Gig Review: Willie J Healey at Rescue Rooms

Words: Cameron Ling
Photos: Josh Dwyer
Thursday 23 November 2023
reading time: min, words

Willie J Healey’s crooner coolness shook away any Monday night blues, cutely piecing together a memorable performance for a busy Rescue Rooms crowd…


Very few people can lift you on a crisp Monday night in the middle of November, but the soul-lifting Willie J Healey had just the evening in store. The Oxfordshire-born singer-songwriter returned to Nottingham to headline Rescue Rooms after performing at Rough Trade in August to promote his latest album Bunny on YALA! Records. Renowned now as the favourite artist of your favourite artist, Healey’s admirers span from Florence Welch to Alex Turner – a testament to the flair he beguiles with.

Healey’s third album deviates from his 'Bowie meets Neil Young' sophomore record Twin Heavy and embraces the funk elements of Sly Stone via bold, catchy arrangements and enough groove to leave you dancing all night. Expect to be easily caught swirling in the grand musicianship of Bunny but there are moments of exceptional song writing that stick in your mind, particularly useful as resisting singing along is nigh-on-impossible. Particularly Black Camaro and Bluebird, which are some of his best works yet.


Arriving at the venue early made way for a happy hour Budweiser inside the dimly lit Rescue Rooms bar, taking in the pre-show atmosphere and bundling amongst the laid-back attendees overcome with anticipation for the night to start. And so, the crowd packed in to see support from Feet…

Providing the room with high energy and silliness, the Coventry-based outfit offered tasty riffs, and quirky basslines accompanied by a charismatic frontman who stumbled around the stage with the microphone as if it was a bottle of whiskey. The audience was quick to warm to Feet who experimented with new material as well as tracks from their 2019 album What’s Inside is More Than Just Ham, in which the slow burning yet outrageous Dog Walking was a highlight. Singer George Haverson then went on to infuse energy in the crowd informing everyone that Willie J. Healey had been on fire this tour - animating the faces of those watching.


And Willie J Healey soon swaggered onto the stage, encapsulating his cool in a white vest, black trousers and loafers and a beautiful, draping banner with the name of who we had all come to expect. Opening with Bumblebee from Bunny, the stage was oozing retro seventies funk, and incorporating equipment like synthesizers and a drum machine may make it the most electronic song in his catalogue. Evident on the insert of the LP, a Kraftwerk tape recording is stacked amongst the tapes of other music greats – suggesting the track is a potential homage to the German pioneers of electronic music.

Little Sister was performed and then followed by True Stereo from Twin Heavy, a personal favourite which combines George Harrison and Harry Nilsson, to get the crowd singing and swaying in total appreciation. The set then rolled into the moving and romantic Black Camaro, which he played alone to silence, a still yet powerful moment in a performance dominated by groovy guitar licks and syncopated basslines.


The hit single Thank You was also on display, featuring the drum machine from friend and collaborator Jamie T, filled sneakily with subtle references to The Beatles. It’s a tongue-in-cheek message to those who attempt to drag us down, and those there to witness Thank You in all its glory were found dancing on a gloomy November Monday.

To finish the night was We Should Hang, an eerie but pretty song with a daunting ending that sparked an emotional scream from Willie J Healey. We Should Hang is definitive; not only does it show the beauty and variety of his song writing – it also represents the foundations that crafted him into a remarkable artist.

Undeniably talented and effortlessly cool, Willie J Healey’s spectacle at Rescue Rooms surely bolsters the musician as the go-to for anyone in need of a soul-pleasing musical boost. As he goes on to write his fourth studio album, it will marvel the mind as to which direction he will go next… 

Willie J Healey performed at Rescue Rooms on 20 November 2023


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