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World Party mainman Karl Wallinger looks back on the band’s career from its 1987 inception, focusing on acclaimed 1990 LP ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ which has recently been reissued.
“The last forty years of popular culture make no sense to me at all, but whatever, man,” says World Party frontman, Karl Wallinger. “You just find the things that you like, and you just enjoy them. I mean, Kurt Cobain was interesting, Lee Mavers’ La’s record, The Stone Roses, maybe Prince. There's a few things that will keep you entertained through the decades there. There’s a lot of stuff, even more stuff than ever now that I don’t know what it is. But I'm sixty-three, so I’m bound to think that."
There’s no hiding the age, but Wallinger cuts an unassuming figure, detailing every question with clear thought, even though it regularly ends in a fit of laughter. “I’m getting ready for the box,” he snickers loudly, trying his best to look presentable on camera. Although he’s innovative in many ways, Wallinger is struggling with Zoom, which is odd, considering how commonplace the appliance has become during the recent pandemic. It is, he tells me, the first time he’s used it. Shuffling to find his right side, Wallinger bears a boyish smile that flits in and out at varying points during the interview. “Hi, I'm Eoghan”, I say. “As you can tell, I'm Irish”. “Well, we can't all be perfect”, he replies, cackling as he does so. I check my notes, yes, I’m right, the singer is another Celt. “Aren’t you a Welshman?” I ask. “I’m kind of ‘Wenglish’ or something”, he replies. “I’m just a mixture, and not everything is very aligned. I’m kind of a peripatetic person, I don’t really feel the roots”.
His answer meanders, before he decides that the ‘World’ forms his roots, but he does concede that he feels more Welsh when he’s hillwalking. His English side rears its head “When they're scoring” and Wallinger speaks with a voice that's more commonly heard amongst Prime Ministers than rock stars. Wallinger looks to his side, which gives me a chance to glance at my notes: Charterhouse! Of course, he went to Charterhouse (public school in Surrey – Ed), did he know Peter Gabriel? “He left in like ‘68, and I arrived there in ‘70, so we just missed by a couple of years. There was always a rumour that, ‘Oh, I think they (Genesis) are gonna come and play!’ But they never did (chortles)”. Yeah, but Genesis must have influenced him as a songwriter, Charterhouse alum and all that? “Not really, lyrically. I worked with (Gabriel) on the ‘Big Blue Ball’ album that came out. All these different artists who worked in the studios every summer for a couple of years. I remember going up to him, we were making tea, and I went up to him (sings 1972 Genesis track ‘Time Table’) “A carved oak table / Tells a tale, of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold”. He sort of went, ‘That’s enough of that!’ Just taking the mickey, you know”.
Karl laughs, but he does get a little more serious when he discusses his teenage years. “I was into Genesis when I was a teenager, a bit later as well. It’s like, I can still listen to Yes, I can still listen to ‘Fragile’ and things like that and think it’s really good. (I can) accept the crazy Jon Anderson vocals, the words and stuff, because I think it works musically. Whereas Genesis is a little bit revisionist in my mind. It’s strange, man. Interesting things, and it’s not as bad as some of the things (from that era) I listened to an album called ‘Tarkus’ by Emerson, Lake & Palmer about a year and a half ago and in about forty seconds, I had to take it off, ‘cause I was like, ‘What the fuck?!’”
Furthering the comedy, Wallinger informs me that people his hometown Prestatyn, were convinced that Roger Moore bought a house there (“He never did”). Clearly, he's unembarrassed by his Welsh connection, so I tell him that Timothy Dalton is my favourite Bond. “Yeah, he was alright actually”, the keyboardist responds. “I liked him. A little bit more budget on the movies would have been good, but he was a good Bond”.
Wallinger’s here to discuss ‘Goodbye Jumbo’, World Party’s second, and possibly their most rewarding, work. It’s the latest of a series of reissues he’s enjoying and is clearly buoyed by the opportunity to release so much work that is close to his heart. “Nineteen-ninety, yeah. Fucking mad, isn’t it!” He peers over at me. “I wasn't born until 1993”. “No-one was born after 1985” he cackles. Then he straightens himself up, “You would have been three for Egyptology and ‘She’s The One’. You would have been grooving away to that one”.
