IT’S impossible not to like – or, even, love Willie J Healey.

The Carterton singer-songwriter has a remarkable talent for ticking every box as your new favourite artist while standing out as a singular writer and performer quite unlike anyone else around.

Here is a self-taught guitarist who has paid his dues on the Oxford music scene, honing his craft in small rooms and muddy fields for well over a decade. And it has paid off.

His heartfelt blend of pop, rock, soul and funk delivered with passion, dynamism and a welcome dollop of fun, is musical catnip.

And while he is impressive on album, it is on stage that you really get what Willie J is all about.

A one-time fixture of the local gig scene, Willie has spread his wings, propelled on a stellar trajectory to inevitable stardom by a devoted fanbase including some very big names indeed – not least Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine, and Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys – who both invited Willie to support them on their arena tours.

While now living in Bristol, Willie is still proud of his Oxfordshire heritage and on Friday (November 10) he came home with a show in the big room at the O2 Academy Oxford.

Oxford Mail: Willie J Healey at the O2 Academy Oxford, 10/11/23. Picture by Tim HughesPictures by Tim Hughes

Unsurprisingly, he packed the place. What was interesting though was the make-up of the crowd, with everyone from fresh-faced students, lively lasses, buttoned-up blokes, captivated couples, many a familiar-faced grizzled local gig-goer, and a smattering of supportive fellow musicians.

The show followed the release of Willie’s new album Bunny and spotlighted his stylish swaggering soul, sparky pop, chunky alt-rock and new found funk.

Few performers would be able to convincingly carry that off, but Willie made it feel natural. And he looked right at home – in his natural habitat surrounded by his mates – not least the virtuoso guitarist Chris Barker of the band Premium Leisure.

Kicking off with Bumble Bee, from the new LP, the captivated crowd were alternately rocked, soothed, charmed and funked-up.

Oxford Mail: Willie J Healey at the O2 Academy Oxford, 10/11/23. Picture by Tim Hughes

There were flashes of homage to Sly & the Family Stone, Motown, grunge, Neil Young and Prince – Willie and the band taking their feet on and off ‘the gas’ – one minute sauntering dreamily along in loved-up reverie, the next hurtling along, pedal to the metal.

The grungy discordant guitar onslaught of the deceptively sweetly-titled but emotionally fraught Love Her (from his brilliant People and their Dogs album), could not be more different to the upbeat comfort blanket soul of tunes like Dreams and Thank You – which shimmered like the tropical sun reflected off a beach club pina colada.

Best was the catchy For You – a perfect pop tune with tender vocals set against powerhouse guitars and flashes of psychedelia.

Whiplash-inducing changes of pace gave the set its energy. It was a party night, after all, and while his soulful saunterings are delicious, it was the punchy guitar and drums that gave the show its thrusting momentum.

Oxford Mail: Willie J Healey at the O2 Academy Oxford, 10/11/23. Picture by Tim Hughes

And Willie was clearly loving it – plunging around the stage, one minute arms outstretched, the next crashing to the floor... playing his guitar across his chest while lying up against the drum kit.

As things warmed up (quite literally – the venue’s air conditioning has only two settings: sauna and Arctic), Willie whipped off his shirt, revealing armfulls of tattoos – largely avian though with a scorpion, sting dripping poison, hinting at a darker, more mischievous, edge.

And that’s Willie J Healey all over. For all his charm, honesty and self-effacing humour, what you see is not quite what you get. Yes, there’s sweetness and soul, but also grit, passion, muscle and lots of fun – all of which makes him a superlative artist and one deservedly heading to very great things indeed.

Willie J is a star in the making. We are lucky to have him as one of our own.

Oxford Mail: Willie J Healey at the O2 Academy Oxford, 10/11/23. Picture by Tim Hughes