Live Review: Willie J Healey - YES, Manchester 20/02/2019

Willie J Healey - YES - Manchester - 20-2-19-3.jpg

Willie J Healey played a sold-out show at YES, Manchester, as part of Yala! Records first event in the city.

As a relatively new venue, YES is a converted auction house set out over 4 floors. Owned by promoters Now Wave, the venue has become one of the coolest spots in the city. Hosting two gig venues, a roof terrace, eatery area and various bars, we went down to the basement in time for doors opening.

Even though the building has been renovated, the basement venue still feels authentic, with a low ceiling, dim lighting and cave like stage. Our early arrival let us appreciate the venue for what it is, although it wasn’t long before it reached capacity. With stage times running 30 minutes behind schedule, whilst waiting we were entertained by a Yala! Records video projecting onto the backdrop before Egyptian Blue took to the stage. The strong visuals (tackling everything from key moments in history to movements in music and garish graphics) were accompanied by an even stronger playlist, which was down to former Maccabees guitarist and Yala! Records founder, Felix White, DJing between sets. 

Acting as Yala! Records debut night in Manchester, this marked the first time support band, Egyptian Blue, had performed in the city too. Whilst making a list of firsts; this was also my first time seeing Willie J Healey live.

Egyptian Blue, all wearing long trench style coats, did a quick sound check before starting their set. The Brighton based band drew in an eager crowd, having never played a gig in Manchester before it’s fair to say they are more than welcome to come back anytime! 

Sitting somewhere in-between bands of a similar genre, fans of Hotel Lux, FEET or Drenge would be pleasantly surprised. Egyptian Blue appear to bring something a little more compelling to the genre, whilst their distinct post-punk sound suited the gritty venue, the four-piece are sure onto something bigger. With their set drawing in a tight crowd, their live performance is certainly one to watch out for.

As Egyptian Blue’s set ended, it was then a quick turnaround between bands. As the stage was set and ready for the headline act, we were again kept entertained by DJ Felix White.

Making their way through the crowd, Willie J Healey and his band took made it to the stage, where they were greeted with applause. 

Working their way through a long set list, which included new songs amongst album tracks from the 2017 release ‘People and their Dogs’ and tracks from the new EP (released on Yala! Records) ‘666 Kill’, each one of the witty well-written songs about love and everyday life were performed with modesty.

From the set list written on a scrap of cardboard, to the scenic picture sitting above the drum kit, to Willie’s cheeky hand-written press pass (see photos), the set was full of personality.

“Thanks for having us Yala! Let’s get a heck yeah for Yala!” Willie J Healey spoke briefly between songs, but his confidence came whilst performing. Looking genuinely happy to be there, the crowd sang back his lyrics, as a room felt united in appreciation.

‘Love Her’ came before ’Guitar Music’, which saw the saxophone for the first time of the evening, with the sax solos also hearing the biggest cheers of the night. After the song had come to a close, and the cheering had calmed down, Willie said “You’re really too kind Manchester”, talking about the extensive cheering he said, “it’s really too much”, proving just how humble he is, this was a good time for him to introduce the rest of the band.

A new song called ‘Big Nothing’ was previewed before introducing ‘Lovelawn’ by saying “This one’s for the heartbreak kids”.

“We’ve only got three left, thanks for coming everyone, this one’s called Subterraneans”. One of his first releases from 2015, ‘Subterraneans’ is a fan pleaser proving it’s just as relevant in 2019. Finishing on ‘Lazy Shade of Pink’ and ‘Greys’, the band left the stage.

From start to finish Willie J Healey was extremely modest, addressing the audience and thanking fans throughout. As such a genuine character, it’s not hard to recognise why he’s on Felix White’s label; as The Maccabees were often referred to as one of the most humble bands around, and certainly the most modest I’ve ever seen live. I could talk for days about The Maccabees (can you tell it still breaks my heart they decided to call it a day) but in the meantime Willie J Healey is an alternative artist on the verge of something big. With his songs perfect for anything from rainy days to summer vibes, he’s adapted his witty writing into catchy anthems and I can’t wait to see him perform again.

Words and photography by Abbie Jennings