"After the initial split I thought it was finished... time has proved me wrong." How Karnataka returned with The Gathering Light

(Image credit: Press)

When Karnataka's celebrated early line-up splintered acrimoniously in 2004 many thought the band were over. But they returned in 2010 with a new line-up and, according to founding member and bassist Ian Jones, better than ever with new album The Gathering Light.

“I’ve always felt I had a lot more Karnataka music in me,” co-founding bassist Ian Jones frankly explains of the band’s resurrection. “Even though after the initial split I thought it was finished... time has proved me wrong.”

His admission, in the wake of the outfit’s long-awaited new album The Gathering Light, provides the answer as to why he decided to bring the five-piece back to life albeit with a completely different line-up. Despite criticism over retaining the name, including some from his ex-bandmates, he’d kept his silence until now, concerned things could have erupted into a slanging match. Yet Ian firmly maintains this latest opus speaks far louder than he could have and refutes any suggestion that his decision was one of finance. In his opinion, the music he’s making now is exactly what would have happened had things continued the way they were.


(Image credit: Voiceprint Records)

Formed in 1997, Karnataka released just three albums and were destined for great things before they unexpectedly split in 2004, citing “personal reasons” as the cause. Former frontwoman Rachel Cohen (then Jones) now sings with The Reasoning, while Jonathan Edwards, Anne-Marie Helder, Gavin Griffiths and Paul Davies have branched out in a more alternative rock direction with Panic Room. Ian turned his attention towards a new project called Chasing The Monsoon, but it was that which eventually brought him in a complete circle. “I met Gonzalo Carrera by chance,” he recalls of the one-time Landmarq keyboard player who’s also worked with former Jethro Tull members Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker, not to mention ex-Hawkwind guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton. “I fancied doing something more rhythmic and we just clicked, but as we started writing it became clear that some of the music was more suited to Karnataka. It was the direction we were naturally heading in before we split.

“I suppose a lot of people assumed I was only the bassist and didn’t realise how involved I actually was with the writing. In a way, my role was almost like that of a conductor and I suppose when you consider that, it makes perfect sense that Karnataka could continue beyond the original line-up.”

He found a kindred spirit in vocalist and co-writer Lisa Fury, who was discovered via an ad in Prog’s parent publication Classic Rock. “We’re both fans of All About Eve,” he explains, “and Lisa’s had a lot of comparisons to [vocalist] Julianne Regan. It’s fitting when you consider Karnataka always were more of a songwriting band than a prog one. That said I’m heavily influenced by bands such as Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, so that progressive sound was always bound to creep into the music, and Peter Gabriel has always inspired me.”

Like some kind of a musical jigsaw, the pieces have gradually slotted into place revealing a bigger image. And it’s one that holds more promise and excitement than Ian could have possibly imagined. “We had previous line-ups but they didn’t work,” he reveals. “I mean, it would have been easy to have just played the old material, but it was important I found people who understood where I wanted to take the band musically.” Guitarist Enrico Pinna and drummer Ian Harris complete the picture this time round.

As if finding the right personnel wasn’t hard enough, developing the Karnataka MK II sound should surely have been an even bigger challenge not just in musical terms but also insofar as not alienating existing fans. “Five or six years have passed since the last CD and all the new influences we’ve been absorbing have obviously been rubbing off,” Ian explains. “That said, I think it’s the strongest album we’ve released under this name and it’s also a natural progression.” This progression has involved adding a fresh fusion of jazz and rhythm to the melting pot while ensuring the original Karnataka trademarks are all still in place, including their Celtic influences, which are slightly toned down.

Now relocated from Swansea to London to be closer to his bandmates, the bassist has found the move has also put him in a far better geographic location for major gigs. Yet the band’s Welsh ties haven’t been completely severed as The Gathering Light features photography from the breath-taking Brecon Beacons, enhanced with some psychedelic “light graffiti” by artist Michael Bosanko.

While Karnataka’s canvas might not be completely blank, a lengthy absence and a line-up change have brought with them the chance to experiment a little. Plans are already underway for a very special edition of The Gathering Light. “We’re aiming to do a surround-sound release,” Ian reveals. “I also quite like the idea of a remix album too, just to hear how others interpret our music.”


(Image credit: Press)

It goes without saying that there will still be those who compare the new Karnataka with the original line-up of yesteryear, although Ian hopes those comparisons will be favourable. “Musically, Panic Room and The Reasoning have gone in such different directions,” he suggests, “but I have to admit, if the opportunity came up to work with any of the ex-members I wouldn’t turn it down. I still keep in touch with Jonathan [Edwards].” 

Now the flame has been relit, Karnataka’s diary is rapidly filling up with gigs right up until the autumn, when they hope to head out to the Continent. “We’re touring as much as he can,” the bassist emphasises, “and at the end of the day, this is the new Karnataka.” 

Natasha Scharf
Deputy Editor, Prog

Contributing to Prog since the very first issue, writer and broadcaster Natasha Scharf was the magazine’s News Editor before she took up her current role of Deputy Editor, and has interviewed some of the best-known acts in the progressive music world from ELP, Yes and Marillion to Nightwish, Dream Theater and TesseracT. Starting young, she set up her first music fanzine in the late 80s and became a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines over the next decade. The 00s would see her running the dark music magazine, Meltdown, as well as contributing to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer and Artrocker. Author of music subculture books The Art Of Gothic and Worldwide Gothic, she’s since written album sleeve notes for Cherry Red, and also co-wrote Tarja Turunen’s memoirs, Singing In My Blood. Beyond the written word, Natasha has spent several decades as a club DJ, spinning tunes at aftershow parties for Metallica, Motörhead and Nine Inch Nails. She’s currently the only member of the Prog team to have appeared on the magazine’s cover.