The Rescue Rooms archives: 2013

World Party, The Rescue Rooms

  • Monday 22nd April 2013
  • Supported by: TBC



Karl Wallinger/World Party - Biography

"What have I been doing for the last ten years? Rescuing cats stuck up trees, that kind of thing..." Karl Wallinger's sense of humour being rather dry, we shouldn't take the quote above too literally. There is, however, a rather good reason why he has been somewhat off-radar for a while. In February 2001, the World Party linchpin and creator of such cherished albums as 1990's Goodbye Jumbo had what he describes as "a bit of a run-in with non-existence." He and his son were cycling while on holiday at a Center Parcs resort in Suffolk when Karl suffered a brain aneurysm.

"Basically, an artery ruptured and there was a clot", he says. "I expected to feel a bit dodgy after they'd sawed my head in half, but what pissed me off most was waking up with a catheter inserted. It was a strangely serious situation, but I didn't ever feel I was going to die."

The aneurysm left Karl with no right-hand peripheral vision, and this necessitated a radical revision of his piano playing technique. Not being able to see his fretting fingers on the guitar (he plays the guitar upside down) was also tricky, Karl succumbing to "lots of jazz chords."

Remarkably, he played a low-key charity gig just two months after leaving hospital and thought, "Okay, I got through it", but the ground between he and his music had shifted. "It felt strangely isolating", he says; "a bit like when you were a kid, and you couldn't play with your friends."

World Party had been due to gig in the The U.S. that April, but now Karl was faced with a long period of recuperation instead. To complicate matters, his career had been undergoing further upheaval elsewhere. Regime change at EMI had left him somewhat estranged from the label, and he felt they'd done a poor job promoting his 1997 album Egyptology (home to "She's The One", later a Brit Award-winning Number 1 single for Robbie Williams).

"I'd one more album to do for EMI, but nobody there seemed to understand music any more", he recalls. "I said, 'Look, just let me have my back catalogue back and I'll walk', and in a see-if-we-care kind of way they said, 'Okay.' When the dust cleared I realised that I was totally on my own again, but then we set up Seaview Records in 2005/ 2006."

Acclaimed live shows such as those at the South By South West festival in 2007 and 2011 helped re-establish the World Party name outside Blighty, and Karl had also been making intermittent sorties to his King's Cross studio (optimistically, it's also named Seaview.) When he had first returned there after his illness there had been something of the Howard Carter about it, his treasure trove of long-unused gear carpeted in dust. By 2011, though, it was time for some Arkeology, proper, hence the pukka 5xCD set of the same name.

Whittled down from some 79 days-worth of music, Arkeology is ostensibly a rather fabulous clearing-out of World Party music recorded at Seaview. Its songs date from as recently as 2011 and as long ago as 1985. "You soon get into the crazy world of Seaview", says Karl, perhaps acknowledging the George Formby-esque "Silly Song", but there are plenty of more 'serious' selections too, nuggets such as 2011's "Everybody's Falling In Love" confirming that Karl's sack of top-notch tunes is far from empty.

"When I was first asked to comb through my vaults I was like, [cowering away voice] 'Please don't make me do that!'", he says, "but it was great fun unearthing stuff. "Words", for example, goes: 'You better try to lift everybody up with the things inside your head that come out as words' (laughs). I must have wrote and recorded it one night, then put it in a box and forgot about it."

With typical playfulness, Karl opted to package Arkeology as an any-year diary, the 'important dates' he has entered often reflecting his zany side. July 25, for example, has been dubbed 'Doo Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Do Day.' "With the diary, I thought, 'Great, I could be on somebody's kitchen table for a year'", he says. "What album cover does that?"

Karl Wallinger was born in Prestatyn, Wales in 1957. His first 'proper' gig was as Musical Director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where he rubbed shoulders with emerging stars Tracy Ullman and Gary Olsen. After a stint in The Out ("We were funky, into bands like Shalamar and Parliament") he joined The Waterboys on keyboards in 1983. He helped arrange and demo material on A Pagan Place and This is The Sea, and co-wrote the latter album's lead track "Don't Bang The Drum" with Waterboys leader, Mike Scott.

"Had my working relationship with Mike been more equal I might have stayed", says Karl, "but our friendship ran out of steam." He landed a solo deal with Ensign Records while still in The Waterboys, and, keen to follow his own musical vision, he left to form World Party in 1985.

The group's debut album Private Revolution yielded a minor hit in "Ship of Fools", but it was the 1990 follow-up Goodbye Jumbo that really set the heather alight, ace, stylistically diverse songs such as "God On My Side", "Put The Message In The Box" and "Ain't Gonna Come Till I'm Ready" leading some to dub Karl 'The new Prince.' The Grammy-nominated record was also voted Q magazine's Album Of The Year.

"Nowadays, you would cream that", says Karl. "There would be a week of broadcasts with the award winners and you would tour the album for two years solid. We just went, 'Cheers for the award - see you in three years!"

More quality-controlled World Party albums followed in the shape of 1993's Bang!, 1997's Egyptology, and 2000's Dumbing Up (the latter re-released in 2006). It was Egyptology that yielded Karl's best known song, "She's The One." Contrary to received wisdom it isn't about the passing of his mother; rather he wrote to order for the 1996 comedy drama film of the same name. (When Tom Petty, music supervisor for the film, later elected to write the entire She's The One soundtrack himself, Karl got his song back, but it would help soundtrack 1997 comedy The Matchmaker instead).

Karl also points out that, when Robbie Williams recorded "She's The One" with the help of ex-World Party member Guy Chambers, they did so clandestinely, Karl the last to know. "In one way thank God they did record it", he acknowledges. "When I didn't work between 2001 and 2006 royalties from Robbie's version kept my family in spaghetti and we didn't have to move to a smaller house. There was definitely a sense of betrayal, though", he adds. "It made the camaraderie I'd felt with some of my ex-bandmates seem fleeting."

Suffice to say that's all water under the bridge now. And when World Party's first UK dates in twelve years happened in late 2012, they finished the run with one of their best ever live performances at the Royal Albert Hall.

"It does feel a bit weird working back here in the UK, to be taking the dog for a walk one day and the next find out you're playing The Royal Albert Hall, he says, "but what a way to come back." It was a great night!

And the future?

"We've got to do the UK and then get to Europe!!"

And so they hit the road in the middle of April for a two week tour. Travelling light with a violinist, David Duffy, and an electric guitarist, Tristan Powell, the three-piece World Party will be performing live all around the UK for two weeks. Just to remind people why they should come see the tour later in the year with the whole World Party.

"We still haven't done that "All New World Party Album" of 12 brand new songs", he smiles. "I want to sing about my life now, because you don't get too many chances after 54. I'd love to write some great songs about NOW! That's what I'm hoping for. That's the point of all of this."

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