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Review: Willie J Healey @ Rough Trade

Celebrating the release of his third record, 'Bunny', Willie J Healey was triumphant with his patient and human tracks, commanding the intimate space with unmistakeable charm.

By Jake Paterson, Music Editor

Lounging into low-slung funk on his third record, Willie J Healey has become stickier. There’s a retro and genuine aura hovering around him – a lost soul somehow unconstrained by the frenetic energy of the internet.

“As you can tell I’m not in a rush, so get comfortable” he said as he started tuning his guitar for the first track ‘Woke Up Smiling’. It set the standard, a mellow and warm energy exuding from the acoustic set where Healey was joined by Callum of Bad Sounds fame on keys.

Healey’s been on the circuit for nearly a decade but has remained suitably under-the-radar the entire time. It’s earned him a cult following that feels wonderful to be initated into. The dress code for the night was not far off Healey’s own beanie and wide-legged trousers. No vintage shop in Bristol is safe.

Certainly not short of a catchy hook, ‘Big Nothing’ off of his 2020 record Twin Heavy had everyone swaying and ‘Dreams’, supposedly about manifestation (“Instead of singing about being sad and having no money I thought I’d sing about having loads of cash”), got the old vocal chords going in no time.

After a brief interlude entitled ‘Things I Love About Callum’ that saw Healey list all the things he knew about his keys player, from his love of Space Jam to his Barbie Ken haircut, we’d shifted into sensual territory: “This one’s sexy by nature” Healey announced before sliding into ‘Tiger Woods’. “She’s my superfreak / Seven days a week” he sung with a wink.

As if the crowd needed more invitation, Healey also added the chorus of Gwen Stefani’s smash ‘The Sweet Escape’ to the outro of his song ‘Morning Teeth’. “Sometimes that’s what it takes” he joked as the room momentarily became a karaoke bar.

Willie J Healey @ Rough Trade | Jake Paterson

At the tail end of the set, we were treated to the belter ‘Fashun’ and standout from Bunny ‘Thank You’ which was dedicated to Healey’s single colleague who showed up to support him at the show. Calling himself “The most unemployable person in Bristol” he’s held up a job at Bedminster’s North Street Standard on and off for the past few years, and the fact that the bar manager wasn’t in the audience “isn’t a good sign” Healey joked.

After a call to play Wonderwall, Healey instead let us in to ‘Black Camaro’, written after receiving a heartfelt message from his Dad, though the second half of the song is not about him he insists – with the lyrics “I saw you getting dressed / Soft black bed linen / Peaked through my fingers / Tastes like cinnamon” getting a good chuckle from the audience and Willie himself.

He closed out the set with an awe-inducing performance of ‘We Should Hang’, the only track played off of his debut record People and Their Dogs. The final chorus belted out by Healey and living on in the hearts of everyone in the crowd as they lined up to get their copy of Bunny signed by the man himself.

Featured Image: Jake Paterson

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