Image © 2000 Karnataka
click on image for full size version, again for artists' website
We made the transatlantic journey from upstate New York (USA) to South Yorkshire (UK) for the show. With our views supported by equally enthusiastic audience reaction we can confidently state that a live Karnataka performance is worth such a journey. You can find additional information describing the band's sound, comparisons to other groups, links to soundbites and further insights from band members at Musical Discoveries' first Karnataka feature. The band frequently perform live; a full tour schedule is available at the band's website.
Earlier this year, we met Ian (bass and acoustic guitar) and Rachel Jones (vocals and percussion) and spent the best part of a day learning about the origins of the band, their songwriting and musical influences. Ian is a natural leader; his open, friendly and infectious communication style is an essential ingredient in the band's success. Rachel is a lovely and warm young woman who is more tentative when making new acquaintences—especially outside the concert hall venue.
We discussed the group's forthcoming headline gig for the CRS in Rotherham. Ian said, "We're a lot more rocky live than on the albums. The sound is a lot different." Couple the preconceptions drawn from the above with the lush sound of the group's studio recordings; then imagine a live performance where vocal layers are replaced by the rocking rawness of freshly played onstage sound. As we parted ways from our first encounter with Ian and Rachel, our excitement grew as the vision of Karnataka live formed in our mind's eye. Based on this input and really nothing more, the planning process began and as July approached we found ourselves returning to England, this time to see Karnataka perform live.
Karnataka (pronounced Kar-nat-i-ka) have now performed three times for the Classic Rock Society. Their two previous engagements were supporting Regenesis on 12 June 1999 (review by Paul Allwood) and Jump on 16 October 1999 (review by Martin Hudson) respectively, leading the group being selected runner up as best new band and Rachel Jones as runner up in the best female vocalist category by the Society in 1999. The band's performance on Saturday night was their first as a CRS headline act and they were supported by the progressive rock group Fula. We spoke with Classic Rock Society officials and the band in the margins surrounding their performance.
Martin Hudson, Classic Rock Society President, told us, "I started all of this in 1991, and we must be doing something right because people keep coming to the shows." He continued, "We like working with bands like Fula and Karnataka that have a lot of potential but aren't yet well known. Karnataka have it all." We talked about Karnataka and the growing enthusiasm over their new album as well as the voting process for the Society's annual awards. He told us, "It's up to the society members, really. Last year they voted Heather Findlay best female vocalist. Although she doesn't sing a lot of Mostly Autumn's songs, the audience must like what she's doing." We discussed Iona and Martin added, "Yeah, Joanne Hogg won a couple of times and so did Tracy Hitchings." When asked about Rachel's vocal work, he agreed with us that she is certainly a strong candidate for this year's award. He said, "We'll have to see what the Society members think!" If the audience reaction to the band's live performance is an indicator, awards this year are clearly in the cards.
Our readers will find reviews of Iona's albums (Woven Cord, Open Sky), Joanne Hogg's solo album (Looking Into Light ) and an Iona live performance (review), a feature article on Tracy Hitchings and a review of her live performance with Landmarq all within the Musical Discoveries webspace.
Both Jenny Allen and Terry Craven agreed with our reaction to the band's recordings and live performance. Jenny is responsible for CRS gig arrangements. She gushed over Karnataka's live performance after the show and reflected on their prior CRS shows. She told us, "I'm going to see them open for Fairport Convention at the Pontardawe [Wales] Festival on 18 August . I don't want to miss it." Jenny was one of a good number that either mouthed the words or sang along with Rachel during the Rotherham performance.
Jenny's husband (Tony) was equally impressed with the band and nodded his head profusely while his wife praised the band. He nudged Paul about his guitar playing. "Everytime I think you're going to go for it, you stop short; hey, just play on and go for it!," he said. With a big smile, Paul acknowledged that he had gone for it yet he maintained the balance of sound the rest of the band was aiming for. Several of the instrumental bridges include vast guitar excursions that demonstrated Paul's virtuosity with the electric guitar.
Terry Craven talked to us about CRS and wanted to be sure we fully understood the mission of the society. "We'd be very interested in your review of this gig. You've got our e-mail address; please send it along." Impressed with the band's performance as well, he said, "These guys are really good. We've got to get the word out."
