Certain bands are made for certain venues and while Edinburgh's beautiful old Queen's Hall wasn't exactly packed to its wooden pewed capacity, this grand, ornate hall was simply perfect for the majestic, beautiful soundscapes that Karnataka so specialise in. Taking the stage to a lengthy intro tape made up of passages from the band's albums, the atmosphere was set perfectly, allowing Karnataka to waste no time in setting their stall out as one of the UK's most exhilarating Prog acts.
The set opened with one of the impressive instrumental sections from this newly extended sextet's stunning album The Gathering Light, which quickly morphed into "The Serpent And The Sea" as the band's glamorous new singer Hayley Griffiths joined her band mates. Griffiths isn't alone in being a new member of Karnataka, what with the band's habit of reinventing themselves coming to the fore again soon after The Gathering Light had seen the light of day. Only long-serving bassist Ian Jones and lead guitarist Enrico Pinna have survived from the last Karnataka live experience, with the pair and Griffiths now being joined by keyboard player Cagri Tozluoglu and multi-instrumentalist Colin Mold, with the line-up being completed by drummer Matt McDonough. They may not have been together too long, but that hasn't stopped this six-piece from gelling into a mighty live band and one capable of both cranking it up and being subtly atmospheric.
Considering how well The Gathering Light album has been received, it is no surprise that we get much of it performed tonight, with "Your World" and the majestic "State Of Grace" giving Pinna the opportunity to stretch out and illustrate just how integral his stinging guitar lines now are to the Karnataka sound. The addition of Mold however has been a huge plus for the live approach of this band, with his precise rhythm work laying the foundations from which much of tonight's show is built. His talents don't stop there, with some pinpoint acoustic guitar interludes and his electric violin swathes really bringing to life the Celtic flavours that much of Karnataka's music relies on. Whether he is mimicking flutes on his violin, or adding depth to songs like "Delicate Flame Of Desire", Mold allows the keyboards time and space to expand the scope and vision of the songs, something which Cagri exploits tastefully. Add to that mix drummer Matt McDonough and the level of talent on display is quite mind boggling. His ability to drive songs forward with power and intricacy is quite breath-taking, even if at times his sheer busyness behind the kit can become ever so slightly over whelming - on a personal note I also found his one handed playing while readjusting his own in-ear mix to be equally impressive - and distracting (I only discovered this was what he was doing during a quick chat at the merch stall after the gig, where he and the rest of the band proved to be extremely affable). That said, I'm nit-picking, as Matt's ability to fire out unfeasibly quick fills, tom bursts and hi-hat flurries marks him out as a drummer of the highest standard.
Even if Ian Jones is in essence the heart of all things Karnataka, on stage he is more than willing to allow the immensely talented Pinna to step forward and take centre stage for much of the show. However in truth most eyes were firmly fixed on Hayley, who not only dazzled with her costume changes (my gig-companion just about went into palpitations when she appeared for the show's second "act" in a pink bodice...), but completely convinced with her full rich vocal delivery. It is never an easy task to ask a vocalist to sing someone else's lyrics, however when they are as emotional as they are in "Forsaken" it is a tougher test still and one that Hayley passed with flying colours. This is a young lady with a powerful vocal weapon, but more importantly she knows how to use it, showing restraint where required, but never being afraid to really hammer the words home when the situation arises. Hers wasn't the only costume change of the evening, with Jones marking the band's only Scottish date by donning a kilt for the second half to much cheering and good humoured banter from the enthusiastic Edinburgh crowd about his "sporran being squint"! Substance however always triumphed over style, with "After The Rain", "Lagan Love" (a track from Hayley's new solo album Celtic Rose) and "Heaven Can Wait" proving to be quite captivating. Saving the best for last however the title track from The Gathering Light allowed all six band members on stage to truly shine, with Pinna, Cagri and Mold combining to wonderful effect as Hayley once again prowled the stage quite magnificently.
Karnataka's career so far has contained more than the odd false start, but on the evidence of tonight's show, not only have they recently released the strongest album of their career, but finally they have the line-up to spread their music far and wide. If you haven't so far, then I suggest that it is time you joined them and stepped into Karnataka's gathering light....
(Pictures - Neil Hendry)