Karl Wallinger of World Party has died, aged 66

Portrait of Karl Wallinger of World Party in the studio , United Kingdom, 1990.
(Image credit: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)

Karl Wallinger, best known as the frontman and songwriter for World Party, has died, aged 66. The news was confirmed by his publicist.

"Karl Wallinger, the Welsh-born musician and composer better known as the singular force behind World Party, died Sunday March 10. Presciently ahead of his time with songs such as Ship Of Fools, Put The Message In The Box and Is It Like Today?, in addition to the magic of She’s The One and the Waterboys' The Whole Of The Moon, Wallinger was 66.

"Karl leaves behind a loving family including wife Suzie Zamit, son Louis Wallinger, daughter Nancy Zamit and two grandchildren. The family invites Karl’s friends and fans to share their thoughts on his Facebook page or Instagram."

Wallinger was born in Prestatyn, Wales, in October 1957, and educated at Charterhouse, an English boarding school famously attended by the original five members of Genesis. (Wallinger later worked with Peter Gabriel on his Big Blue Ball project, though the two men weren't at the school at the same time.)

Wallinger's first band, Pax – later Quasimodo – featured two future members of The Alarm, Dave Sharp and Nigel Twist, but it was as keyboard player for The Waterboys that he first tasted success, playing on the albums A Pagan Place (1984) and This Is the Sea (1985), and helping arrange the music on tracks like The Whole Of The Moon and getting a writing credit on Don't Bang the Drum. Chief Waterboy Mike Scott once commented that "having Karl in the studio was like having a one-man orchestra around. There might have been a This Is the Sea without him, but it wouldn't have been the same – or as good."

Wallinger left to form World Party. Their debut album, Private Revolution (1986), was an unusual mix of soul and folk music, and the influence of Prince, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, the Stones and the Beach Boys continued on 1990's Goodbye Jumbo, a critically-acclaimed album that featured the hits Message In The Box (a UK top 40 hit in June 1990) and Way Down Now, which topped the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart that same year. 

Melodic, authentic and gorgeous, Goodbye Jumbo announced the arrival of a major talent. Q magazine voted it their Album of the Year.

Wallinger wasn't prolific – between their formation and their last album in 2000, World Party only released five studio albums – each an impressive showcase of Wallinger's songwriting and production talent. He worked with Sinead O'Connor on the demos that got her signed. In return, she sang on the Goodbye Jumbo track Sweet Soul Dream and Wallinger later arranged Sinead's song Black Boys On Mopeds for her second album, I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got (1990). His biggest hit came from his song She's The One when it became a UK number one hit for Robbie Williams in 1999.

In 2001, Wallinger suffered a brain aneurysm that derailed his career for a while. He returned to touring in 2006.

"Songs are just amazing things because they go off and they have their own life," he told The Big Takeover. "They get played at weddings and funerals and births and deaths and everything. Happy moments or moments of doubt or moments where it just seems to be the friend you want. It’s a strange thing, the way they have their own life. I love that about them. They’re like kids. They’ve gone off and experienced more of life, probably, than I have."

The Waterboys' Mike Scott paid tribute: "Travel on well my old friend," he tweeted. "You are one of the finest musicians I've ever known."

Scott Rowley
Content Director, Music

Scott is the Content Director of Music at Future plc, responsible for the editorial strategy of online and print brands like Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Guitarist, Guitar World, Guitar Player, Total Guitar etc. He was Editor in Chief of Classic Rock magazine for 10 years and Editor of Total Guitar for 4 years and has contributed to The Big Issue, Esquire and more. Scott wrote chapters for two of legendary sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson's books (For The Love Of Vinyl, 2009, and Gathering Storm, 2015). He regularly appears on Classic Rock’s podcast, The 20 Million Club, and was the writer/researcher on 2017’s Mick Ronson documentary Beside Bowie