The Herringthorpe Leisure Centre in Rotherham has long been the venue of choice for CRS gigs. The hall is actually a brick-lined gymnasium; a good size stage is set up at one end for the shows. A relatively new black cloth backdrop with a white CRS logo covers the brick behind the stage and in addition to reducing acoustic reflection, it provided a suitable platform for Karnataka's banner. Classic Rock Society attendance for Regenesis was 60-70 people and Martin Hudson confirmed that a larger crowd, approaching almost 100, attended on Saturday night. CRS gigs at Herringthorpe don't typically offer seating other than on the floor; the majority of the audience stand for CRS performances. An adjacent bar was especially appreciated by many on this hot July evening.
The acoustics of the room are actually very nice for the standing audience. Those that chose to sit on the floor would have noticed a boomier sound. The brick face and room size work together to produce interesting effects without electronics. During soundcheck, we were tenative about how well the live sound would be delivered; once there was an audience in the room, it worked quite well. Karnataka's professional sound man, Duncan Wild, did a great job with the mix for both support and headline performances. Now residing in Swansea but with relations near Rotherham, he rehearsed with the band to learn their sound and joined the entourage in the buildup to Saturday's show.
Karnataka are ordinarily a five-piece band comprised of Ian (bass and acoustic guitar), Rachel (vocals and percussion), Jonathan Edwards (keyboards), Paul Davies (guitars) and Gavin John Griffiths (drums). They were joined by guests Steve Simmons (saxophones) and Dean Llewellyn (trumpet) for the Rotherham gig. We met the band members and guest performers the afternoon before the show.
Jonathan has been playing keyboards for years. He told us, "I really admire Keith Emerson. It's his music that convinced me to take up the keyboard originally." We talked about the recent NEARfest and discussed Transatlantic's performance. He said, "I have heard their album and there are bits of everyone's prog in there. I even heard parts fromRelayer in it." He continued, "I also like Rick Wakeman but find a lot of his stuff the same." We talked about early Genesis, Renaissance and Triumvirat, and reminisced about progressive rock from the late 1970s. Jonathan also talked about his exposure to Miriam Stockley, "I have a ten-year old daughter and she watches a Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit series on the TV. We love that song 'Perfect Day'".
Gavin plays drums both for Karnataka and a local blues group which keeps him very busy. He and his wife Jacqui are Welsh natives and speak with a lovely lilt. Gavin also speaks the language and we may have caught several phrases during dinner with the group the evening prior to their performance.
Paul is a consummate musician and keen guitar player. Earlier in the week he had been to see Joe Satriani who he idolises. He told us, "I traveled to New York in 1991 to see him and visit his website often." We asked Paul about what else he's involved with and he told us, "I'm into working out, lots of music and I like to surf the web at the weekend when we're not performing. I went to London last week to see Satriani and talked to him and Brian May afterwards. We didn't get back to Swansea until 4:00AM the next morning!" Paul was thankful that the band would be staying in Rotherham after their gig.
We thoroughly enjoyed meeting Steve and Dean. Steve is making a career of saxophone session work whilst Dean does trumpet session work when he can, but he pays the bills through other means. Steve told us, "I love working with Karnataka because they put so much into it; it always comes out great. And it's great when we can come along to a gig with them. I think they are going to do really well. They deserve it!"
Dean told us, "I come along when I'm able to. If there's something else that I've been booked to do and I can't go, I don't. We have good fun at this and they are such a great band, aren't they?" Dean has a different accent than the others so asked him where he was from and he told us, "Wales initially, but I lived in London for a while and now I'm back." Steve and Dean have a 16-track sampler CD they are using to raise interest in their work as "Circuit Horns."
The CRS have arrangements with the Herringthorpe Leisure Centre, companies that hire PA equipment and also lighting companies. The actual booking of the PA and lighting is left up to the band to take care of. The PA arrived on time and produced wonderful clean sound. Despite booking and double-checking the booking of the lighting, the recommended vendor didn't show up on time and when finally reached was apologetic for not being able to deliver on the night. Ian was very persistent and worked with CRS officials and the CRS sound engineer to develop a suitable alternative. At the 11th hour, Dave, a local friend of CRS pulled a rig together and saved the day!
By 7:45PM the venue was buzzing with excited music enthusiasts who had come to hear Fula and Karnataka. The CRS was doing good business with advanced ticket and CD sales; both bands' tables were frequented by people keen to buy their albums and Karnataka's newly produced t-shirts which made their debut at the Rotherham gig. Loreena McKennitt'sThe Mask and Mirror album was being played as the walking in music. Fula were introduced at about 8:30PM by Martin Hudson.