As it happens, I do remember the Robbie Williams cover being played on the radio. “Yeah, luckily for me”, Wallinger says, his voice changing to a more serious tone. “I had an aneurysm in 2001 and I couldn’t do anything. So, it was lucky for me that he did it, because he kept us all in biscuits. Everything would have changed; I’d have had to have sold the kids. Got rid of the house and dismantle everything”.
But he’s back on his feet (“It’s only taken me twenty years,” he giggles), and although he’d prefer not to comment on Williams, he seems happy to talk about virtually anyone else, including members of a certain band he played with before he founded World Party. It seems fitting that a Welshman (well, ‘Wenglish’) and an Irishman should make reference to a man from Scotland. It won’t be the last time we communicate like two Celts surveying the lands of their forefathers. “(Mike Scott) went Irish, didn’t he? He became Irish. He moved to a new land and a new music. There was a bit of stuff that was a bit folky, but not really much, it was more Patti Smith like when I first encountered him. And after the Prince thing and ‘Moon’ thing and all that sort of stuff, it couldn’t really have gone on, because it wasn't his thing. And going back to his roots and back to Ireland, was the thing to do. Finding Steve (Wickham) was amazing, because that makes a lot of sense. Just doing anything with him, because Steve’s just amazing."
Wallinger played on The Waterboys’ excellent ‘This Is The Sea’, and although Scott is responsible for writing the words to ‘The Whole Of The Moon’, it was Karl who put together the sprawling selection of keyboards, each one more glorious and more symphonic than the last. Together, Scott and Wallinger created one of the most infectious ballads of the Eighties, but the keyboardist felt sidelined by Scott’s uncompromising vision for the band. Wallinger left the band before they recorded their fourth album, ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ (1988), but if there is any ill feeling, it doesn’t come up during our chat. “It was good, man. But it just became obvious that it wasn’t going to go anywhere than where it's gone. (Mike Scott) was controlling, and that was it, he wasn’t into doing anything together. After a year of having a deal, I just left and did my own thing. Good luck to the lad!”
And why would anyone want to play second fiddle (no dig at Steve Wickham) in a band, when they had the opportunity and the inclination to front their own? Signed by Nigel Grange and Chris Hill, Wallinger decided to work on his music under the tasty nom-de-plume World Party. As it happens, he was signed at a time when he was still playing with The Waterboys. By 1987 however, Wallinger was free to do what he wanted and how he wanted it to sound. Thirty something years later, he's clearly still blown away by the opportunity that was presented to him. “I just went into this house in the country, as the cliché goes, and set up this studio in this bedroom, and had a fucking fantastic time (recording debut LP ‘Private Revolution’). I went to the town, and the architect in the estate agents said, ‘We don’t rent out places like that’. I just wanted somewhere I could make noise, something with a thirteen-amp plug and no neighbours. ‘No, we don’t do that’ he said, ‘But go see Eddie, he’s in the old rectory’. So, I went to see him, and he was an artist that was put into empty properties by the Wogan Estate and was paid just to look after it. And this place was an eight-bedroom old rectory, with an amazing cedar tree in the garden, with like stable gloves and it was all a bit dilapidated. I got a room in there, he was an artist, he had paintings on the wall hanging on two screws, and he sort of painted stuff, a pretty serious guy. I set everything up, and was so excited to do it, so the first album was a fit of enjoyment. It was amazing”.
Perhaps inspired by this bohemian setting, ‘Private Revolution’ proved a bouncy affair, but life, much like Wallinger’s work, had to move on. “I had an advance for the next record, we had a hit with ‘Ship of Fools’ and it was all sort of going well. So, I got the next bit of money and decided to go somewhere which had a proper recording desk and all that type of stuff. I started recording ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ in Woburn with a twenty-four track machine and I was going up a grade, you know? At that time, I’d just done a deal with Prince’s manager, and I was being managed by a guy called Steve Fargnoli. Some guys from Paisley Park came over and set up a studio with me, that was really helpful.
‘Goodbye Jumbo’ was the second record, the first one was like first ones are. I was just amazed that I was in the situation where I was signed to a company Chrysalis, and they were waiting for me to finish a record, ‘cause they were gonna put it out”. He pauses, as if reliving that frisson moment in his head. “That’s fantastic”.
