Willie J Healey laughs as he remembers his first foray into the world of music, bashing out rock in the garage of his parents’ Carterton home.

“It was quite literally garage rock,” he recalls.

Since then he has become one of the country’s hottest new artists – and it has all happened in the space of a year.

While still no stranger to his mum and dad’s garage, he is also acquainted with some of the country’s better live venues and festivals. And this Saturday he plays his biggest (almost) hometown show to date with a headline show in the big room of the O2 Academy Oxford.

For the 23 year-old artist who has plugged away at his craft the old fashioned way, it is, he admits, all very exciting.

“I can’t wait!” he says, talking while on his way up to a gig in Sheffield, yesterday.

“It feels great to be playing in Oxford. It will be fun and I know it’s going to be a good one!

“Playing Oxford is always special because you feel people are rooting for you. They are supportive and are not just coming along to judge you.”

Skinny, softly-spoken, genuinely warm and sporting a shock of curly red hair, Willie is not your conventional rock star – he is too nice for that. But don’t be fooled. His music may chart life in small town Carterton, but it is rich and textured, both lyrically and musically.

There’s no doubt this has been Willie’s year. We saw him supporting Palace at The Bullingdon, playing a packed out basement at Modern Art Oxford and on stage, and eating candy floss in the crowd, at that muddy Truck Festival. Then there was Reading.

But word of Willie’s wordsmithery and musical talent have spread far beyond the county line, with gigs around the country, including Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and slots on Radio 1.

The word, it seems is definitely out.

“It has been an amazing year,” he says. “Sometimes it surprises me. We played last night and the place was really busy – and that was on a Tuesday in Nottingham.

“I was saying to [Witney guitarist] Chris Barker afterwards how surprising it was. I couldn’t believe it. You forget how quickly things have happened.”

So how has the year gone? “It’s gone really quickly,” he laughs. “I’ve been busy writing and gigging and hopefully I’ll continue to work and play and people will enjoy it.

“I’ll definitely take another 12 months like the last.”

The shows follow a phenomenal response to his debut album People and their Dogs.

The album is about small town life, but with curious flights of fancy, such as on Greys, which imagines what might happen if he was abducted by aliens, and whether anyone would even notice. “I like sci-fi”, he says, by way of explanation.

Despite the trappings of fame, he is still at home in‘C-town’, as he fondly refers to his home.

West Oxfordshire’s second biggest settlement, with its lack of major excitement or, crucially, distraction, suits him well.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” he says. “It’s pretty nice. It’s fairly slow but that’s good for me as I like that pace of life. I used to play lots of football and still have lots of friends here. It was better to grow up here than in the city – though there are times I wish I could walk down the road and watch a gig.

“It has fed my creativity too. If I am bored it forces me to make my own fun. I sometimes want a bit of hustle and bustle but when I am here it does force me to concentrate on my own stuff.”

The 23-year-old former Carterton Community College pupil is self-taught, admitting to never having had a guitar lesson until very recently, when he bought himself a few sessions as a treat.

“My music was something I did on my own,” he says. “I have never played a gig in Carterton and it wasn’t a big thing at school. My dad and grandad both play though and would always play at Christmas, and that was my main motivation to play. I wanted to play Oasis covers with them.”

He honed his craft at Oxford & Cherwell Valley College, taking a music diploma.

“I was going to go to university, but didn’t get in,” he says. “So I decided to use the money I would have spent on myself.”

He hit the open-mic nights in Witney and Oxford and drove around supporting local acts such as Spring Offensive and Salvation Bill – becoming a familiar sight in his choice of vehicle: an undertaker’s black limo.

“I needed something big and ended up with that,” he says. “It would judder down the road, but then fell apart, so I traded it in for a van.”

Willie is proud to have done things the old fashioned way. He has not been propelled into the spotlight but has earned his way there, paying his dues along the way.

“I have been at it for a while now,” he says. “It might seem quick from the outside but it has been quite gradual for me.

“I have been playing in Oxford for a while and doing the rounds, and it feels nice to be moving in some direction.”

And does he have to pinch himself when he catches his tunes on Radio1? “I have never had it where I’m listening to the radio and one of my songs comes on,” he says. “But people always tell me, and it’s really exciting.”

Willie is joined on the journey north by fellow Carterton ‘garage’ rocker, the drumming legend Mike Monaghan – who chips into our chat with nuggets of comedy gold.

Another long-term ‘C-town’ resident, Mike has wielded the sticks for Gaz Coombes, Candy Says, Ralfe Band, Co-Pilgrim, Danny & The Champions of the World as well as with Willie – though on Saturday he will be playing with Oxfordshire lass Sarah Cracknell’s band Saint Etienne at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Having a hometown show also means Willie will be able to get back to his beloved pet dogs – one of whom, Jeff, features on the sleeve of People and their Dogs.

Willie is keen to point out it is not an album about hounds though.

“The name just had a ring to it,” he explains. “I live near a dog walking field and have always liked that sweet relationship owners have with their pets which is sometimes overlooked. And sometimes people do look like them too.

“It’s not literally about dogs, though it has made Jeff a real rising star, heading for the big time,” he laughs.

“He definitely has his paw in the door. Watch this space!”

* Willie J Healey plays the O2 Academy Oxford on Saturday. Go to ticketweb.co.uk.