Fula's set was well played and exhibited a range of different music styles. The more robust tracks generated a warm response from the audience. Their new vocalist Josie is only 17 years old and has been with the band since February. For her third gig, she did a good job but we found her voice a bit thin given the band's relatively heavy instrumental arrangements. Two of the lighter ballads allowed her to shine through. Their songs were introduced by Rob Gould, the band's leader and keyboard player, instead of the vocalist. The band received significant applause at the end of their set and returned to play an encore. The track was a portion of a new epic piece being prepared for a future album and with a much more symphonic texture, was the highlight of their show for us. Complimentary to Karnataka's sound, the two groups worked well together. In time Fula's new lineup will likely attract a strong and loyal following.
Karnataka took the stage at 9:30 PM with a warm and reflective introduction by Martin Hudson. He asked the enthusiastic audience to make a lot of noise between the tracks reminding them the entire show was being recorded. There are plans for either a live album or a compilation of live tracks from CRS gigs, however, details have not yet been finalised.
An atmospheric intro from "Heaven Can Wait" was used as the band came on stage. The opening number was "Crazy" from their debut album, a dynamic piece that opens in full rocking splendour. Rachel's sensuously soaring vocal melody was perfectly complimented by the band's instrumental arrnagement, including contributions from their brass section. It was evident from the outset that Karnataka's live performance would go far beyond our preconceived notions. While every one of the band members played extremely well and rocked with their wonderful music, Rachel took on an incredible on-stage persona that added another positive—and unexpected—dimension to the group. The visual experience is astounding and must be seen to be adequately appreciated.
Rachel's on-stage performance is a significant personal transformation. She is entirely captivating, mesmerising, and animated—developing drama with facial expressions as well as hand and arm motions, while her body and long dark brown hair evocatively flow with the music, swaying, dancing or leaning into the audience to reflect the emotions behind the lyrics being sung. She systematically moves back and forth on the stage effectively establishing contact with the entire audience during the performance without ever overcooking it.
We asked Rachel about her on-stage transformation afterwards. She smiled and remarked, "Did you like it? Yes, it is quite a change; when I go on stage I leave the other Rachel behind!" Although a comparison to Andrea Corr's (March 1998 review, June 1998 review) stage craft can be made, Rachel is even more dynamic on stage and with more power and a broader range, she is vocally superiour.
Ian told us, "The transformation in Rach when she gets on stage as you say is quite amazing - I'm amazed myself! I could not do what she does in a million years!" With such a dramatic performance, a broader exposure to the group's stage craft is deserved. Ian told us that the band made a professional one-track video that was aired on Channel 4 in the UK and has been used for promotional purposes since. The band are currently planning another video production to expand their stage performance exposure to a broader audience.
Rachel introduced many of the songs during the spaces between them while instruments were slightly rearranged or tuned. Sincere thanks for the audience's appreciation and brief humourous stories were often included, especially when the brass section returned or left the stage, and contributed to the overall effect. Steve joined the band for a few tracks including "Crazy," "Closer," "Hay," "Until Next Time" and "Shine" whilst Dean complimented Steve's sax on "Hay" and "Shine with trumpet. Ian played acoustic guitar instead of bass on "The Journey" and "I Should Have Known." We were intrigued by the on-stage interaction between the band members. It contributed to their tightness and the obvious electricity from their own excitement with the performance spread into the audience quite effectively as illustrated by the extensive applause following each track.
The performance was excellent in every respect. Several highlights of the main set included "Dreamer," "Heaven Can Wait," "Hay," "The Journey" and "The Woman In Me." "Dreamer" is a lush track from the band's latest album that, when performed live, balanced rhythm guitar, bass and keyboard against Rachel's dynamic vocal part. Paul's guitar riff in the instrumental bridge was especially notable.
"Heaven Can Wait" was performed true to form with only the harmony vocals absent from the live mix. The atmospheric introduction was followed by Jon's lively keyboard part as Rachel's stunning vocals and Ian's robust bass part kicked in. The brass section returned for the band's live performance of "Hay." Crisp percussion joined Jon's delicately played keyboard part as the preceding Rachel's vocals. As their sound built, emotions behind the vocals were displayed and further instrumental work including Paul's guitars, Steve's sax and Dean's trumpet kicked in for the well arranged instrumental bridge.