Around that time, Wallinger grew acquainted with Prince collaborator Joe Blaney. Blaney was mixing ‘Alphabet St’, the lead single from ‘Lovesexy’ when Wallinger invited him to work on his sophomore effort. “He came and worked on some of ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ and some of the mixing & recording. He recorded the second track ‘Way Down Now’, which was pretty much a live band, but that was back in London. I did about a year in Woburn, and then this place in the rehearsal studio in London that we always used to use called John Henry’s”.
He pauses, those Lennon-esque glasses peering over the laptop, “This upper-deck kind of became available and by that time I wanted to put the studio somewhere that was like a ‘studio’. Where you pressed a button, the red lights went on above the door and shit like that. I wanted to be in a real studio, so I got this place in John Henry sorted out, and that's where Joe came over to do some recording, and we did lots of stuff with live bands, and on my own and generally just sat there for a couple of years just doing stuff. And that turned into ‘Goodbye Jumbo’.
Midway through our interview, Wallinger decides to light up and his voice grows audibly more relaxed as the call goes on. For a man who experienced a near fatal tragedy twenty years ago, his outlook is optimistic, admirable-enviable, even. “Goodbye Jumbo’ turned out pretty good and I don’t how that (sort of thing) gets replicated, but it’s the time of life thing. You’ve got something on your plate and you wanna make sure that people get what it is. You’ve got something on your mind to say, but it was just very natural, and it was done with enthusiasm and love."
“There was no sort of bullshit, production-thing going on Nobody from record companies” Wallinger continues. He then stops to make the most insightful comment of the interview, “I’ve always been kind of outside the business, in a lot of ways. Which led to people thinking I was ‘this’ or I was ‘that, when I was never anything but into music. People thought I was a bit stuck up in my time”.
It sounds like he’s deeply committed to his art without pandering to the glamour that surrounds it. Wallinger had very few people around to interfere with the work, although his manager Steve would drop in for a playback, as would a record company rep to make sure everything was running according to plan. The rest it seems was up to Wallinger and the keyboardist beams as he recalls the many collaborators that have walked into the studio over the years. “Guy Chambers was on ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ and Chris Witten, who was a drummer who had come back to England after living in Australia for a while. We went on tour again in the 2010s, we opened for Steely Dan in Australia for a five, six-day tour. He came and played on that with us, because he was living in Australia, so we picked him up. He’s moved back to England, a great drummer. The last gig he did was Dire Straits and the one before that was McCartney, so he did well!”
He’s a little fuzzy recalling what musician played on what album, but he does state that contrary to popular opinion, Chris Sharrock (later of Oasis fame) doesn’t feature on the record. “Steve Wickham didn't play on this one” Wallinger says, but then doubt kicks in and he starts to question himself. “Did he?” It's on the liner notes. “If it says he's on it, he's on it, but I’m just trying to think where he is on it”.
He may not remember the track, but Karl has nothing but praise for Wickham’s fiddle work. “I’d have him on everything, really. He’s one of the most naturally musical and sort of, rather gifted guy, really. At the time we had such a laugh. We worked together on The Waterboys, and we shared a love of (Irish novelist and playwright) Flann O’Brien and we used to read the ‘Myles na Gopaleen’ stories, the little things he used to put in the columns he had in The Irish Times. We used to get to bed, single beds, obviously and take it in turns to read a ‘Myles na Gopaleen’ before the lights out. And that was our sort of evening treat”.
Likening the fiddle to a ‘weapon’, Wallinger highlights Wickham’s use of FX pedals as a powerful technique that has stood by him, from his early days working as a session player for U2, to his role in The Waterboys. His time with the band has seen Dublin born musician filling a role nominally given to a lead guitar player. “I really like musicians when they’re great, ‘cause even if they’re cunts, you think they’re fucking great” Karl states. “I don't care that they’re a cunt, because they’re a great musician.”
“We knew this guy who had the rights to (Flann O'Brien novel) ‘The Third Policeman’” Wallinger says. “It would have been fucking amazing, so we ended up doing jigs and crazy little things. That's what we did on the first album. There's a thing called ‘Dance With the Hoppy Lads’, it was the thing that me and Steve sort of came up with just as we were thinking of doing the Flann O’ Brien soundtrack. Steve was just a great player”.
