In 1997 Ian started a project with Rachel Cohen (née Jones) to record a selection of songs written during their spells with previous bands. No recordings of the tracks existed other than poor quality rehearsal and live recordings and the three track demo recorded by The Big Pink. The initial idea behind the project was simply to create some better quality recordings for posterity – there was no plan to release these tracks commercially or form a band. Rachel Jones also contributed on vocals and as a writing partner.
Ian initially began sequencing the keyboard parts (using a Roland PMA5) and programming drums before collaborating with keyboard players James Law and Phillip Lloyd. He also moved into PC sequencing and recording and as the project continued, Jonathan Edwards was invited to contribute. The trio continued to write and the project and recordings were subsequently augmented by guitarist Paul Davies, Big Pink drummer Gavin Griffiths and saxophonist Steve Simmons.
Photo by Belinda Jones Copyright © 1999
Karnataka – the name!
One of the most asked questions is – where does the band name come from?
As a teenager, in 1979, Ian had read a magazine article written by fisherman/author/broadcaster Paul Boote who had spent six months in India in search of a mythical fish – the Golden Mahseer. Once widespread across the Indian sub-continent’s rivers – decades of pollution, poaching and dam building had destroyed much of the Mahseer’s habitat. No one really knew if the giant fish still existed. Paul Boote spent months traversing India, often suffering from poor health, until he eventually discovered and caught this amazing fish in South India – in Karnataka. The article left a deep impression on Ian but he never imagined he would ever get the opportunity to follow in Paul’s footsteps. A chance meeting in 1994 resulted in Ian being offered the opportunity to join an expedition to the same river in South India in 1995.
Camping in a remote area of the jungle for several weeks, Ian was stung by a scorpion, had snakes slither through his tent, dodged the occasional wild boar bursting out of the undergrowth and came close to be being flattened by a herd of elephants walking past the camp! But it was all worth it, when, on the last day of his stay Ian landed one of the largest Mahseer caught in India that year. The magnificent fish was returned alive to the river.
The river also contained some rather large crocodiles which, Ian pointed out, made the twice daily trip across the river in a wicker coracle rather exciting! Not put off by the scorpions, snakes, crocodiles and elephants Ian returned the following year for another jungle stint!
It was only at the end of the recording process that the decision was taken to formally form a band. Inspired by Ian’s experiences in India, the band was named Karnataka.
There was no initial plan to release the recordings but encouraged by the positive response to the music, the collection of tracks were released in 1998 as the band’s eponymously titled debut album. Initially only available on CDR, the growing demand led to it eventually being pressed on CD.
The release of the album coincided with emergence of the internet which enabled Karnataka to start reaching a global audience. The band would soon be fulfilling orders from an expanding fan base around the world including the US and Japan.
One of the band’s first live performance as Karnataka took place at a talent showcase in Soho, London in 1998 where the band performed a 30-minute set along with five other bands.
The band was encouraged to approach The Classic Rock Society based in Rotherham who gave the debut album a favourable review in the Society’s magazine and it was this review which helped bring the band to the attention of a much wider audience. A support slot with Genesis Tribute band Re-Genesis followed which further enhanced the band’s reputation as a strong live act.
The band continued touring but were now were increasingly performing outside the band’s native town of Swansea. The band supported Buckinghamshire based band Jump at their annual ‘Horses Head Soup’ Festival in June 1999.
The band had continued to write new material and in August 1999 began recording the follow-up to their debut Karnataka. Once again the new album was recorded in Ian’s studio with some help from local producer Gary Bevan. The recording was finished in November 1999. In January 2000 the band spent five days in Rockfield Studios Monmouth where the album was mixed and engineered by Phil Ault in the Coach house studio. Phil had previously worked with a number of artists including The Charlatans, Black Sabbath, 10cc, Julian Cope and Black Grape.
The album was very well received, and brought the band to the attention of a wider press including Classic Rock magazine who featured a track from The Storm (Heaven Can Wait) on its magazine cover CD. Following the band’s first headline concert for the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham in 2000 they were approached by the owner of The Voiceprint Group of Companies, Rob Ayling, with an offer to distribute the band’s albums.
Classic Rock Society Awards
At the 2000 Classic Rock Society Awards in Rotherham Karnataka won awards for Best New Band and Best Female Vocalist reinforcing their status as rising stars in a new wave of female fronted progressive influenced bands.
The Storm was featured as Album Of The Week on BBC Radio Wales 3rd – 7th April 2000.
The album also came to the attention of Radio 2’s Bob Harris who featured a number of tracks from The Storm on his show. This was a major turning point for the band bringing their music to a much wider audience.
“Wonderful stuff …………..” Bob Harris BBC Radio 2
Pontardawe Festival 2000
The band performed on the main stage at the Pontardawe Festival 2000 supporting Fairport Convention.
Porcupine Tree 2001
In 2001 the band’s popularity continued to grow bringing them to the attention of Porcupine Tree’s management. Karnataka were offered a support slot on their 2001 European tour which saw the band playing to their biggest audiences to date at venues including Paradiso in Amsterdam and 013 in Tilburg The Netherlands.
Classic Rock Productions
During the year the band was approached by a new company Classic Rock Productions to film a DVD at the Mean Fiddler (Astoria 2) in London on October 27th 2001.
