Willie Healey: star in the making

David Lawton senses musical potential at Willie J Healey’s gig at Cellar

Willie J Healey

A true Oxford homeboy, most of Willie J Healey’s music videos comprise, as someone at Zappi’s once told me, of him “pissing around on the Cowley Road with his mates”.

Willie describes his music as “rock n stroll” and has been compared to the likes of Kurt Vile and Mac Demarco for his lo-fi rock and home studio sound. Having landed up on National Anthem/ Columbia records, Willie J Healey is certainly one to watch, having progressed quickly from one eighteen-year-old dude recording for fun in his garage.

This summer I headed down to see him gig in his hometown. And what better venue for a bit of sweat ‘n’ roll than the Cellar. Before the show his frizzy ginger lid identified him to me, as he lingered by the purple turtle, greeting friends and fans. The gig on the whole was very low-key, with a gaggle of dedicated fans singing along at the front. At one point someone from the crowd passed Willie a San Pellegrino in special reference to his well-known proclivity for the beverage. The venue was pretty much full (not so impressive considering this is the Cellar we’re talking about).

Willie certainly had presence on the stage, one’s eye naturally drawn to him (and to his attractive second guitarist to the left). There is an identifiable uniqueness to his music – it’s not a slacker-rock, Mac Demarco rip-off. He employs less jangle, more classic rock. Musically, I hear Bowie and Bryan Ferry, especially in Healey’s punchy vocal style. Lyrically Willie’s songs are light-hearted but fun – memorable without being overwrought.

Although Healey had it within his ability to play all of the instruments on stage, his band did a great job of backing him up. Healey certainly had chemistry with his band, but this could’ve been stronger. There was little to no chat between songs, perhaps a conscious decision, perhaps nerves.

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Standout songs were definitely ‘Pipedreams’ and ‘Subterranean’ – the latter was especially great live – the tempo of the song building and building from a lulling unaccompanied slide guitar to an energised quick-tempo full wall of sound. Real jump-along stuff with Healey’s unique bass vocals punching themselves over the rhythm.

Healey took the opportunity to play some new material that also clearly had potential. The biggest drawback with the gig was its length. It was disappointingly short. This is due mainly to the amount of songs that Healey has written, which is understandably short given his age. One gets the impression that this guy, given another year or two of serious music making, will be really really good. For now though I can honestly say my ears were left wanting more.