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Review: Willie J Healey @ SWX

Hot off of the Bunny tour, Alice James takes us through Willie J Healey's latest show in Bristol

You can’t dislike Willie J Healey. His music is bright and easy to listen to, falling under the vague indie/alternative umbrella. His style isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but it is done well; all his lyrics and music are well written, and he’s made some great tracks as a result.

By Alice James, Second Year History and French

It’s no wonder that he’s described as ‘your favourite artist’s favourite artist’; other musicians seem to have a real respect for him (and about half of the bands that I follow on Instagram went to see him on his current tour).

Willie is touring his third album, Bunny, which was released in August. It marks a shift compared to his previous two, with Willie attributing this to the drum machine that Jamie T lent him that changed his approach. His sound has become richer, with an almost 70s feel; it’s more grown up, and it seems to be more his own. However, upon its release, I couldn’t get into it as much as his other albums- I found it a bit moody and lacking the carefree quality I had loved previously.

I was, therefore, a little apprehensive about this gig, wondering whether he’d grown slightly arrogant and was trying hard to be profound. His music also isn’t always the liveliest, and no one enjoys the awkward standing around waiting for a slow song to be over. After the opener FEET (always great fun) had left the stage, the lights dimmed and Bowie’s Fame began to play.

I love a dramatic entrance as much as anyone, but I did feel like this was a confirmation of my suspicion of arrogance. From the second he appeared, it turned out I was completely wrong. With a huge grin on his face, Willie went straight in to playing Bumblebee, and you could tell that he’s made for this. Every note was perfect, even when his feet weren’t touching the ground, but this didn’t make the performance seem at all soulless; it was clear that he genuinely loved being up there.

The atmosphere was great as a result- the whole place felt alive and dancing from the second it started. My concern about the music itself was also misplaced- you couldn’t help but move to his music, particularly owing to his new style. There was one awkward moment where he played a slow track (Black Camaro), but he knows what he’s doing, and it didn’t go on too long before he cut it short in favour of the livelier Dreams.

While I like his music, it was Willie himself that made it a great gig. I’ve never seen an artist so happy to be up there, and there’s no better way to create a great atmosphere- his ability to connect with a crowd is unmatched. He made sure to tell us that he appreciated us, and that Bristol was a home to him (most of Bunny was written here). He also kept chatting away, making jokes about the keyboardist or asking us if we had any questions (turns out his favourite song on Bunny is Bumblebee).

The most memorable moment was during Thank You, when he suddenly handed his guitar to a technician and disappeared. The band kept playing and he reappeared in the crowd, hugging crowd member after crowd member, the band still going and the feeling now ecstatic. Once he eventually appeared back on stage, we’re completely under his spell, and remain there.

The slow songs no longer mattered: those who knew We Should Hang sang along like a school choir and those that didn’t were no less overcome: the chatting by the bar fell to silence in seconds. For the final two songs, he brought the energy back; during Songs for Joanna, he told us he was in no rush to leave, and got each member of the band to improvise a solo.

Finally, he ended with Fashun, leaving us with its final lyric: ‘fame’. I think that final detail sums up what’s great about his music: the attention to detail, the playfulness. It was Willie’s performance, however, that really made this gig special; it’s just a shame it can’t translate into his album.

Featured Image: Hollie Fernando

What would be your favourite Willie J Healey song to see live?