Saturday, July 12, 2008

This Post Brought To You By The Letter W

In late 1981 singer/ songwriter Mike Scott laid down several tracks while in the band Another Pretty Face. Over the next 18 months Scott worked with saxophonist Anthony Thistlethwaite and drummer Kevin Wilkinson to perform and record under the name The Red And The Black. Scott meanwhile had signed a recording contract with Ensign Records but rather than release a solo album he decided to put together an extended line-up under a new band name, The Waterboys (the name taken from a line in the Lou Reed song ‘The Kids’). The Waterboys’ first single was 1983’s ‘A Girl Called Johnny’ and their eponymous debut album followed. Soon after Karl Wallinger joined the line-up on keyboards. Wallinger had previously with Quasimodo and the Out.

The first edition of the The Waterboys then hit the road, the expanded line-up also featuring Roddy Lorimar (trumpet), Martyn Swain (bass) and John Caldwell (guitar). The second album ‘A Pagan Place’ (1984) featured the track ‘The Big Music’ which would be adopted by critics and fans alike as a tag for the style that The Waterboys were playing at that time (also applied to the music of Simple Minds and Big Country at times). Wilkinson then left to join China Crisis and by the time The Waterboys released their third and breakthrough album ‘This Is The Sea’ the official line-up was Scott, Thistlethwaite and Wallinger. The 1985 album performed well in both Australia (#23) and Britain (#37), and would yield The Waterboys signature song. ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ was nothing short of a majestic, sweeping pop opus and easily rates as one of my favourite songs of the 80s or any other decade. It reached #12 in Australia in early 1986, following on from #26 in the U.K. ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ would be re-released in the U.K. in 1991 and soar to #3. Incidentally the drummer in the promo clip for ‘The Whole Of The Moon’ is Chris Whitten, who had a short tenure with the band before going on to play with the likes of Paul McCartney and Dire Straits.

Soon after the release of ‘This Is The Sea’ Karl Wallinger left to pursue his own career (see below). Relocating the band’s base to Ireland, Scott and Thistlethwaite recruited a new line-up of players for the next phase of The Waterboys journey. Added to the mix were violinist Steve Wickham, keyboardist Guy Chambers (who would work with Wallinger later - see below), drummer Dave Ruffy and bassist Marco Sin. The band’s new home environment played a large part in the change of musical direction for their next album. 1988’s ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ featured a mix of celtic, folk and other traditional styles that marked a significant departure from ‘the big music’ sound. The title track climbed to #32 in Britain whilst the album sailed to #13. There was also a strong spiritual element to The Waterboys music in this period, and Scott referred to the group more as a brotherhood of musicians than a band. Such was the volume of output recorded during the late 80s that much of it didn’t see the light of day until a later release in 2001 ‘Too Close To Heaven’. 1990’s album ‘Room To Roam’ marked The Waterboys first top 5 album in Britain and continued their folk odyssey.

But within a year it seemed The Waterboys would undergo yet another major metamorphosis. Out of this Mike Scott found himself living and working in New York and recording a new Waterboys album, this time with only himself remaining of the original members following the departure of Thistlethwaite. 1993’s ‘Dream Harder’ (UK#5) said goodbye to the folk era and returned The Waterboys to a harder edged rock sound. It also returned them to the British singles charts with ‘The Return Of Pan’ (#24) and ‘Glastonbury Song’ (UK#29) proving that the transformation hadn’t affected Scott’s ability to produce a hit song. Scott failed in his attempt to gather together a touring line-up of the band and soon after declared The Waterboys were no more.

Mike Scott recorded several solo albums during the remainder of the 90s including another folk effort with 1995’s ‘Bring Em All In’. But in 2000 Scott resurrected The Waterboys name and put together an all new line-up to record the album ‘A Rock In A Weary Land’. The hard-rock edged album was yet another distinct chapter in the diverse story of The Waterboys. Mike Scott’s latest studio effort with The Waterboys was 2006’s ‘Book Of Lightning’ with a download only album entitled ‘Kiss The Wind’ released in 2008. The Waterboys have also recently opened for Neil Young on his current European tour.

Which brings me back to the story of former Waterboy Karl Wallinger…

Following his break from the ranks of The Waterboys in late 1985, Karl Wallinger put together his own band, which would essentially be Wallinger with a revolving door line-up of musicians in support (not unlike Mike Scott‘s Waterboys). Deciding on the name World Party, Wallinger took his Dylan-esque vocal style and Beatle-esque melodic sense and took his party to the world. Released in 1987, ‘Private Revolution’ was World Party’s debut album and the song that would get the party started was the prophetic ‘Ship Of Fools’. The single performed well enough in the U.K. (#41) and the U.S. (#27) but it really set sail on the Australian charts, eventually docking at #4. The album performed well enough on the back of the singles popularity (OZ#13, UK#56, US#39).

Wallinger then helped friend Sinead O’Connor record her debut album ‘The Lion and the Cobra’ in 1988 before reconvening World Party for the 1990 album ‘Goodbye Jumbo’ (UK#36/OZ#63/US#73). The Grammy nominated album (engineered by Joe Blaney who had worked with Prince) featured my favourite World Party song ‘Put The Message In The Box’ which reached #39 in the U.K. and both it and the second single ‘Way Down Now’ reached the top 10 on Billboard’s ‘Modern Rock Tracks’ chart. Wallinger also co-wrote several of the album’s songs with Guy Chambers who would go on to become a long time collaborator with Robbie Williams.

World Party released the EP ‘Thank You World’ in 1991 which featured their cover of The Beatles’ classic ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’. After a two year break, during which time he contributed to Peter Gabriel’s ongoing WOMAD project, Wallinger recruited guitarist Dave Caitlin-Birch and drummer Chris Sharrock to World Party in a fulltime capacity, and 1993’s ‘Bang!’ was the resultant album. It would be World Party’s biggest selling album in the U.K. (#2), but strangely its popularity didn’t extend beyond that market. It yielded three solid British hits with ‘Is It Like Today?’ (#19), ‘Give It All Away’ (#43) and ‘All I Gave’ (#37) making 1993 World Party’s most consistent year on the singles charts.

Never one to rush into the next project, Wallinger took his time working on World Party’s next album, 1997’s ‘Egyptology’ (UK#34). It was perhaps Wallinger’s most personal album to date and realised World Party’s most recent top 40 hit with ‘Beautiful Dream’ (#31).

The next album ‘Dumbing Up’ (2000) marked the beginning a challenging period in both World Party’s pathway and Wallinger’s personal life. Firstly the album was the first since Wallinger’s split from the Chrysalis label, and split from several former creative collaborators. Those former bandmates and label manager and in the interim taken a track from World Party’s ‘Egyptology’ called ‘She’s The One’ and made into a huge hit for Robbie Williams. Wallinger’s long time personal manager had recently died, and after playing only a handful of gigs to promote the new album, Wallinger suffered an almost life ending brain aneurysm. After a long period of rehabilitation Wallinger regained all of his physical capacities and also regained his enthusiasm for World Party. Wallinger regained control of World Party’s back catalog and struck a new recording and distribution deal. He also started working on new material for the first time in several years.

Karl Wallinger’s World Party hit the road in earnest during 2007, supporting Steely Dan on the Australian leg of their world tour. A new album is due in October entitled ‘Best In Show’. The greatest hits package will feature an exclusive internet link on each CD that will enable fans to access over 300 live versions and alternate takes of World Party’s best songs. The party rolls on...

'Ship Of Fools' clip courtesy of YouTube user gnowangerup

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