Willie J Healey
22nd November 2023
Time: 19:00 - 23:00
Price: £18 + BF
Is Willie J Healey your favourite artists’ favourite artist? You better believe it. Alex Turner, Joe Talbot of IDLES, Jamie T and Orlando Weeks are among those who believe, most having come onboard following the Neil Young-meets-The Beatles-meets Elvis Costello charms of his 2020 album ‘Twin Heavy’. And while Willie has largely been the preserve of those in the know, that’s all about to change. When Florence Welch heard his upcoming album ‘Bunny’ via its producer, her friend Loren Humphrey, as well as through YALA! Records co-founder Felix White, she was sufficiently impressed to invite Willie and his band on this autumn’s Florence + The Machine arena tour.
If you’ve already discovered the album’s introductory track, ‘Tiger Woods’, you’ll have had a first taste of why Florence was so won over. It sees Willie dive headfirst into a style of music he has always loved, but that never previously found its way into his own songs. It’s a low-slung, sensual ‘70s-style jam which simultaneously calls to mind Sly and The Family Stone, Philly soul, ‘Midnite Vultures’-era Beck and a little OutKast.
“The whole era is something that I love,” begins Willie. “Long before making ‘Twin Heavy’, I had always listened to funk, soul and R&B, but for some reason it never translated into my own music. Really my inspiration was just the feel of things, I really enjoyed playing music that makes you feel really good.”
While Willie appreciates classic ‘70s funk, he had no interest in the thankless task of trying to emulate Sly Stone. The turning point came from David Bowie. I know, I know: every artist cites Bowie as an influence. But Willie is a man almost as devoted to digging into an artist’s back catalogue as he is to making his own music. And so, rather than an obvious choice, he became enamoured by the relatively undiscovered ‘The Gouster’, an album of the Thin White Duke at his funkiest that only received its first official release in 2016.
From that point, he smiles, “the songs were just falling out of me.” Adding a contemporary touch to those timeless influences, the lead single ‘Dreams’ is essentially ‘Tiger Woods’ taken to a new level with hypnotic grooves, gospel harmonies, brass flourishes and Willie’s organic, understated falsetto.
A positive, engaging character in general, Willie beams with pride when discussing ‘Dreams’. “‘Dreams’ is both my personal reality and where I’d like to be, all in one song. I’m ambitious, I want people to hear my music and I do think it’s good. But also, I haven’t got to where I want to be yet. It’s about the idea of wanting something, and thinking it can fill some kind of hole for you. But you get to that point and realise this still isn’t it – you want more! It’s a really ambitious song and different to a lot of things that I’ve done before.”