The Trials of Cato

Live Review | Roots Music Club, Doncaster | Review and Photos by Allan Wilkinson

Every now and again a band of musicians come along and appear to tick just about every box in terms of their musical ability, their vocal prowess and their taste, all matched measure for measure with their personal appeal and likeability factor. Tonight Will Addison, Robin Jones and Tomos Williams, otherwise known as The Trials of Cato, arrived in Doncaster for the first time, effectively doing all the above, whilst at the same time adding their names to a long list of Roots Music Club favourites, immediately winning over those present tonight at the town’s premiere folk and acoustic music venue.

The audience seemed to be fully primed before the show and a sense of preparedness filled the Ukrainian Centre after weeks of highly publicised recommendations from the organisers. To say that the club had been eagerly anticipating this gig would be an understatement and this anticipation was duly rewarded by the end of the night. Just a couple of sets filled with choice songs and blistering instrumentals apparently did the trick.

Having met as fellow teachers in Beirut, the three musicians, Will from Yorkshire and Robin and Tomos from North Wales, cut their teeth performing before Lebanese audiences, honing their craft as first rate musicians and developing their empathetic tightness and acclaimed style in a relative short space of time. The secret of their success seems to be their ability to appeal to a broad range of people, both young and old, reflecting both the early days of the British folk boom, whilst at the same time adopting a contemporary aesthetic. You could almost imagine the trio playing the last few bars of the delicate “My Love’s in Germany”, then popping into one of the town’s many live venues to have a quick run through “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, without batting an eyelid.

Kicking off with Graham Moore’s “Tom Paine’s Bones”, the band took the audience on a journey through their debut album Hide and Hair, with songs delivered in both the English and Welsh tongue. The band’s tight acoustic sound and clever interplay between bouzouki, mandolin, banjo and guitar, assisted by one or two inventive effects, notably the ‘naughty’ bass, was equally matched by the trio’s vocal dexterity. Will’s voice is convincingly mature and confident, especially on the band’s outstanding song “Gloria.” It’s not difficult to understand why The Trials of Cato appeal to a broad church, their treatment of the aforementioned “My Love’s in Germany” could easily have been included on Wishbone Ash’s Argus album from the early 70s, whilst “The Drinkers” wouldn’t be out of place in any singaround folk club in the country from any period. It’s this timeless quality that permeates the trio’s repertoire that ensures their success, which is just around the corner if it’s not here already.

Feeding into all this are the songs sung in the Welsh language, a couple of which were performed tonight, including the lilting “Haf” (Summer), augmented by some fine tenor banjo playing courtesy of Robin. With two thirds of the band from North Wales, the language is explored both in song and in the titles of one or two of the instrumentals, including “Difyrrwch”, which is the opening piece on the band’s debut album.

With an opening set courtesy of club stalwart Bob Chiswick, whose own songs, “(Why Do) I Keep Looking at You”, “Brown River” and “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” amongst them, had a long overdue airing, the atmosphere, the standard of musicianship throughout the evening and the general eurphoric feeling amongst those present both on and off stage was nothing more than electric. To paraphrase Arnie Schwarzenegger, ‘they’ll be back’, as will Bob and as will I.