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Sunday 24th September 2023

Bush Hall, London

Welsh Symphonic Prog rockers Karnataka are back on tour promoting their latest studio album ‘Requiem for a Dream’ which was released on 28th July through Immrama Records. The current band lineup features Ian Jones - bass, acoustic guitars, keyboards (1997-present), Luke Machin - guitars (2018-present), Sertari - lead vocals, piano (2018-present), Chris Allan - drums, percussion (2022-present) and Rob Wilsher - keyboards (2023).

Karnataka were formed in 1997 by Ian Jones, Jonathan Edwards (keyboards) and Rachel Jones (vocals) with Paul Davies (electric guitars) and Gavin Griffiths (drums) joining them soon after. Their debut album ‘Karnataka’ was released in 1998 with ‘The Storm’ being released in 2000. At that year’s Classic Rock Society Awards in Rotherham, Karnataka won awards for Best New Band and Best Female Vocalist. The bands breakthrough album would be with their third release ‘Delicate Flame of Desire’ in 2003. This album was the only Karnataka studio album to feature new member, Anne-Marie Helder, on flute and backing vocals. Anne-Marie would not only go on to join Prog-Folk rockers Mostly Autumn but also form her own Prog-Rock band Panic Room in 2008 with Davies, Edwards and Griffiths from the original lineup of Karnataka.

Sadly, Karnataka broke up in 2004 with Ian Jones going on to join forces with songwriter Steve Evans and guitarist Ian Simmons to record under the moniker Chasing The Monsoon. Vocalist Rachel Jones decided to take time out from the music business and returned to college. She subsequently joined Cardiff-based Rock band, The Reasoning, as a vocalist in late 2006. In 2005 Jones announced that Karnataka would continue with a new lineup featuring Lisa Fury on vocals, Gonzalo Carrera on keyboards and Enrico Pinna on guitars. This lineup would release ‘The Gathering Light’ in 2010, which went on to win Best Album at the 2010 Prog Awards.

Following Lisa and Gonzalo’s departure in 2011, new members Hayley Griffiths (vocals), who was previously a lead vocalist with global phenomena Riverdance and Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance, and Cagri Tozluoglu (keyboards) were announced. In 2012 this lineup released a new live album and DVD called ‘New Light’. The next studio album ‘Secrets of Angels’ didn’t appear until 2015. It subsequently went on to win Best Album at the Classic Rock Society Awards. Despite the gathering creative momentum within the band, Ian Jones announced that this lineup had come to an end and that the band would be continuing with a new lineup of musicians.

In 2018 singer-songwriter and vocal coach Sertari was announced as the band’s vocalist. The new lineup was joined by Luke Machin on guitars and Chris Allan on drums. Unfortunately, their ‘New Dawn Rising Tour’ scheduled for 2020 had to be postponed to 2022 following the global Covid pandemic. The tour was well received by critics and long-time fans and with the subsequent success of that tour, the band are now entering an excitingly creative new era with the release of their ambitiously grand new studio album ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and accompanying thirteen date UK tour.

The band’s eighth date of the tour was at the majestic Bush Hall located on the Uxbridge Road in Shepherds Bush, West London. This four hundred capacity venue was built in 1904 and was originally a dance hall. The interior décor is exquisitely eloquent and the perfect setting to witness Karnataka live. This was a show of two halves where the entirety of the new album ‘Requiem for a Dream’ was played, periodically interposed with a few old Karnataka classics for good measure. Kicking off set one was a trio of jubilantly lush songs from the new album including ‘All Around the World’, ‘Look to the East’ and ‘The Night's Dance’. It was quite clear from the off that the band were well rehearsed, focused and up for giving a top-quality performance. Sertari’s vocals danced with graceful eloquence over a mountainous backdrop of ethereal waves of sweeping guitar phrases and keyboard flourishes. Jones and Allan provided a solid backdrop with pulsating deep grooves on which the symphonic melodies intertwined.

Karnataka have a long pedigree of showcasing top-class vocalists and Sertari is no exception. Clearly a natural performer who is very at ease with her role, connecting with the audience and interacting with band members throughout the show. The first delve into the back catalogue came with ‘Road to Cairo’ from the 2015 ‘Secrets of Angels’ album before two tracks ‘Dreamer’ and ‘The Journey’ from the 2000 album ‘The Storm’ greeted us with nostalgic warmth. The last track of set one was the breathtakingly astounding ‘Forgiven’ from the 2023 album ‘Requiem for a Dream’. An emphatically commanding and dynamically intense performance from all. A vivaciously spirited conclusion to the first half!

After a thirty-minute break, set two got under way with the remaining four epic tracks from the new album including ‘Say Goodbye Tomorrow’, ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Don't Forget My Name’ and the twenty-five minute mind-blowingly spectacular masterpiece that is the title track ‘Requiem for a Dream’. A magnificent piece of Progressive Rock composition with many beguilingly interesting twists, turns, moods and emotions. “And though the sun is rising, A darkness grows around us now, The light is fading fast and we know. We have a gift of living, We have a second chance, This is a new beginning, It’s in our hands.” Another powerfully emotive vocal performance from Sertari where she adds beautifully angelic melodic passages that drive home the message of hope over darkness. Without doubt an arrestingly wondrous climax to an incredible set! The band weren’t done yet and so for the final encore we were treated to another step back in time with the dramatically elevating ‘Forsaken’ from the 2010 album ‘The Gathering Light’. A hugely enjoyable and sensationally triumphant gig by a band at the top of their game.

Steven C. Gilbert

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