Flann O’Brien was actually a man named Bríain Ó Nualláin, a parodist following James Joyce’s colourful lead. We wind up talking about many of Ó Nualláin’s wacky vignettes, verses and soliloquies. But what about fellow Irish writer Sinead O’Connor, another artist who recognised a kindred spirit in Prince? “I don't think Sinead O Connor sang on ‘Jumbo’” Wallinger says. “She sang backing vocals on a track the album before. I thought she was a nice girl from Ireland, who was rather musical. I had no idea she was this ‘epoch-changing-one-woman-crazy-fest’. We’ve had our moments in the past of not getting on very well and I’ve had my moments of thinking that she’s really lovely and thinking that the music she makes, her voice especially, is beautiful. I did her demos for the record company, I just recorded them with her. I didn’t arrange them; she did the stuff and I recorded them. It was a pleasure; all the other stuff is her ‘crazy thang’. Whatever, man. That’s her story, not mine”.
‘Goodbye Jumbo’ is awash with narrative, characters catch what they think is their brink of success, only to watch it fitter away in the canyons of their mind. ‘Way Down Now’ was the obvious hit, but there’s much more to the album than Rolling Stones swagger and Beatles-equal joie de vivre. ‘When The Rainbow Comes’, an exciting blend of instruments, proved the musical experimentation was rife for the nineties. Elsewhere ‘Ain’t Gonna Come Till I’m Ready’ holds an aphorism as defiant as anything heard on a nineties Oasis album and then there’s the strangely dreamlike ‘Thank You World’, that closes the album on a sombre, even mature, note. “It’s really weird sometimes. Putting that together, I think that’s when I had my strange month of perfect sleep. Something had happened that was just right, I didn't really think. I mean, of course you think, while promoting it, but I didn't really…”
“I don't know” Karl admits, his mind still searching for a coherent explanation for the band’s name. “I just wanted there to be a World Party, and for us to stop being such a bunch of cunts, basically. I just had these songs was just trying to be enthusiastic about making things right, and just try to make tunes that were memorable and fun”.
He does concede that his songs needed “Recognisable phrases” and ‘Put The Message In The Box’ is laced with delicious irony. “You're putting the message in the box and the box in the car and driving the car around the world, polluting everything”. Wallinger stops mid-sentence. “It’s a good album and I don’t really know how to explain it other than that. Weird thing”.
Somewhere between the eclectic melodies comes the sound of a Beatle fan screaming to sing out. At points ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ sounds like the missing link between the knowing rapier humour of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and the harder-edged confessionals that make up the White Album. “My whole idea of what it is to do what I do, whatever aspects you think of them on the whole, for me and most fans, they just had a ten. A score of ten every time. Whether it’s thinking or looking, or writing or drumming, playing or singing, it always comes out as a ten. Lennon and McCartney, really, it wasn’t just McCartney. In 1967, I was ten, so this was all pretty far out. I used to listen to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and I used to wave the album cover, ‘cause it would sound like it was going through a Leslie speaker. You ever done that? If you waft an album cover in front of your face when its singing, it creates a kind of (imitates a Bee Gee like wah). I used to sing with it for hours in front of the radiogram. I’ve still got it, it’s the one I used to listen to the White Album on. I had it refurbished and play records on it. That I had to do, because it was like my friend for centuries. It was like the most reliable thing in the world, this record player. We had like twenty albums and fifty single and that’s how I started off my, I dunno what you’d call it? ‘Dream’ would be accurate. I was just fascinated by every different single, and they were a weird bunch of singles”.
That ‘crazy collection’ he speaks about fed into his wheelhouse. He describes Paddy Roberts as “Someone you'd take the secretary out to, if you wanted to bang the secretary”. Like The Beatles did, 1961 LP ‘Paddy Roberts Live At The Blue Angel’ helped inform the palette (“Limited parrot”, Karl chuckles) that grew into something bigger and arguably more symphonic. No-one is surprised by McCartney’s influence, but I’m more intrigued to hear about Myles na Gopaleen’s imprint on the so called ‘Wenglish’ composer. “I don't know, I think the beautiful psychedelia of some of that ‘Third Policeman’, and the quasi-spirituality of all that stuff, ‘It’s oxygen that produces time’. Or when he goes into that cave under the water, and goes to visit, Is it Saint Augustine, or something? And I love the theorising of de Selby, and all that crazy, ‘Can he travel?’ There's all that about astral travel, and he went and locked himself in the hotel room in Dover with photographs of London. ‘Why are you travelling to London?’ ‘Well, I came back!’”
