Karnataka Live Review - Cardiff, The Globe

Karnataka's home-country gig.

Live audience at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Do musicians get that Sunday feeling too? That creeping sense of dread that sets in somewhere between Songs Of Praise and Downton Abbey and seems to say, ‘Hey, the weekend’s over and Monday’s on the way – sober up!’ Well, if Karnataka’s glamorous frontwoman Hayley Griffiths gets it, she certainly doesn’t let it show tonight.

Riding high on the critical acclaim for their excellent symphonic prog opus Secrets Of Angels, the five-piece land in Cardiff for the second night of the album’s namesake tour, with further dates taking place well into 2016. It may be cold outside, there may only be 60 people in – 55 highly attentive middle-aged men, four tolerant wives and Prog – but all credit to Griffiths for lighting up a sparse room and a decidedly undramatic stage. (Not so much as a band banner, for shame.)

The audience banter’s not there yet, but her commitment certainly is, and from the opening bars of Road To Cairo it’s clear she’s in the zone: she’s going to shimmy, throw shapes, change frocks and cosy up to her soloing bandmates like this grungey club’s the Albert bloody Hall.

From her wonderful operatics (notably during Because Of You and the superbly performed The Serpent And The Sea) and rock chick chutzpah (in promising work-in-progress Twist Of Fate), Griffiths is a rising star, and clearly an alluring one too. One costume change involves a slightly shorter skirt, and the 60-something gent on a stool in front of Prog almost falls off it, recovers, then starts taking photos.

With trademark bandana screwed down over his head, founder member and Swansea boy Ian Jones diligently works
his bass in a stately, if rather muted fashion. Meanwhile, hirsute keyboard player Cagri Tozluoglu, in whose hands rests so much of Karnataka’s live musical texture, does the job and looks the part but rarely troubles the charisma-o-meter.

Fortunately, resident wildman Jimmy Pallagrosi adds excitement with some literally stand-up drumming, notably on Dreamer from The Storm, and guitarist Enrico Pinna (who got the bandana memo) adds depth with some dulcet backing vocals, and he also earns warm applause for his elegant slide work in Moment In Time and an extended widdly solo on Forsaken.

That last named, engaging piece from The Gathering Light is only surpassed by the 20-minute title track to Secrets Of Angels, which closes the set and receives a disproportionately loud Welsh reception from we few, we happy few.
There are wrinkles, both technical (the drum-heavy house mix smothers all but the most extreme dynamics) and artistic (a 20-minute interval – really?). But such is the quality of Karnataka’s catalogue – its Celtic leanings and instrumental nuance – only a stageshow of Trans-Siberian Orchestral dimensions would truly do it justice. Their budget may not stretch that far, but they’d deserve it, and that’s a Sunday feeling worth having.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.