Fighting back from a crippling brain aneurysm, singer songwriter Karl Wallinger talks to Dave Freak about a long awaited return to the music scene with his band World Party.
Having quit The Waterboys after their breakthrough 1986 album This Is The Sea, great things were expected of Karl Wallinger and his World Party – purveyors of intelligently penned, strong on melody, pop in the classic Beatles/Brian Wilson tradition.
Single Ship Of Fools broke the US Top 30 and second long-player Goodbye Jumbo won the first ever Q Magazine Album Of The Year award in 1990, while his 1997 piano ballad She’s the One – “written in 10 minutes, recorded in about an hour” – later gave Robbie Williams his second chart-topper.
But over the last 13 years, Karl largely slipped from view until last year when he made an unexpected reappearance with 5-CD archive box set Arkeology, and a headline appearance at London’s Royal Albert Hall. That comeback has now been strengthened by a 10-date UK tour.
“I never thought we would be here,” reflects the songwriter. “There was a time, in 2004, when I was at an all time low. My manager had died, I’d left the [record] label, had an aneurysm, and I thought I’d never do anything else again.”
Felled by a brain aneurysm in 2001, Karl spent the next five years fighting back, and although he’s been absent from the UK music scene, he never turned his back on music, opting – perhaps surprisingly – to regularly tour the US and elsewhere for the last six years.
“I don’t know why!” he cries when asked why there have been no British shows until recently. “Because I suppose playing, working in the US, made coming back to the UK feel like a holiday ... but I really don’t know.
“When we came back from touring there, we should have done more shows. We even went to Australia and toured with Steely Dan! I don’t know why it panned out like that. Market research? No. Working with mainly Americans? There was no reason. I’m kicking myself that we didn’t play here sooner though.
“As you can probably figure out, I’m fairly existential when it comes to making plans,” he says with a hearty laugh, adding: “It did feel strange saying to my other half, ‘I’m just going to work...’ and then leaving for America!”
He admits he wondered if British people would remember World Party after such an absence, but World Party’s Royal Albert Hall show was an ambition realised, and “a great homecoming.”
Any pre-show jitters after so long away?
“Was I nervous? Not at all, no. If I’d played there back in 1987, I’d have been s****ing myself, but I’ve played in front of 20 people in a bar to 50,000 at a festival, and I’ve been doing this for years now, so it really doesn’t bother me.
“Things like that don’t, unless things go annoying wrong. Somethings, if they go wrong, can be good, they can be great, they shake you up ... but if the room sounds horrible, that’s when it’s annoying wrong.”
Looking ahead to the forthcoming dates, Karl will be joined by David Duffy on mandolin and violin (“he’s a great guy ... I met him early on, after my head had been sawn in half,” he jokes, referring to previous illness), and guitarist Johnny Turnbull from The Blockheads.
“We’ve been playing together now for a while and it really doesn’t make a difference that there’s no bass or drums, it’s a song thing,” Karl says, adding they’re so locked in to playing together, they barely need to rehearse.
“We’ve been doing this for a while now, so we don’t really need to. But I’m terrible at rehearsing, we’ll book two weeks and I’ll just turn up on the last day and hope everyone else knows what they’re doing,” he laughs. “When you’ve been singing the songs for as long as I have... you kinda know them pretty well already.
“Everything I do is spontaneous, I like spontaneity, I like things to be different.
“We do the songs in a different way and it’s worked really well in America. It’s like a commando raid, it’s easy to get around. I like doing ‘the full monty’ [ie. full band] as well, but people here haven’t heard the stuff like this, as a trio. It’s a lot easier on the voice, there’s not a huge amount of volume. It’s a strange thing.”
Once the UK dates are completed, there’s more US shows on the cards, a desire to play some festivals, and after the archival release Arkeology, the tantalising prospect of a studio album of new material.
“I started working on a new album 2002! I’ve got some tracks, a few hours of music, there are sessions in the can. But I always tend to want to make the record I’m making at the moment, so maybe those [old] tracks won’t end up on the record, or maybe they will, I don’t know yet.”
Karl lets out a laugh: “Maybe they’ll turn up on the next Arkeology in 50 years time, when I’m 105.”
* World Party plays the Glee Club, Birmingham on April 23. For tickets, phone 0871 472 0400.