World Party – Arkeology

Arkeology - World Party

A few months ago the new World Party release came out, a five-CD collection called Arkeology.

  Arkeology consists of a delightful grab-bag of Karl Wallinger’s music from 1984 until almost the present; there are World Party b-sides, live recordings, radio sessions and out-takes covering rock, alt-rock, funk, p-funk, folk, country, music-hall, musicals, even comedy. If this sounds un-focussed, it is, but in the best possible way – put on any disc and prepare to be dazzled by Wallinger’s kaleidoscopic vision of music.

I’ve been a fan for years and years, especially when Goodbye Jumbo came out in 1990, a blend of Stones, Beatles, Dylan, Prince, Beach Boys and Hendrix influences which was invigorating without being slavish in devotion; to paraphrase the essay inside Arkeology, Wallinger had done his homework and then managed to forget he’d done the homework. Great songs performed with gusto and attention to detail. I was lonely for this sort of thing at the time.

I was lucky enough to meet Karl once in 1997 on the release of the Egyptology album. The EMI rep called me at work one tedious Monday morning and asked if I was interested in going to a playback of the new album that night at La Belle Angele in Edinburgh.

“Will he be playing?” I asked.

“No, definitely not, but he will be there to chat to people.”

Good enough for me, so I and a few friends went along…and were delighted to see the stage in the venue set up with piano, drums and guitar. Wallinger, Chris Sharrock (ex of The La’s and indeed World Party) and John Turnbull from The Blockheads availed themselves of the respective instruments and played a short and bracing set. Then the free bar opened and the artists mingled.

Wallinger was very pleasant and signed all my albums; I recall we had a chat about the current McCartney album, which I think would have been Flaming Pie, in “we are not worthy” terms. Chris Sharrock asked if I was coming to the World Party show which was taking place a few months later in Glasgow and I must have been a bit non-committal, because he said to just go and tell the door staff he said it was OK to get in…couldn’t see that working with a Glasgow doorman somehow.

The label had run out of free copies of the album and I agreed with Karl that I would send him a copy of the excellent booklet by Edinburgh comedian Douglas Healy John Lennon in Edinburgh and he said he’d get me an album sent out.

One of the songs they played from Egyptology that night was “She’s The One,” which soon of course became a mega-hit for Robbie Williams, presumably through the auspices of Williams producer and frequent World Party member Guy Williams.

Another album, Dumbing Down, followed, then apparent silence. It turns out the silence was due to a bout of bad health for Karl starting with a stroke in 2001 – on recovery, he started working again, but more under the radar. I guess times and the industry had changed even by then.

So; good to have the new record (well, 5 CD set,) as well as good reports of a recent gig at the Albert Hall and a couple of attendant warm-up shows. Hopefully there will be a platform for wider touring soon, because the live tracks from the turn of the nineties on Arkeology have served to remind me of what an AWESOME band World Party were on the three or four occasions I saw them (on consecutive nights in Edinburgh and Glasgow at one point, they were that good.)

When they went into the funk, there was the sense they were about to levitate; lefty Wallinger with his upside down guitars, Sharrock elaborate but not flash with a subtle sense of showmanship, Dave Caitlin-Birch (the original Paul from The Bootleg Beatles I was recently told by his counterpart in Them Beatles) pumping on one of several Hofner violin basses. Max Eadie and Guy Chambers were also in that band and there are maybe half-a-dozen live recordings from that period on Arkeology which take me right back to these nights.

The effortless range of styles across the five CDs would dilute the impact of many talents, but is actually a strength of this package – it’s great just to listen to any (or all) of the CDs from start to finish. Like a good meal, there’s a bit of everything, it all complements each other and it leaves you replete.

But of course, over five CDs not everything can be a highlight; different people would choose differently, but for me, the best bits are (as mentioned) the turn of the nineties live tracks; an alternative, super p-funked version of “What Is Love All About” with Andy Newmark on drums; “Another One,” a Basement Tapes influenced ramble; “I’m Only Dozing,” which is deeply sinister in the sixties English pop style of which its lyrics are an incantation; and an amazing cover of Dylan’s “Sweetheart Like You” which is sonically close to the original (that was his point in trying it out) but becomes its own thing (or given the amount of Clinton-influences around, should that be “thang?”)

In the notes, Karl mentions that when he was boy in the sixties, there were only about fifteen albums and forty singles at home, but they were quite enough to fill him with the sense of wonder of how the music worked.

I wonder what they were? The Beatles (White Album) for sure, probably Sgt Pepper and Rubber Soul; Highway 61 and probably Bringing It All Back Home; a best of The Beach Boys; The Sound of Music (everybody had it;) definitely Beggars Banquet; possibly Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits…as for the singles, the sort of singles collection that people had in the sixties would be as multi-faceted as the music on Arkeology turns out.

I wonder if there is any pre-teens around nowadays with the sense of wonder for music that was inculcated in the sixties just by being open to everything?

Anyway, I surely hope that there will be some World Party shows soon…meanwhile, I’ll keep spinning these fantastic discs, just like my imaginary sixties kid.

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