Discovering the beauty behind the ridiculousness, Wallinger thought the writings were comparable to the video for ‘I Am The Walrus’. He's clearly well versed in the Dublin writer, and we’re both amused by how ordinary O’Brien looked in real life, compared to the madcap fairy tales that litter his books. “You look at him”, the singer giggles, “And you think, how could you write that? He was like a civil servant or something”. Wallinger references a broken clock that resides in O’Brien/Nolan's work, symbolising the passing of time from monotony to memory. “We've had our moment of fun: the clock's still broken!”
Back to ‘Goodbye Jumbo’, what songs mean something to him now, over thirty years after composing them? Coming from a man versed in some of the more absurd examples of Irish literature, his answer surprises me. “They’re like kids that have all grown up, and left home” Wallinger says, looking back on the pieces. “They're doing their lives, they’ve been going around at weddings, and they've been going around at funerals. They’ve been going around at birthday parties. They do their thing, and I’m kind of jealous of the songs really, in a way. I always think they're having a much better time than I do (laughs uproariously). You’ve let these things go and you're sat at home going, ‘What the fuck?!’”
“I don't really have a favourite track, but I’m glad it did well” Wallinger surmises of the disc. The Q Awards must have thought he did a decent job. “I won the Q Award for Album of the Year and that was the first time they’d ever awarded it. The first Q Awards was at Ronnie Scott’s. McCartney came up and he went (thumbs up as he does it) ‘Show Me to the Top’, that was the hit on that album. He liked the one that sounded a bit like Prince you know, because it's modern. Crazy guy, lovely, amazing bloke”.
Rising to the challenge, I attempt my early nineties impression of a Beatle trying to “chill with the kids”. “Yeah, he was a complete cliché, man. I think he’s been rehabilitated or whatever they call it in Communist countries. Not re-evaluated, but re-accepted back into the fold. He’s achieved a place that’s quite right, because he was fucking amazing at writing tunes. It’s going to be pretty bad when he croaks, which can’t be that long”.
McCartney's in pretty good shape and long abandoned the puff and the drink for a more meditative life. Wallinger concedes that the bassist could live to a hundred but points out how odd it is to watch former bastions of pop crumbling like the Roman citadels before them. But if pop forms the basis of the new trendy Rome that surrounds us, then it’s a Rome every bit as impressive, and certainly more fun, than the Empire that spanned several continents. “McCartney was there at the Q Awards to pick up the first Lifetime Achievement gong. It was very strange to be there, because it was a public vote. Nobody had decided that we were album of the year, but the readers had, which was nice. It was a strange event. I’ve never been very good at all that music biz stuff, I’m not really that bothered about it. But that was pretty amazing”.
‘Goodbye Jumbo’ was a strange thing, I made this thing, and it just went off and did this”. Somewhere between the smoke and the laptop screen come the words, like an epiphany guided by a higher power. “It led me around, it’s a strange one, but I love it about the album, as each one has got its own story. It’s like going exploring another river. ‘We did the Amazon last year and now this year we’re going to do the Volga’. Each album is like that. You start off on the source, and you go further down, and you hope you don’t go too many places where they eat you”.
Wallinger’s certainly bohemian, both in outlook and appearance, but he recognises that he’s also here to promote his band’s work. He takes another puff, then it’s back to work. “I’ve done a new version of ‘Egyptology’ (1997), the album with ‘She’s The One’ on it”. He peers into his notebook (“I’ve done my homework”) and says that will be out in Spring 2022. “It's a double album now. I took the album over three records, because I thought it was a bit squashy on one. I never thought it was very good, so I re-cut it, and put some of the tracks that we played live at the time on the fourth side. So, there’s like a mini gig on the fourth side, which is quite nice. And then there’s another album coming out for Record Store Day next year, which is in Spring. They put the album together, and I’ve just done the artwork for it. We’ve just printed them up and are shipping them out. So, that will out be on the day."
He reels through recent reissues of ‘Private Revolution’ and ‘Bang’, before confirming that ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ will be out on October 29th. And that boyish smile returns for one last bow at the camera, “So I’m reliably informed”.
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2155 Posted By: Shane Spiegelman, San Francisco, Ca, USA on 23 Feb 2022
Re-discovering World Party. The music was so hip in California in the 80-90's. For real music lovers. The materials not only holds up well over the years, it sounds fresh. Thanks for covering talent that is still being discovered.