THINGS are going well for Willie J Healey – and rightly so.

The easy-going Carterton singer-songwriter has gone from quirky crafter of genre-defying oddly-observational alternative pop, to polished purveyor of funked-up soul. And it has come with a huge following, fans including Arctic Monkeys, IDLES, Jamie T, Orlando Weeks, Oxford’s Gaz Coombes, and Florence + the Machine.

His new album, Bunny – recorded with with Loren Humphrey in New York – has been roundly hailed as a perfect slice of funk-flavoured, Americana-tinged soulful pop. And it’s delivered with style, sensuality, heartfelt honesty, and a self-effacing sense of humour forged in Oxfordshire’s wild west.

It is engaging, enchanting and impossible to pigeonhole. And it so impressed the aforementioned Florence Welch that she invited him to play support on her arena tour – spreading the magic even further.

Alex Turner did the same, asking Willie to support Arctic Monkeys on their European dates.

“Life is good,” says Willie, 29, who is gearing up for an almost-hometown show at the O2 Academy Oxford on November 10.

Oxford Mail: Wilderness Festival 2022 at Cornbury Park. Picture by Tim HughesWillie J Healey at Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire. Picture by Tim Hughes

“I am playing a lot of shows I wouldn’t have dreamt of playing when I was starting out. It’s been a hustle – and still is. I’ve been working hard and learning a lot. I think about things before they happen, and before I know it I’m actually doing those things.

“And I’ve embraced that. I’m playing music that feels good, is honest and fun.”

He’s come a long way since starting out playing garage rock, appropriately enough, in the garage of his family home in Carterton – or ‘C-town’ as he fondly calls it.

The former Carterton Community College pupil taught himself guitar, getting to grips with the instrument while jamming with his rock-loving dad and grandfather at family gatherings. He honed his craft on a music diploma course at Oxford & Cherwell Valley College before taking his first steps as a live artist at Oxford’s open mic nights, before diving headlong into the city’s music scene while gigging with a band of local artists.

He now lives in Bristol, that city’s music scene having also taken him under its wing. Friends include Joe Talbot of IDLES with whom he stays fit cycling around the hills and vales of the West Country. The band famously invited Willie on stage during their scorching set at Glastonbury Festival last year.

The new album is soaked in 70s soul, funk and R&B. Think Sly and The Family Stone and Philly soul with reminders of Neil Young and the Beatles.

“I listen to a lot of that era of music,” he says. “And I have absorbed that over the years.”

Among those endorsing the uplifting vibe is Jamie T, who features on the song Thank You. The song was dedicated to Jamie by a grateful Willie after the Mercury Prize-nominated Panic Prevention star pushed him in a funkier direction by lending him a drum machine.

It’s sophisticated stuff but typically self-effacing; Willie says he prefers to write while happy, and his is clearly enjoying himself – not least in the videos which accompany the tunes.

Oxford Mail: Willie J. Healey. Picture by Hollie FernandoWillie J Healey. Picture by Hollie Fernanado

“I struggle to take everything too seriously,” he confesses.

But as well as being observational, it’s also endearingly romantic, betraying a sentimental streak.

“I’d say I’m a fairly sensual soul,” he chuckles.

“Romance, love and things of that nature are relatable and, historically, something that people like to listen to – and I’m one of those people. Writing about love and its ups and downs comes naturally to me.”

He adds: “Music means an awful lot to me,” he says. “I’m quite a laid back person and my music is a form of expression – so I like music that makes you feel good but also like to straddle feelings and topics that aren’t so much fun.”

And fame hasn’t changed the Carterton lad who previously dabbled with the idea of becoming a plasterer.

“My family and friends can vouch for that,” he says. “I appreciate that and feel comfortable with it.”

That means shunning rock star trappings and ego trips.

Oxford Mail: Willie J. Healey. Picture by Hollie FernandoWillie J Healey. Picture by Hollie Fernanado

“There’s no space for that,” he says. “And if I catch myself sounding too far up my own... whatever, then my friends will call it out!

“This is a long road with no turns and it’s important to stay in touch with what’s going on and not disappear up my own hype. I didn’t get into music to be like that.”

And he remains grateful for the support of fans and other musicians, admitting support slots for the Arctic Monkeys and Florence + the Machine have given him a welcome boost. He has previously supported Supergrass star Gaz Coombes.

“It’s pretty momentous to get that recognition from people you have grown up idolising and have musical respect for,” he says.

“It can feel you’re floating around in a pipe dream but to receive praise from people who are not family or friends can keep you going on. When you re touring like that, it sends a message and people seem to have a slightly different perception of where things are at and where they could go. They go ‘wow, you’re doing this!’.

“It brings a lot of people to my music because when they see an artist touring with an artist they become biased. They see a support as being curated by a person they love. After all, Florence + the Machine won’t have anyone that’s no good supporting her.

“I’ve definitely seen a step up in followers and it’s a great luxury to have been helped in that way.”

It hasn’t come out of nowhere though, with more than a decade of gigging, five EPs and now three albums under the belt of the songsmith who started off performing under the name Sweet William.

He laughs: “I have been playing gigs since the age of 16 or 17 and am now 29, and have been playing as Willie J Healey for 10 years – so I’ve been going longer than the Beatles!”

He goes on: “It’s not easy to believe in this great unknown as I can see how it sucks people up, but it takes different strokes for different folks, Some people get it straight away and do it in their first year or two of making music.

“But I feel gratitude to have been a bit plodding. It’s been slow at times and I’ve wondered how to get to the next level but it’s allowed me to appreciate the nice things that have come around.”

And that includes the forthcoming Oxford gig.

“I can’t wait!” he says with genuine excitement. “I love playing in Oxford and it holds a special place in my heart. Hopefully it will be busy, with lots of friends and my parents and grandparents. It will be nice to come back and play that room I am so familiar with.”

* Willie J Healey plays the O2 Academy Oxford on Friday, November 10. See