If it didn’t turn out that Beirut was such a great incubator of British folk, you would be forgiven for mistaking the origin story of The Trials of Cato for a parody. The Trials of Cato formed in Beirut and toured across Lebanon before returning to the UK as a fully formed band. From Lebanon, the fantastic British folk album Hide and Hair emerges.
For their year playing together The Trials of Cato have an incredibly, rich and mature debut album that hits like a shot of folk concentrate. The prominent use of stringed instruments such as the guitar, banjo, mandolin and Irish bouzouki allow The Trials of Cato to span, blend, and shift between a traditional baroque(ish) and a contemporary singer songwriter sound.
William Anderson and Robin Jones share the honours of lead vocals. Anderson appears to prefer narrative based songs such as Gloria and Gawain while Jones prefers the thematic such as The Drinkers. The pair’s voices complement each other: Anderson, deep, assertive and authoritative; Jones, light, clean and with bounce.
Gloria is something of a standout song, telling the story of a transgender person who leaves the coalfields for Soho, London. Though delivered confidently and unambiguously the lyrics have a subtlety to them which doesn’t make the subject matter clear on a first casual listen. The Trials of Cato however, are so engaging that the press of the rewind button to unpack the song is irresistible.
Gawain, telling the story of the Knight of the Round Table’s encounter with the Green Knight plays on fantastical themes. These Are Things (I Care About) is a stirring political anthem that it is hard not to sing along to. Tom Paine’s Bones is less convincing, to be honest because it is disappointingly familiar in an album that otherwise sounds so original.
One suspects that fans of The Trials of Cato will fall into two camps, those who prefer their songs and those who prefer the instrumentals. Satisfying both groups will be the band’s real trial. The Trials of Cato play with a bond so strong it is alarming from a band so young. Kadisha, based upon a traditional reel, slowly evolves from something traditional and conventional into something experimental.
It is unusual that a debut album stakes out such distinctive stylistic ground. If Hide and Hair is The Trials of Cato’s only release it will become a must have for any serious folk collector. I suspect and hope however that we will be hearing much more from the band.Christopher C Leslie
Self released on CD and digitally on November 9 2018.
7. Tom Paine’s Bones
8. These Are the Things
9. My Love’s in Germany
10. The Drinkers