Karnataka, Thursday 28th November 2002
Mean Fiddler, London, UK

By Charlie Farrell


The UK's 'Classic Rock Festival' gets underway

This gig was one of the annex events associated with the inaugral 'Classic Rock Festival UK', although one does have to wonder at the wisdom of putting on two smaller acts in this medium sized venue while Prog legends Caravan and Focus played in the larger Astoria venue upstairs. The Mean Fiddler was therefore less well populated than one might have hoped and only 200 to 300 fans were present for this performance.

With Karnataka's new album Delicate Flame of Desire due for release in early 2003, it was no surprise that their set contained many tunes from this album, commencing with the opening overture Karnataka. A short, largely instrumental tune, it acts as a perfect introduction to the band's set, allowing the band members to join in one by one as they each take up their positions, on the stage. It is a neat resume of the band's sound and sets the scene nicely for Time Standing Still, which it preceeds on the new album. It is a strong tune which features lovely vocals from the Rachel Jones and Anne-Marie Helder aswell as great touches of guitar from Paul Davies.

In fact it is a while since I last caught the band performing live and this was the first occasion I'd had to see the band with Anne-Marie Helder as a full-time member. I was most impressed from the start and her presence means that the band can now reproduce on stage some of the wonderful vocal harmonies from their albums. The two ladies clearly revel in their front roles and are excellent foils for each other, both vocally and visually. While previously some had criticised the band for being rather static on stage I don't think that this true any more as the two girls proved during Dreamer and Delicate Flame of Desire.

Rachel Jones then chatted briefly with the audience, explaining that the band's mascot had gone missing and appealed for news or evidence which might help the band track it down and catch the thieves (suspected to be members of the road crew for Asia or Uriah Heep). She then introduced I should have known for which husband Ian Jones switches from bass to acoustic guitar. A quiet, pastoral number it is enlivened by a soaring chorus and a concise melodic guitar solo from Paul Davies.

After explaining that the band's 3rd album was available from the merchandise stand, even though the official release is not until January 2003, the band moved into another extract, in the form of After The Rain. A new song to me, the most striking thing about it was just how powerful Anne-Marie's vocals were. As the lyrics themselves say, it "Feels So Right".

The band then moved on with The Right Time, another of the new songs which have been extensively road-tested over the last 12 months or so. It is a tune which builds in intensity as a series of delicate touches of flute, guitar, keyboards or vocals are introduced, culminating in lovely solos on guitar and then on keyboard. In fact the keyboards then introduce Tell Me Why, the second of the band's older numbers to feature this evening and one which is very popular with the fans, judging from the loud cheers which greeting the opening bars.

Strange Behaviour is yet another gem from the new disk and one which has received plenty of live performances already. The crowd are therefore quite familiar with it and the band perform a lively version, with Rachel Jones being particularly animated. Ian Jones then exchanges his bass for acoustic guitar once again for The Journey, another old tune, but one which receives a facelift as both girls and guitarist Paul Davis add some neat vocal harmonies, while Paul also delivers a fine guitar solo, with his usual panache.

All that is left is for the band to bring their set to a close with 'Heart of Stone'. Originally a very long and most progressive tune entitled '7/8' (guess why), the tune has developed and has been trimmed down to a mere 7 minutes or so in length, after numerous renditions on the road and work in the studio. Once again the vocal melodies, guitar and keyboards stand out and the epic nature of the tune, makes it a perfect set closer.

After a 75 minute set there is no time for any encores but the crowd are contented and most stuck around for the set by the John Lawton Band which followed. Mention should also be made of the important contributions to the band's sound, made by drummer Gavin John Griffiths and Jonathan Edwards on keyboards who is also responsible for the lovely Celtic samples which infuse the band's sound. It seems a long time since the release of the band's second album The Storm, but the work which the band have done in the writing and road-testing of the new material certainly shows in the quality of the songs.

The addition of a 2nd vocalist in the form of Anne-Marie Helder has been a masterstroke and the group have taken on a new dimension. Overall it was a very good gig and it certainly re-freshed my desire to see the band play live again. The combination of some fantastic new tunes and a livelier stage show should definitely win the band some new fans.

Setlist:

Karnataka
Time Standing Still
Dreamer
Delicate Flame Of Desire
I should have Known
After The Rain
The Right Time
Tell Me Why
Strange Behaviour
The Journey
Heart Of Stone

 

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