One of folk music’s most rapid success stories, The Trials of Cato seemingly arrived from nowhere in 2018. They sent the folk roots world into a tailspin with a startling debut album that just a few months later clinched the coveted ‘Best Album’ title in the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
The edgy verve and sheer originality of the Trials’ debut album Hide and Hair catapulted the Welsh/English trio onto folk’s centre stage as they served up adventurous new takes on the traditional folk repertoire whilst throwing down the gauntlet with their own arresting, genre-hopping self-penned tracks.
Now they are poised to release their sophomore album with a new band member and a renewed ambition which looms as large as the giant from which the album takes its name – Gog Magog.
Their back story is full of intrigue. Robin Jones and Tomos Williams from North Wales and Will Addison from Yorkshire formed the original Trials band in Beirut where they met while working as English teachers. Jokingly referring to themselves as “the biggest British folk band to come out of the Levant (ever)”, they returned home from Lebanon in 2016 and set about blazing a trail like no other on the UK folk scene.
Following the BBC win, the pandemic intervened and saw a line-up change with Will Addison departing and Yorkshire’s prodigiously talented mandolin maestro Polly Bolton joining, bringing a new dimension to the act.
It makes for a highly original instrumental mix – Bolton also bringing Irish bouzouki and clawhammer banjo to the equation to complement Williams’ acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keys and percussion and Jones’s tenor banjo, bouzouki and 5-string banjo. But it all melds well.
Packing a confident punch, the 12-track album was recorded in New York earlier this year by Donald Richard and Sean Boyd at Artfarm Studios and mastered by top mastering engineer John Davis at London‘s Metropolis Studios. It was Davis, who has worked with the likes of U2 and Led Zeppelin, that dubbed them ‘The Sex Pistols of Folk’ in recognition of the vigorous and revitalising energy the band is bringing to the UK folk roots scene.
Still flying the flag of folk music, Gog Magog sees the band pull harder than ever on the genre’s familiar frame to create something utterly arresting and modern. Capitalising on their enforced closeting during the pandemic, The Trials of Cato have undoubtedly evolved during this period, boiling down the energy of their early years into a bold new sound. The resulting album presents the broadest spectrum of their collective talents yet, a product of swallowing the folk tradition whole and completely reimagining it in a contemporary context.
Inspired by their current surroundings the album title tune is taken from the Cambridgeshire chalk hills of the same name, trodden by the outsize feet of mythical giant Gogmagog. Towns, people and longboats are dwarfed by the yellow tunic-wearing Gog as he forges his uncompromising way across the album cover.
Says Jones: “The album has been a long time coming but we are so pleased with the result. Lockdown gave us a chance to really look at what we are about as a band and what music we wanted to create. We wiped the slate clean and challenged ourselves to create as much as we could without outside influences. Our beautiful and sometimes mysterious Fenland surroundings helped to realise this album and although we’re now delighted to be back on the road, this was a space in time that certainly helped us to create this music.”
Gog Magog is awash with a spray of styles, ranging from neo-traditional interpretations of Welsh language poetry to current-day plague songs, as well as unexpected instrumental explorations of the outer edges of folktronica and trad-jazz. Tying it all together is still The Trials’ appetite for flights of adventure, anchored firmly by quality compositions and fabulous playing.
Bursting with energy Gog Magog is savvy, slick and life-affirming music. Hypnotic, mesmerising and sophisticated it seems to roll up all the band’s diverse influences – from Wales to the Levant to East Anglia – and thread them into something thrilling, bold and unexpected. The album sashays and struts and transports listeners to other worlds as it takes giant genre-jumping strides to plough a musical furrow all of its own.
Three years on from that unforgettable debut album The Trials of Cato are looming large once more.
“One of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times” – Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio
Gog Magog is released on November 25 and The Trials of Cato are currently showcasing the album on tour.
Oct 21 – Forest Arts Centre, New Milton
Oct 22 – The Star Inn, Guildford
Oct 29 – The Tolmen Centre, Falmouth
Nov 4 – Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek
Nov 5 – The Gaskell Memorial Hall, Silverdale
Nov 17 – The Bodega, Nottingham
Nov 18 – Night & Day Cafe, Manchester
Nov 19 – Tŷ Pawb, Wrexham
Nov 20 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Nov 21 – Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Nov 22 – The Cluny, Newcastle
Dec 2 – Ropetackle Arts Cent re, Shoreham
Dec 3 – The David Hall, South Petherton
Dec 9 – Junction, Cambridge
For further information please visit: www.thetrialsofcato.com