Willie J Healey is a performer that deserves a bigger stage. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Loft’s performance area dimensions mind you – it’s agreeable height and position directly in front of the bar ticking a few boxes personally. No, it’s just that as much as I enjoy seeing artists in small venues, this is a singer that deserves to be playing to as many people as possible. Offering tune-after-singalong-head-nodding tune, tonight’s show offers yet more evidence that Healey is one of the country’s most creative and entertaining singer-songwriters.
Originally breaking onto the scene in 2015, it’s fair to say Healey has been a little hard to categorise. His releases so far offer musical touch points of everything from 60s beat pop to 70s garage rock to Elliot Smith to Dire Straits and a bit of Marc Bolan thrown in for good measure. What this allows though is for a set full of variety, moving between soulful ballad to indie rock belter with ease. Last year’s excellent sophomore record ‘Twin Heavy’ provides many of tonight’s songs and the live versions of these tunes offering a slightly more fuzzed up and fuller sounding experience than on record. ‘Songs for Johanna’ is out early doors and rattles along at pace, Healey producing a few guttural cries and whoops mid-song for good measure whilst the George Harrison-esque ‘Why You Gotta Do It’ offers up a hugely uplifting moment.
But then halfway through (and just as the band – and crowd – are warming up nicely) the mics suddenly go dead. Cue a frantic sound technician’s worst nightmare of a flustered 15 minutes of pulling wires and pressing buttons. As the problem is looked into, Healey requests silence as he begins to strum through an unamplified version of ‘We Should Hang’. The final track of his debut album is built for sing-a-longs and is often the last track of his regular setlist. With the added tension that this could in fact be the final song of this evening, the crowd respond in full throated unison. Despite Healey comically chiding us for not knowing every word, the choruses ring out and the song – or at least this version of the song – is a highlight of the set.
Thankfully for all involved, the sound technician sorts the problem and the rest of the set continues without issue. The songs are blasted through, if not at breakneck speed then with an obvious urgency. ‘Fashun’ with it’s Richard Swift meets T-Rex melodies is fantastic whilst things get a bit heavier with the power chord fuelled ‘Love Her’, Healey again evidencing his chameleon-like repertoire with it’s Pixies like structure and vocal lines. Throughout it all he looks so obviously happy to be back performing on a stage after the last year or so, letting the audience know on a few occasions between songs just what it means to him and his bandmates. His heartfelt exuberance about gigs returning translates into his obvious joy for performing – his only real sense of frustration coming with a bit too much audience talking during the beautifully yearning ‘Twin Heavy’ but he’s quick to forgive. It’s this joy, this love of music which has shaped Healey’s multifaceted sound so far and will no doubt continue to forge everything he does next.
Willie J Healey is a performer who deserves a bigger stage. On tonight’s performance, it won’t be long till he gets it.