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harryhealyA move to Melbourne promised many new opportunities for singer, songwriter Harry Healy. As he tells AM’s Greg Phillips,  a spot on TV’s The Voice wasn’t one he expected.

Any music fan who has been to Byron Bay may have seen 56 year old singer, songwriter and journeyman Harry Healy perform in the front bar of the Great Northern Hotel. He had a residency there for 14 years and developed a loyal following among the international backpacker brigade. Although his resume included some high profile support slots such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jon Anderson from Yes, in his heart Harry knew that career-wise, the residency was probably as good as it was going to get if he was to stay in Byron. For Harry, Melbourne, Australia’s music capital seemed the obvious choice for a kick start. Although, the price you pay for moving to a city with a healthy music scene is that there is a lot of competition. Suddenly, Harry went from playing 4-5 gigs a week in Northern NSW and Queensland to 4-5 a month in Melbourne. His wife suggested he audition for the TV show The Voice.

Now there’s nothing like a television talent show to polarise the Australian music-loving community. On one hand, shows like The Voice, Australian Idol and Australia’s Got Talent have given a level of exposure to contestants which they could never dream of scoring off their own independent bats. They have also given work to many musicians in the shows’ house bands. On the other hand, they are television shows at heart with the singular goal of achieving ratings. As a result, the way in which contestants are portrayed is at the mercy of editors and producers who are trying to create the most entertaining show that they can.  Harry Healy weighed up the pros and cons, bit the bullet and decided to send in an audition tape.

“Moving to Melbourne and struggling to get my feet on the ground, I had a lot of time to think,” explains Harry. “I was used to doing 4 or 5 gigs a week for twenty years. Coming down to doing that many gigs in a month, I was stressing out. It wasn’t so much financially but I didn’t realise psychologically what you gain out of doing gigs. If you have calluses on your fingertips and a croaky voice, then yeah, it’s going good. My wife suggested to go on The Voice. I’d never seen the show, only bits and pieces so I didn’t really know what it was about. So we decided to do a little video and submit it. I got an email back to say I was accepted and we are off to the blind auditions.”

Those of you who watch The Voice will know that Harry impressed the judges during his blind audition with his heartfelt rendition of Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet”. His tale about selecting the tune because it was the song his wife Lois chose for their wedding gained him a lot of support too. However, Harry was competing against 22 year old Frank Lakoudis and the judges favoured Frank’s Robert Plant-like vocal gymnastics. You won’t hear Harry complaining about his experience on The Voice though. Since exiting the show, his profile has increased dramatically, especially after his spot on the ‘Mornings’ show with David Campbell and Sonja Kruger the day after his blind audition.

“I flew up to do the ‘Mornings’ show,” he explained. “It was a five minute thing on TV. I’ve come back to the airport. I walked past a bunch of baggage handlers having their morning tea. This guy goes, g’day Harry. I looked and wondered how does he know me? He said he’d seen me on The Voice and then he wanted a photo taken for his daughter.”

Harry-Web1-742x1024Importantly, he has also picked up a lot of work including two new residencies and a season on the snow fields. “The exposure is great because I think there was like over 2 million people watching that show every night and I was on twice,” he explains. “If you go onto YouTube and watch the battle between Frank and myself, I think the feedback was pretty good because those kind of things can get pretty rough. But sometimes things are meant to be and I am honoured to have got this far and I’m glad I took the challenge and opportunity. I hope Frank wins because then I can say I got knocked out by the winner.”

Harry’s philosophy on performing is simple; make a connection with the audience and play what they want to hear. It’s that credo which resulted in people from all over the world enjoying his front bar gigs at the Great Northern for 14 years. “It was like travelling around the world every Tuesday night,” he recalls of the residency. “I have even written a song about that. There was one girl from Montreal who had been in town for months and she was going home. She said I’m going to miss you, it’s like a Saturday night in the middle of the week and I thought, there’s a song in that. I met so many people. One guy flew me over to Vancouver to play at his wedding, there was a birthday party in New Zealand, another wedding. So those kind of things came out of it.”

It’s no surprise that Harry is beginning to build a following in Melbourne, he’s one of the most professional musicians you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t mind travel, engages with the audience, gives the venue bookers value for their money and he comes prepared, carrying his own PA, microphones and gear. His guitar of choice is an Australian made Maton. “I’ve got a Maton EBG808C which is a working man’s guitar,” he says. “I’ve bashed it and trashed it and it has stood up. It’s a good old Maton. It’s been overseas with me and doesn’t let me down. It’s got two pickups. I run the standard AP5 in it. I also have a magnetic pickup which I run through an overdrive pedal. I blend the two of them. When I play, I punch the bridge of the guitar. I run a sub-woofer, full range speaker, so the whole thing is belting the guitar and the sub creates the rhythm and you’ve got that little bit of distortion sitting over the top of the standard sound. It builds the sound a bit more and to me, makes it a bit more rock. Obviously I don’t do that when I’m picking and playing something more sensitive.”

Looking to the future, Harry is hoping to consolidate on his new found fame, pick up some more work and maybe even record that elusive album he has never got around to doing.

“That’s one of the reasons I came to Melbourne,” Harry explains. “I’d like to meet a good producer. People tell me that some of my songs are worth … something. I’ve actually produced albums for other people. I know what contribution I made to those people and I am looking for someone to do that for me. There are things inside you that you don’t get out yourself. I’d say that I have 15 songs which are recordable but which I would like to strip apart and put back together. I’d like the opportunity, with someone who knows what they are doing, to stand beside me and say Harry, this is who you are.”

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