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The Trials of Cato: Hide and Hair

review trials of cato x1 cong

If you like folk and you’ve not heard of The Trials of Cato, we suspect this will change before the year is out.

They produce folk that is recognisably traditional, with the commercial mass-appeal of Seth Lakeman and the musical prowess of a shredding metal guitarist. The people who don’t like this will probably be grandchildren of the folk fans who shouted “Judas” at Bob Dylan when he dared move on.

The band was formed in Beirut while its three members — Tomos Williams on guitar, Will Addison on Irish bouzouki and tenor banjo, Robin Jones on mandolin and tenor banjo — were working as English teachers. Without reading the Press notes we guess Addison is Irish, Williams Welsh and Jones English, as the CD reflects all three heritages (one song is in Welsh) while all sounding English.

The opener sounds English but is called Difyrrwch, which means “entertainment”, and it’s a good opening track, with lots of energy, as the band members show off their skills.

Gloria follows and sees Addison sing about bigotry in a small mining town; it’s not just the coal dust that chokes him. Then he meets Gloria and follows her off to London (fans of Robin Hobb’s assassin/Fool stories might think Gloria reminiscent of Starling).

Haf (summer) is sung in Welsh and could be about moving the lawn for all we know, but it sounds summery and about love.

The album is best summed up by closer The Drinkers and track five, Gawain. The Drinkers is a singalong crowd-pleaser about drinking heavily and consistently in pubs, “pints of ale on seas of rum”, and “lining ‘em up and knocking ‘em down”; it’s part trad but TTOC added some lyrics: rhyming “absinthe man” and “doesn’t leave much for the pension plan” must be one of them. Gawain on the other hand is a more solemn song but was written by them: it’s a re-telling of the 14th-century story, which sees the band at its rockiest, verging on acoustic prog.

There is some politics: in Tom Paine’s Bones, Tom is on the run from the king and due to hang on the Liberty Tree, while My Love’s in Germany is the old story of boy meets girl, country orders boy to fight in a pointless war about which he knows nothing, boy dies; we assume it’s Scottish and our only criticism of the album would be that the dialect (“send him hame”) grated a little.

All in all, a great album, lively and a lot of fun, and the sleeve notes are on shiny paper; possibly beer-proof for you drinkers.

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