Rachel explained the long drive from Swansea to Rotherham when introducing "The Journey" and made mention of—dedicating the song to—a certain someone that had made the trip from New York to see their live performance. "The Woman In Me" was dynamically illustrated in Rachel's stage performance and sung wonderfully over the rich instrumental backing. Guitar riffs performed within the track were especially notable.
Despite the loss of vocal layers in the live setting, Rachel sang "Love and Affection" impressively, performing lead and some backing parts from the recording as one cohesive whole. We also especially enjoyed the dramatic performance and vocal accessibility of "Writing On The Wall" as well as the vocal sensitivity and instrumental depth of "The Storm." The band's sound built to the climax of the main set with "Shine." Dynamic instrumental arrangements were joined by Rachel's stunning vocals and on-stage persona as the main set came to a close.
Wild applause from the audience led to the band's three-song encore. The closing track from the band's debut album "Run To You" was played first. The remaining two tracks included a brand new song and a cover before the well over two hour show came to a dramatic conclusion and bow as the group left the stage for the last time.
"Strange Behaviour" is a tremendous new track that has not yet been released. The band have performed it live several times and it works quite well. It is a highly accessible rocking number with a stunning lead vocal part, excellent instrumental arrangements and based on the reaction after it was played, it clearly delighted the audience. One of our favourites from the concert, we very keen to hear it again soon.
The band's final encore was "I Know What I Like," a cover of a classic Genesis tune from their sixth album,Selling England By The Pound. Well received by the audience, with many either singing along, mouthing the words, or just rocking with the music, Rachel introduced each of the band members during an extended instrumental bridge. Ian told us afterwards, "We wanted to do something that the audience wouldn't expect from us; I'm very pleased with the way this turned out and with the audience's response."
Paul told us, "Ian gave me a tape two weeks ago and told me to learn this song. I really like it and based on the reaction we got to it, I'm really glad we did it!"
After the show had concluded the band circulated with many of the audience that remained to thank them for the show, buy their CDs or have them inscribed by the artists. A significant number of very positive comments were received and the band was very pleased with both the turnout and the audience response.
The band received significant acclaim directly from the audience following the show. Others provided almost immediate written comments. One fan wrote, "You were recommended to me by a friend in the Classic Rock Society. He said you were the best new band he had seen in ages and I agree. A refreshing style and a sound of your own—versus Clannad and The Cranberries—seen 'em both and you are better. The best accolade I can pay you is to say that I came a long way to see you and will travel further next time."
Ian and Kael Pilcher (Lincoln, England) wrote, "What a fantastic gig! This was the second time we have been able to see Karnataka; the first time was about nine months ago and we liked what we heard so much that on the strength of that one gig we boughtKarnataka there and when it was released The Storm. Saturday night's performance was even better than the last one we saw: the sound mixing was better done and we were able to hear Rachel's voice and what she was singing; your stage craft was much improved, the group was relaxed and seemed to be enjoying themselves and having the brass section support you led to a great sound becoming a much bigger sound."
Carl Selley (England) wrote, "Enjoyed your set very much. Some of the tunes are just magical! ... I really feel the band has what it takes to break through." We couldn't agree more! And they are; in fact, Bob Harris (BBC Radio Two) played "Heaven Can Wait" during the drive home from the concert as reported by several from the Rotherham gig audience. In the Bob Harris chat page there are several very positive comments about the airplay.
Ray and Steph Owen (England) wrote about the show, "Absolutely brilliant, we can't wait to see you again. Also after many months of trying to get Bob Harris to play a track off your album, what should come blasting over the airways on our way back from Rotherham, none other than "Heaven Can Wait" on Bob's Radio Two Saturday programme. Got a feeling he will now play more off the album in the weeks to come." What super news. They concluded, "You were great."
In concert, the lushness of Karnataka's recordings is replaced by a slightly harder live instrumental sound and vocal layers are replaced by Rachel's incredible on-stage performance. Acoustically excellent in both instrumental and vocal regimes, the live sound is very enjoyable; certainly on an equal level as, albeit with a different texture than, their two albums. The visual element of the band's live performance adds significant dimension to their sound and is incredible. The combination make Karnataka one of the best acts to see live today. Clearly one must hear the group's recordings and attend their live shows to have the full Karnataka experience. Worth a transatlantic journey in all respects, the band are a must see!
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