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Rock

Karl Wallinger of The Waterboys & World Party Dies at 66

His 1986 hit "Ship of Fools" reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Karl Wallinger

Karl Wallinger

Courtesy of World Party

Karl Wallinger, who was a short-lived member of Welsh rock band The Waterboys and then helmed his solo project World Party, died Sunday (March 10). He was 66, according to his publicist. No cause of death or place was given.

Wallinger also worked with Sinead O’Connor, had his music covered by Robbie Williams, and was featured on 1994’s Reality Bites soundtrack.


The multi-instrumentalist was born in Prestatyn, Wales, in 1957. After serving as musical director for a West End production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Wallinger joined the Michael Scott-led Waterboys for the alternative rock band’s second album, 1984’s A Pagan Place, providing keyboards, percussion and backing vocals. By the time he finished work on their third album, This Is the Sea, which included the Scott/Wallinger composition “Don’t Bang the Drum,” he was done.

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In its review of 1985, a Waterboys’ boxed set devoted to the creation This Is the Sea, Mojo describes the fractious, yet fruitful musical dynamic between Scott and Wallinger. “It’s the volatile relationship between [Wallinger] and Scott that forms another key narrative on 1985. Long, stoned sessions at Seaview, Wallinger’s home studio in central London, prove inventive. A first instrumental take on ‘The Pan Within’ is a gorgeous meeting of aesthetics, with Scott – organic, gestural – on piano and guitar, and Wallinger providing rubbery, funky synth bass and drumbox.”

Shortly thereafter, Wallinger left The Waterboys and in 1986 formed World Party, a primarily solo endeavor with Wallinger bringing in a revolving cast of musicians as needed to his atmospheric pop universe.

World Party’s debut album, Private Revolution, spawned what ended up being the act’s biggest hit, the cynical indie-pop anthem “Ship of Fools,” which reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album included a then-unknown Sinead O’Connor on backing vocals and Wallinger then helped O’Connor on her album debut, 1988’s The Lion and the Cobra. Wallinger reissued “Ship of Fools” in 2018 with a new video that included newsreel footage of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Stormy Daniels, refugee camps and environmental crises. The lyric video concluded with the declaration “Now more than ever.”

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World Party’s second album, Goodbye Jumbo, included “Way Down Now,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs chart, and “Put the Message in the Box” and was nominated for best alternative music performance at the 33rd annual Grammy Awards. World Party’s fourth album, 1997’s Egyptology, included “She’s the One,” which Williams later covered and took to No. 1 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

Wallinger suffered an aneurysm in 2001 and had to reteach himself to talk and play instruments. Following his recovery, World Party returned to the road, including playing South by Southwest and Bonnaroo in 2006. Their last tour was in 2015, and their last recording was 2012’s Arkeology, a 70-track collection of new and live songs, as well as cover tunes. “It was my homespun attempt at making something interesting,” he told BuzzineNetwork. “On this album there’s lots of different kinds of music…It’s not really one genre which has been one of our problems, actually; we’ve never been able to be marketed to any particular audience. It’s just music really.”

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In a 2022 interview with The Big Takeover Show, following the reissue of Egyptology, Wallinger talked about the power of music and what he aimed for as a songwriter: “It’s good to write songs about stuff that people think about, that I thought about … I’ve always thought it should be something to do with healing or finding things out about the world that have truth. It maybe sounds a little idealistic, but it’s what music is about. It’s kind of a pure thing, music. I’m not left or right wing; I don’t even think in terms of that. I just want people to have what they need to get through living on the planet.”

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Survivors include his wife, a son and daughter, and two grandchildren.

This article was first published by Billboard U.S.

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