Karl Wallinger

Karl Wallinger

33 days ago

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Karl Wallinger, a musician whose work plays a huge part in the story of Dead Man Singing.

I first encountered Karl Wallinger as a member of the Waterboys in their ‘big music’ phase, which remains my favourite incarnation of their varied career. The albums A Pagan Place and This Is the Sea (both of which he played on) are the ones that I’m most likely to turn to these days. However, it was with World Party that he really came into his own. Just as The Waterboys was essentially a vehicle for Mike Scott’s vision, so World Party was one for Wallinger. Their second album, Goodbye Jumbo, crops up in Dead Man Singing as one that Cindy introduces Dave to, and the song ‘And I Fell Back Alone’ from that album provides the title for part 3 of my book. It has always struck me as a wonderful song: sparse, emotive and achingly raw. If you don’t know it, you can check it out on the Dead Man Singing playlist, or (better yet) by listening to the whole album, which I still regard as one of those perfect albums where I wouldn't change a note.

Wallinger was a multi-instrumentalist and a musical magpie, leaning into his varied influences and bringing them together seamlessly into a warm, joyous whole. I can remember listening to Goodbye Jumbo for the first time in my student flat, playing spot the reference with my flat mate. We had already agreed there was a Rolling Stones vibe to ‘Way Down Now’, long before the exuberant ‘Sympathy For the Devil’-esque ‘whoo-whoos’ came crashing in, which reduced both of us to fits laughter. It’s a great song though.

Despite having minor hits with World Party – ‘Put the Message in the Box’ and ‘Is It Like Today’ are perhaps the best-known singles – his most widely-known song is probably ‘She’s the One’. It was a source of frustration for Wallinger that most people don’t even know it as anything other than a huge number 1 single for Robbie Williams, whose cover version treads very closely to World Party’s 1997 original, even using the same drummer and bass player. Wallinger at one point said, ‘That song had a much better time than me, popping off to the Brits while I was at home eating crackers dipped in water.’ The royalties proved timely though, as Wallinger was forced to step back from the music industry for several years after suffering a brain aneurism in 2001, effectively supporting him until he was able to return to live work in 2006.

I’ll give the last word to his Waterboys colleague Mike Scott, who Tweeted in response Wallinger’s death ‘Travel on well my old friend. You are one of the finest musicians I have ever known’.


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