Reviews 2017

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

The Trials of Cato

John Hoare 24 November 2017

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First, the standard bit … The Trials of Cato comprise, from left to right on the night, Will Addison (vocals, Irish bouzouki, tenor banjo, bodhran and ‘foot percussion’), Robin Jones (vocals, mandolin and tenor banjo) and Tomos Williams (vocals and guitar). Will hails from Yorkshire, whilst both Robin and Tomos are from the Wrexham area of Wales. The group came together as recently as the summer of 2015, while all three were teaching English in Beirut; apparently, there is a healthy acoustic music scene there – many of us were surprised to hear that ANYTHING is healthy there! Perhaps the news bulletins don’t tell the whole story.

The Trials of Cato perform a mix of original and traditional material. Now to the ‘meat’ of the review … It surprisingly transpired during the evening that The Trials of Cato’s first experience of folk festivals was The Wirral, earlier this year. That immediately explained something that had puzzled me and the other travelling Woodmanites present in the bar at The Wirral when they performed – we wondered, “Why only the bar?”. To Debby and Derry folk festivals are, in part, scouting missions. When they asked what we thought, the immediate consensus was, “Book them”! So, they did. History will almost certainly record that this was a bit of a coup. The Trials of Cato will go on to be very big in the folk world, and we got them early on! Well done Derry and Debby.

I have a slightly odd theory that you can tell a lot about an act from the way they set up. The Trials of Cato have further reinforced that theory. Their sound check was painstakingly thorough, and reflected the precision with which these guys would perform. Throughout their set, there was not a string on any instrument that wasn’t in perfect harmony, and they play quite a lot of instruments! They are instrumentally and vocally perfectly balanced and very together. Whilst their manner on stage is easy and relaxed, this band has definitely put in the hard miles in terms of rehearsals.

So, what’s the aim of a review? Are you looking for a set list? I have one, but suffice it to say they provided a varied mix of original material and traditional, plenty of tunes and some excellent songs, including one sung in Welsh. Heads were bobbing and feet tapping throughout. Clapping in time had broken out by the time we got to a well-deserved encore!

Want to know what they said between songs? Sorry, no spoiler alerts here! The chat was easy, though I will say they feel one of their weaknesses is that they struggle to think of titles for their tunes. This point was well illustrated by the introduction of the encore tunes … “The E set / well actually it’s the D set on capo 2”. With a CD due out next spring, there may be naming opportunities up for grabs – the chance to say, “That’s one of mine” when it comes out, perhaps?

Want to know if they’re worth going to see? I will just say this … if you weren’t there, go and see The Trials of Cato as soon as you get the chance. All three are accomplished musicians. It’s easy to major on lead instruments when you hear mandolin, bouzouki and banjo played as crisply as Robin and Will manage it; however, do take the time to look at the fretboard acrobatics of Tomos while he provides the driving guitar rhythm. Incidentally, on the subject of details, Will’s feet are worth watching!

The evening had opened with Dick Woodhouse doing what he does best – making us laugh. Closer than ever to the original sound, on his crisp sounding new classical guitar, he gave us a couple of Jake Thackray songs – ‘Grandad’ and the ‘The Blacksmith and the Toffee maker’.

John Hoare followed with Ralph McTell’s ‘Peppers and Tomatoes’, and Anthony John Clarke’s ‘The Broken Years’, the latter providing the large audience with the chance to warm up its vocal chords.

As usual, Bryn Phillips was MC for the evening, and he opened the second half with a couple of fishing related songs. When the club sits on a canal, you don’t need a reason to do fishing related songs, do you? The first was a bitter-sweet song called "Breakdown" and the second of his songs, ‘Better Never to Kiss a Fish’, was a hilarious and newly-penned offering based on the recent story of a fisherman who nearly died after swallowing a fish, yes you guessed it, that he was kissing!

Well done again Debby and Derry – another of those ‘special’ nights at The Woodman.