of a band that cares equally about justice and craft. As the song says, “We’ve been robbed, we’ve been wronged – counted the years, and now we’ve been told to dry up our tears, to show aspiration and swallow our pride. And these are the things that we cannot abide.”
Part of what makes The Trials of Cato so unique is the way they update traditional tunes like ‘Difyrrwch’, where a few simple guitar strums brings three traditional melodies into the 21st century. Gawain, a medieval tale inspired by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight incorporates of rock, psychedelia and Eastern influences, plus the appearance of an electric guitar.
The Trials of Cato are a band that raises the stakes for what folk music is today. With Hide And Hair, they break free of the genre by applying their own vision to the traditional form. There is no carelessness to their craft, they push the envelope of what folk is, and what it is to become.