Following a (regrettable) 3-year hiatus from seeing Willie J Healey live, I decided to venture down to Jamie Vardy country to reunite with my favourite artist of the last 5 years. For me, it’s a miracle that Willie J has managed to slip under the radar for so long; he’s a clever lyricist with an eye for the finer details and though his songs tend to address the mundane, they’re anything but sublunary.
For those of you who find yourselves outside of the Willie J shaped loop, he makes the most silky-smooth of guitar music; teetering between prog rock and lo-fi, and termed by my mate Jackson as ‘Americana music but by an English dude’. Moreover, he’s really fucking cool. Like effortlessly so. In my initial notes from the gig, I called Willie ‘the grunge groon’ and upon reflection I’m not entirely sure why. It reminds of the Grinch and I’m sure that Willie J Healey (objectively the nicest man alive) is the opposite of the Grinch. But nonetheless, the grunge groon delivered an assured, uplifting performance exhibiting his boundless power, sass and potential.
In the interest of chronology, the night began with support from Jelly Boy, Benji Compston’s (formerly of Happyness) exciting new project. With only one song, “Give Up and Gamble’, having been released as of yet, I felt privileged to get a sneaky peeky of what was to come. What ensued was thoroughly beautiful. With epithets of the garage-rock irreverence of Happyness’ first album and a sprinkling of Elliott Smith’s tenderness, both lyrically and in vocal delivery; Jelly Boy delivered the most electrifying of gifts.
The cramped basement of the Cookie was promptly greeted by Willie J and his 5-piece band, who gave his fans an eclectic set, piped full of enough fantastic songs to fill the set of an artist who has been around for decades. Following a stimulating taste of an unreleased song, “Songs for Joanna”, and the uplifting debut album title-track, “People and Their Dogs’, an early set highlight was the interlinked duo of songs, ‘My Room’ and ‘Somewhere in Between’. On his album, these two tracks thaw into one and Willie’s decision to emulate this in his live show demonstrates his genius. The former is one of the Willie’s louder pieces, with a locomotive bass line and blistering lead guitar. Whereas, by sweet sweet contrast, the latter gushes into a smooth, sunset ballad, smothered in honeysuckle saxophone and with a pertinently concise chorus – If you love the one you’re with / Don’t love the one you won’t / The people that you like the least / Are probably the ones who love you most
Remarkably, Willie was able to achieve the most beautiful of contrasts throughout his show, from the soft and delicate to the erupting. The fever-pitch climax came through ‘Love Her’, a short, cathartic expulsion of passion, topped with Willie’s grunting vocals. He also exhibited songs from his most recent 666 Kill EP, an existential affair which is an ode to some of his more folky influences and features some of his greatest craftsmanship. ‘Lovelawn’ elicited an adoring response from the whole room with its sweet sweet melody and its careless, gentle sound and delicate twang. Whilst the piano-driven ‘Guitar Music’ (ha!) exhibited the very best of Willie J’s vocal offerings.
Willie was assured on stage, often using his hand to cup his ear and nonchalantly grinning at the crowd so as to gently encourage them to sing along. As the set neared its ecstatic end, Willie J racked his beautiful mind and re-birthed some of his most beloved singles. ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’, a stylistically astounding tale, depicting the unintentional, painless shaving cut, swelled into a euphoric end complete with a drum-solo and an impromptu STAGE INVASION! This just left the frantic and escalating ‘Greys’
An outstanding performance from an artist whose passion for his music exuberates through each and every one of his pores. Willie had clearly relished the night as much as every misfit in the crowd, something which was evident as the sweaty grunge groon stepped off stage and handed out flowers to his awe-struck companions.
Colossal. Infectious. Genius.
Photo credit: Lucasz Geida