Karl Wallinger, Who Sang With World Party and the Waterboys, Dies at 66


Karl Wallinger, a Welsh singer-songwriter who helped define college radio in the 1980s and ’90s as a member of the Waterboys and the founder of World Party, died on Sunday at his home in Hastings, England. He was 66.

His daughter, Nancy Zamit, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause. Mr. Wallinger suffered a brain aneurysm in 2001 that forced him to stop performing for several years.

Following on the heels of the post-punk, new wave and new romantic movements of the early 1980s, Mr. Wallinger embodied something of a throwback to the classical pop and folk styles of an earlier era, with music and lyrics influenced by the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

Though he rejected the label “retro,” onstage he looked like a stylish hippie, with long stringy hair and tinted round glasses that would have fit in at Woodstock.

Mr. Wallinger was widely admired for his instrumental skills. He primarily played keyboards for the Waterboys, an influential folk-rock band founded by the Scottish musician Mike Scott, but on his own he usually played a guitar — which, though he was right-handed, he played upside down, with his left hand.

After two albums with the Waterboys, Mr. Wallinger left in 1985 to form World Party, which was at first a one-man act: He wrote all the music and recorded all the parts in the studio. Only when he began to tour did he add members and make it a true band.

His lyrics could be acerbic. But his best-known work, like “Put the Message in the Box,” from the 1990 World Party album, “Goodbye Jumbo,” reveled in a spacey, idealistic view of the world:

And if you listen now

You might hear a new sound coming in

As an old one disappears

See the world in just one grain of sand

Many of his songs carried an environmental message, though in interviews Mr. Wallinger insisted that his work was not political or message driven.

“I’ve always thought it should be something to do with healing or finding things out about the world that have truth,” he said in a 2022 interview with the magazine The Big Takeover. “I’m not left or right wing; I don’t even think of in terms of that. I just want people to have what they need to get through living on the planet.”

Karl Edmund De Vere Wallinger was born on Oct. 19, 1957, in Prestatyn, a town in northern Wales about 40 miles west of Liverpool, England. His father, Julian, was an architect, and his mother, Phyllis (Owens) Wallinger, held various jobs.

He attended Charterhouse, a prestigious private school in England that also produced Peter Gabriel and many of the other early members of Genesis. (Mr. Wallinger missed Mr. Gabriel by a few years.)

Intent on becoming a musician, he moved to London after graduation and worked for a music publishing company, processing royalty checks. He spent his lunch hours fingering a piano in the company offices until one day a producer heard him, gave him an audition and signed him to a contract.

In his off hours, Mr. Wallinger played with a string of small, short-lived bands, and worked for a few years as the musical director for “The Rocky Horror Show” in London.

At the invitation of Mr. Scott, he left theater to join the Waterboys for their second album, “A Pagan Place” (1984). He also played on the group’s third release, “This Is the Sea,” before leaving the group to start a solo career.

The first World Party album, “Private Revolution” (1986), included his first hit, “Ship of Fools,” which reached No. 27 on the Billboard Top 40 and No. 42 in Britain. Sinead O’Connor contributed vocals on two tracks, and in return Mr. Wallinger contributed to her own debut album, “The Lion and the Cobra,” released the next year.

Several well-reviewed albums followed, including “Goodbye Jumbo” (1990), “Bang!” (1993) and “Egyptology” (1997). World Party toured internationally, including as the opening act for 10,000 Maniacs.

Mr. Wallinger also worked in film. He was the musical director for the score of the 1994 movie “Reality Bites” and contributed songs to the soundtracks of “Clueless” (1995), “The Matchmaker” (1997) and “Armageddon” (1998).

But as the 1990s progressed, he and World Party found themselves sidelined by the darker, screechier sounds of grunge in the United States and the power-pop sound of British bands like Oasis and Blur.

Then his manager died and his label went bankrupt. His brain aneurysm left him without his right peripheral vision.

Mr. Wallinger did have one stroke of good fortune, however. In the mid-1990s, he spent 10 minutes writing a song called “She’s the One,” which he recorded for “Egyptology.” Two years later, without his approval, Robbie Williams rerecorded it, and his version reached No. 1 on the British pop charts, producing a windfall of royalties for Mr. Wallinger.

“So we didn’t have to sell the kids to chemical experiments or anything,” he told The Chicago Sun-Times in 2012. “I think I’m a bit of a lucky person.”

Along with his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Suzie Zamit; their son, Louis Wallinger; his brother, Tim Wallinger; his sisters, Karen Wallinger and Allyson Wallinger; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Wallinger slowly returned to recording and performing after his aneurysm. In 2006, he undertook a much-delayed promotional tour for his 2000 album, “Dumbing Up.” He co-produced Peter Gabriel’s 2008 album “Big Blue Ball,” on which Mr. Gabriel collaborated with various artists; Mr. Wallinger also co-wrote and performed on several tracks.

And in 2012 he released “Arkeology,” a five-CD set of 70 tracks that includes demos, live recordings and alternative versions of many of Mr. Wallinger’s World Party songs.

As he noted in several interviews, his time away from music had overlapped with dramatic changes in the industry, in particular the shift toward digital production and distribution, which made his style of lush instrumentation and album-centric composition an anachronism.

But he also considered himself older and wiser, and he seemed comfortable with time moving forward.

“I just got lucky in a lot of ways, in a lot of ways,” he told the Canadian newspaper The Calgary Herald in 2013. “I just concentrated on things and listened to things, but I didn’t approach writing with anything other than a happy stoned expression on my face, actually. It’s one of those things that happens, luckily. It’s a strange thing.”



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