Sometimes you just have to throw your hands up and admit, you’ve been sleeping on an artist. On Saturday night it took probably half of the opening track, Bumble Bee, for us to realise that was the case with Willie J Healey.
Having heard the name thrown around for the past 3 or 4 years, always in high regard, as well as having seen it occupy impressive supporting slots on tour posters (including Florence & The Machine and Arctic Monkeys) we knew Willie J had credibility and that we’d be unlikely to leave his gig unimpressed. The extent to which this would ring true to however was a tad embarrassing.
A few nights in to a whirlwind tour which spans the UK & Ireland over the next fortnight, both frontman and his band not only project plenty of good vibes into the room but seem locked in with each other with that immaculate balance of rehearsed yet still jammy precision. The varied influences and styles that are weaved into tonight’s set, and Healey’s discography in general, present a wonderful platform for musicians to impress as tracks flow through different feels.
Some of the more country tinged tracks remind us of the wonderful song writing and lyrical craft of Kevin Morby, during the poppier numbers we throw names like Marc Bolan and Simon & Garfunkel at each other trying to put our finger on the pulse of this endearing man who jigs before us. A review should never be a list of ‘sounds like’ names but when you’re throwing around things like “bit Dylan-y” (Black Camaro), “Neil Young-ish”, “oh you can hear why he supported The Car tour” (Tiger Woods) you kind of want people to know that they are the comparisons you’re coming to.
One of the most impressive feats on display tonight (we’re not even going to mention successfully playing decent sized venues in both Liverpool and Manchester on the same tour…), is one that was lost to us until we left the venue and dissected the set list and the albums from which the tracks came from, was the participation from the crowd. If there’s anything worse than being at a gig of an artist you’ve let slip by it’s being at one where the rest of the crowd are confidently singing along word for word to songs you’re hearing for the first time. What’s wonderful though is that they are singing along to songs they themselves only heard for the first time a few months ago, with tonight’s live standouts coming from his latest release Bunny. Naively we’d presumed the big sing along numbers tonight would have come from one of his two earlier records, but nope. Thank You, Dreams, Tiger Woods, Woke Up Smiling have all made a memorable and catchy mark in the short time they’ve been out in the world.
Vocally Willie is gifted with a captivating and versatile voice and style that draws you in, it can range from rough and gravelly to common as muck song to song but never feels out of place or ‘put on’. His stage presence is no less engaging. There is an authenticity right from the get go (including a joke about two vultures eating a clown) that breaks down any scepticism or pretence an audience might have been trying to cling to that means when he’s rolling around on the floor in his quilted gillet you grin towards him, where you might roll your eyes for lesser performers.
The band end the show with a couple of ‘oldies’ including a standout rendition of Subterraneans from his debut album before departing the stage to much appreciation, leaving Willie J Healey to perform the final number of the night solo, Twin Heavy‘s Fashun. Seeing a performance of such a high calibre in person often leaves you scratching your head as to why, frankly, we’re standing in a room of a few hundred happy dancing folk as opposed to a room of a few thousand. There’s nothing about the music or the man on display that would or should stand in his way of being a hugely popular artist. Catchy and genuinely top tunes we’ve been listening to all weekend on the back of seeing him, super fun stage presence, critically well thought of, recognisable image. It almost feels so inevitable that these smaller gigs won’t last too much longer that we’ll just accept it for now and enjoy the more intimate experience.
A song or two into the night Willie asked the crowd “What day is this?”, then pleaded to know “And what do we do on Saturday nights?”. What do we do on Saturday nights? We’re woken up to Willie J Healy and not only leave smiling but with two vinyl’s in hand we can’t wait to give a very overdue spin.
Catch Willie J Healey live on his UK and Ireland tour at the following dates and buy tickets here, if you can, they’re selling out quick!
November 14: Leeds Brudenell Social Club
November 15: Newcastle – The Cluny
November 16: Glasgow St Luke’s
November 17: Edinburgh – The Mash House SOLD OUT November 18: Manchester Band On The Wall SOLD OUT
November 20: Nottingham Rescue Rooms
November 21: Birmingham Castle & Falcon
November 22: Bristol SWX
November 23: London Brixton Electric
Photo Gallery by Alex Cropper
Sure Feels Good
All Those Things
Woke Up Smiling
Why You Gotta Do It
Songs for Joanna