Three backing singers featured in the performance, Kirsty Roberts, Helen Banham and Anne-Marie Helder.
The resulting DVD ‘Karnataka Live In Concert’ was premiered at Planet Hollywood in London’s West End and featured tracks from the band’s first two albums but also new songs that would subsequently appear on the band’s third album Delicate Flame Of Desire.
Progfarm Festival The Netherlands
On November 3rd 2001, a week after filming their performance at The Mean Fiddler in London, the band travelled to The Netherlands to take part in the Progfarm Festival in De Harmsdobbe, Bakkeveen.
Classic Rock Society Awards 2001
Karnataka won the Gig Of The Year category at the Classic Rock Society’s annual awards in 2001.
The band headlined the Tuesday night at the Monmouth Festival on July 9th 2002 and performed at Pigstock in North Wales on August 9th.
The Canterbury Festival
In 2002 the band performed at The Canterbury Festival Mount Ephraim Gardens, Hernhill, Near Faversham Kent (Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th August 02).
The full line-up featured: The Stranglers,The Damned, Rick Wakeman, Pretty Things, 21st Century Schizoid Band, Fish, Arthur Brown, Caravan, All About Eve, Kevin Ayres, Ozric Tentacles, Mostly Autumn, Man, Karnataka and the Muffin Men.
Rock of The Night Festival
On September 28th the band headlined the second night of their own Rock Of The Night Festival in the magnificent surroundings of Craig Y Nos Castle in the Swansea Valley.
The festival was held over three days from 27th – 29th September 2002 and featured a number of bands including Man who headlined the final night.
Craig Y Nos Castle is a 19th Century Grade 1 listed building was once home to the Italian opera singer Dame Adelina Patti.
Live in the USA
On October 6th 2002 the band made their debut USA performance at The Classic Rock festival 2002 held at the The Patriot Theatre, Trenton in New Jersey. The festival line-up also included Asia, Uriah Heep, Nektar, Focus and Mostly Autumn. The show was filmed for a future DVD release through Classic Rock Productions. The band also performed an acoustic show in Greenwich Village with the band October Project.
In November 2002 the band performed two acoustic sets as special guests of Ray Wilson (Genesis, Stilskin) at The Limelight Crewe on 24th November and Alexander’s Theatre Chester on November 25th.
Delicate Flame Of Desire
The band spent much of 2002 in the studio working on the follow-up to The Storm with Warner Music producer Steve Evans. The band had returned to Rockfield studios in October 2001 to record the drums. Delicate Flame Of Desire was recorded over an 18 month period.
The album was mixed by engineer Joe Gibb who had previously worked with Catatonia, Leftfield, Texas, Janes Addiction, Madonna, Travis, Top Loader, Robbie Williams, The Kinks, Deep Forest and many more.
The album was mastered at Abbey Road and released through Voiceprint on February 10th 2003.
The band were keen to expand their sound and introduce some of the harmonies from the album recordings. Anne-Marie Helder, who had previously provided backing vocals for the band during their DVD recording, was invited to join the band on a permanent basis.
Promotional photo taken at Craig Y Nos Castle near Swansea.
Photo by Chris Walkden © 2003
All About Eve, Robert Plant & Wayne Hussey
The band toured extensively during 2003 performing 50 dates around the UK, including eight dates with All About Eve in April 2003, a support slot with Wayne Hussey and opening for Wishbone Ash at Plymouth Pavillions in October. The band was invited back to perform at The Canterbury Festival in 2003 (22nd-24th August). The line-up featured: The Inspiral Carpets, Shed Seven, Ian McNabb, Adom, Byrne (all Friday), Robert Plant, Roy Harper, Incredible String Band, Deborah Bonham, John Otway Big Band, Theo Travis (all Saturday), Love with Arthur Lee (and the Forever Changes Orchestra), The Buzzcocks, Bob Weir’s Ratdog, Cosmic Rough Riders, The Yards (all Sunday).
The band headlined the opening night of the Southsea Folk & Roots Festival on August 25th.
Live In The USA DVD Sept 2003
Live In The USA was released on September 8th 2003 through Classic Rock Productions.
Art-Rock Bahia De Cadiz Festival 2003
Karnataka headlined the ART-ROCK BAHÍA DE CADIZ FESTIVAL 2003, Spain on September 20th.
Classic Rock Society Awards 2003
In December 2003 the band won the Best Female Vocalist, Best Band and Best Album categories at the annual Classic Rock Society Awards.
In March 2004 the band were special guests of Status Quo at two shows – The Waterfront Belfast March 6th and Dublin Olympia March 8th.
The band recorded two full shows towards the end of the 2003 tour – The Borderline and The Limelight. After reviewing the recordings it was decided that the live album would use only The Limelight recording.
The live album was mixed by Joe Gibb and Steve Evans at Mighty Atom studios in Swansea and released on April 19th 2004. Following the release of Strange Behaviour the band embarked on a 17 date UK tour.
Isle of Wight Festival
The band performed at the Isle of Wight Festival June 11th – 13th 2004. Other acts performing included Stereophonics, The Who, Manic Street Preachers and David Bowie.
The Isle Of Wight show was to be the final performance for this line-up of the band. An announcement followed later that they would be going their separate ways citing ‘personal issues’ as the reason behind the split.