There isn’t a scarcity of high-profile individuals who have taken a leap into the unknown and adjusted profession, both by way of alternative or necessity. As one half of Groove Armada, musician and DJ Andy Cato has loved 20 years of worldwide success, with world hit singles together with “Superstylin’” and “I See You Child”, together with a record-breaking dwell act. However his life took a really totally different path 9 years in the past when he moved together with his household to Gascony in France and commenced rising a couple of greens. From small-scale cultivation, Cato now farms 100 hectares utilizing methods not like any of his farming neighbours.
The panorama round Cato’s farm is typical of the Gers division of south-west France: rolling hills, peppered with woodland and hedgerow, and mile after mile of arable crops. The local weather is benign sufficient to be conducive to farming, however will not be with out extremes. The snow-capped Pyrenees are clearly seen on the horizon and winter temperatures typically fall under zero (-17C has been recorded), whereas infinite sizzling summer time days flip bodily work into toil. Set on a hilltop punctuated with the darkish inexperienced pencil types of Italian cypresses is the principle farmhouse which the household now name house.
Cato, 43, was born in Barnsley within the outdated industrial and coal mining heartland of South Yorkshire, northern England. His musical journey began early, taking part in blues on the piano “as quickly as I used to be sufficiently big to take a seat on the stool”. His father was a eager newbie jazz musician and Cato took up the household custom of trombone taking part in. “I used to be too small to play it, so my dad rigged up a system of ropes and pulleys to allow me to deal with the trombone,” says Cato. “He ought to have patented it”.
By his teenagers he was taking part in golf equipment in Leeds utilizing borrowed tools. “A buddy’s dad owned a snooker membership with a load of musical equipment within the basement, however didn’t actually know the best way to use it.”
Armed with tapes, a synthesiser and a willingness to embrace the rising DIY music scene, he toured the sweaty underground home music golf equipment of the north. “The tapes can be performed by way of the PA, and I’d improvise a dwell piano half excessive”.
An inspirational historical past trainer at Cato’s faculty ensured that schooling wasn’t subsumed by musical enterprises. “We talked about the potential for me studying historical past at Oxford, and he determined he was going to verify it occurred for me”. At Oxford he was a youthful modern of former UK chancellor George Osborne, and Cato — “the bloke from the north with the nice report assortment” — gigged at occasions attended by a number of future politicians. “I’ve seen varied members of the federal government in additional ‘relaxed’ clothes,” he provides.
At Oxford he additionally met his future spouse, Jo Dunn, whereas she was handing out leaflets for a rival membership evening. It was she who launched Cato to his future musical companion, Tom Findlay, with whom he based Groove Armada in 1996.
By then, Cato was residing hand to mouth in a flat in Brixton, south London, however managed — to his amazement — to get a financial institution mortgage to purchase a sampler. Armed with this and varied different devices, Cato and Findlay headed to the English Lake District. Surviving on a weight loss program of potato waffles and Theakston beer, they “knocked out some tunes”, together with “On the River”, that includes Cato’s languid trombone taking part in. The observe went on to be a worldwide hit and a staple of “chill-out” compilations. Extra hits adopted, whereas Groove Armada’s dwell act earned a repute as some of the thrilling on the circuit and a then record-breaking six-night sellout run at Brixton Academy.
Cato’s peripatetic way of life meant time spent residing on a ship and a protracted sojourn in Barcelona, earlier than he and Dunn lastly purchased their first home in Gascony. Having by no means beforehand sown a seed, he reinstated a vegetable backyard on the property “as a result of all of the neighbours had one”. And which will have been that, however for an article on “Large Meals” that Cato stumbled throughout in 2009. “It described how we produce our meals as we speak — chemical-based company farming. I couldn’t consider it wasn’t on each entrance web page.”
The acquisition of the 100-hectare farm in 2013 got here on account of Cato desirous to “stroll the stroll in addition to speak the speak”. The land, full with the farmhouse and varied barns, had been conventionally farmed for 4 generations. To begin with he did “all the things incorrect — each activity appeared to contain being a mechanic, and the tsunami of knowledge was completely overwhelming”. Initially he adopted standard natural farming, however discovered that he was nonetheless “waging warfare on weeds; I’d simply changed chemical weed management with numerous driving up and down finishing up mechanical weeding”.
As an alternative, Cato has adopted strategies that use minimal inputs equivalent to rising totally different crops collectively and utilizing older, heritage styles of crops.
The day-to-day accountability of the farm and the necessity to dwell near his livestock resulted final summer time in Cato, Dunn and their two youngsters transferring to the outdated farmhouse from their earlier house, a couple of miles down the street. Constructing work is constant, and elegantly easy touches are already being launched. Partitions have been whitewashed and the plank flooring polished to a excessive sheen. Mid-century fashionable and artwork deco furnishings contrasts with extra conventional items, alongside years of accrued art work.
The kitchen — which is being up to date with a modern wood-burning range — may be very a lot the guts of the house, not least as a result of a lot of what’s ready and eaten there was grown on the farm.
Cato isn’t any dilettante; having spent years researching his topic he’s effectively conscious of the potential shortcomings and degree of experimentation. “The yields are round 50 to 60 per cent of a standard farm however it needs to be considered over time,” he says. “Chemical farming would possibly produce a excessive quantity of empty energy for a few generations. Throughout Asia, native varieties and good husbandry produced actual meals from the identical fields for four,000 years.”
His experimentation has led him to what could possibly be thought-about the final word rejection of recent farming: eschewing the combustion engine in favour of actual horsepower. Equipment has made approach for 4 Percheron horses, with one other two on the way in which. He did his analysis first, spending time residing with an Amish household in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There he witnessed horse-driven farming in motion, and the collective mentality of the group, who handle high-performing farms that usually high financial efficiency tables.
There aren’t any framed gold discs or paraphernalia from Cato’s musical previous round the home, except for a much-used upright piano. However though Cato is now a full-time farmer, he nonetheless finds time to DJ, with occasional gigs within the UK and Ibiza and common DIY releases.
Matthew Wilson is a backyard and panorama designer and horticultural guide
Images: Arno Brignon/Signatures