The Trials Of Cato slipped into Britain from Lebanon with a stunningly good EP and followed that up with a much-praised debut album. Then the world went pants and live music was shelved but I did manage to hear them on stage before Will Addison left and Polly Bolton joined Robin Jones and Tomos Williams bringing mandolin, bouzouki and banjo to the line-up. Gog Magog is their much-anticipated second album.
I always liked The Trials Of Cato when they were a bit off the wall and the current line-up gives them plenty of scope for experimentation. The opening track, ‘Paper Planes’, leads off with Jones’ banjo and Bolton’s mandolin – sounding as much like exotic percussion as stringed instruments – before giving way to Bolton’s vocals. This is followed by guitar and banjo led instrumental title track.
‘Ring Of Roses’ is based on the nursery rhyme and its connection with the plague – or is that a rural legend? The simple chorus contrasts with the mysterious verses and the darkness of the narrative contrasts with the jolly banjo interjections. ‘Aberdaron’ is an old Welsh poem, signifying the band’s heritage. It’s a pretty song and its tune reminds me of something that I can’t quite recognise. It will come to me. It dissolves into a traditional-sounding tune which leads into a funky instrumental, ‘Kerhonkson Stomp’. Kerhonkson is a hamlet in New York state in case you were wondering. I was.
We’re back to darkness and mystery again with ‘When Black Shuck Roams’ based on an East Anglian legend of a huge black dog known to hang around churchyards and thought by some to be an omen of death. This is the interpretation that the band put on the story. Still in East Anglian history we have ‘Boudicca c. AD 60’, her story told by one of her soldiers or followers and sung, appropriately, by Bolton.
Another instrumental, ‘Dawns’, leads into ‘I Thought You Were My Friend’. I have a theory about the meaning of this song but I’m keeping it to myself for the moment.
The only traditional song, which of course is only half traditional, is ‘Bedlam Boys’ and Robin credits Steeleye Span for allowing them to sample a short section of their version for the intro. ‘Balls To The Wall’ is an instrumental with a middle-eastern flavour which has mandolin, banjo and guitar battling for supremacy and finally Jones sings the mysterious ‘Green As You’.
Be prepared to be bewildered at your first hearing of Gog Magog. I picked out a few things but by and large I let it flow over me. Next time round I think I got some of it. The instrumental dexterity is exceptional and the mood of Gog Magog seems very appropriate as winter sets in. Shiver in delight.
Artist’s website: https://www.thetrialsofcato.com/
‘Ring Of Roses’ – officially live: