12th August | SWX

Elsewhere in SWX on Saturday night, The Dreamboys were divesting themselves of their collective kit and showing what their mothers (and a dull, punishing gym regime) gave them, to what sounded through the walls like great approval. Willie J Healey’s set, however, pushed the boundaries of how much fun we could have with our clothes firmly left on. It’s reasonable to say that young Mr Healey’s music was as muscular and well-oiled as the fellas on the floor below, but in a radically more appealing sensory manner.

A free show, in promotion of his debut album People and their Dogs, due out on 18th August, it drew a young and enthusiastic crowd. As one of the few vintage members of the assembled ranks, I did wonder where the more seasoned ears were, especially considering the richly mature quality of Healey’s music. Gig veterans were missing out. You can tell that Healey is a huge music fan and his influences, on early evidence, seem vastly diverse, from The Beach Boys to Kurt Vile, possibly via Elvis Costello.

Bristling with natural exuberance, Healey led with delicious drawling vocals and some 40% ABV guitar hooks, as well as enough vigorous nods and head shakes to suggest he was either having a silent argument with himself, or getting as pleasantly lost in the music as we were. Not that it was all about the Willie. He nestled amply among his substantial four-piece band, out of which came one of the most pleasing non-ironic sax solos for over three decades on ‘My Room’ and a likeably daft Electric Mayhem drum solo in the latter stages of ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’.

“Those girls and those boys” in the audience were energised straightaway with the steady, insistent bounce of Healey’s rock ‘n’ stroll, through ‘Would You Be’ and ‘People and their Dogs’. ‘Pipedreams’ sang of being lazy and inept at skating, but confirmed to all how any equivalent musical aspirations are entirely achievable. As if re-enacting Mo Farah’s World Championship 5000m on ‘Subterraneans’, they dropped the tempo, building from the slow, textured, atmospheric opening, accelerating towards a dramatic sprint finish.

‘My Room’, ‘Somewhere In-Between’ and ‘Love Her’ ran continuously together into one long proggy Pink-Floyd symphony, with a Healey guitar solo, the aforementioned sax, a psychedelic interlude and a jot of funk, pretty much all Floyd releases from A Saucerful of Secrets to The Wall thrown into the cauldron. ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’, ‘Sleep All Day’ and ‘Greys’ completed a breakneck, but full-to-bursting fifty-minute set.

If tickets are free, you can’t really harp on about ‘value for money’. Mathematical pedants could argue that the enjoyment to expenditure value for a free gig renders enjoyment infinitely. Let’s just say that people had big smiles on their faces and they would willingly part with whatever worthless currency this sorry nation possesses to buy their own tickets next time he’s in town. If Declan McKenna is rightly lauded for his prodigious talents, then the same noises ought to be made about Willie J Healey. The future’s bright…

Check out the video for ‘People and Their Dog’ below.