Gig Review: Undercover Hippy @ Old Malt House
by Danni Gillespie

As we made our way to Old Market, I felt so overwhelmingly excited that I had a literal spring in my step. Why? Because we were enroute to see the Undercover Hippy play. Billy Rowan (aka the Undercover Hippy) has become something of a Bristol musical legend; he delivers thoughtful, funky, politically astute, original music in some of Bristol’s best indie venues. He represents almost everything Bristol stands for (all that was missing was craft beer). So there we were, on our way to a night of dancing, singing and shouting; I was certain I wouldn’t have any voice left by the morning.

The Jam Jar is situated at The Old Malt House, an industrial-style building. We had a little search for the entrance (no major quest though as we could hear the music from down the street, creating more excitement and even more spring-y steps.) We entered up a stairwell of wooden steps and arrived in a beautifully bohemian performance space. The room was packed, and on one of the hottest days of the year so far, we all suffered the heat but we didn’t care - the band were about to begin.

‘Borders’, ‘Mate Like That’, ‘Who’s in Debt To Who’ and ‘Rise & Fall’ were performed with fast-paced lyrical precision and soulful, resonant song. The audience danced, swayed and sang; they were empowered by the bands poignant political lyricism and entertained by their comedic real-life commentary. Preceding ‘Coming to the Gambia’, Billy told the story that inspired this tune; a day’s journey to a new life that took a wrong turn and lasted 12 days without rations. Comically he commented he thought his Thompson flight with a screaming baby was hard until he heard this tale! He said he was still very much in contact with this man from Gambia and in fact was raising money at his gig in a collection pot to help his family. A true testament to The Undercover Hippy’s giving nature. 

"You felt as though you were dancing in a field at WOMAD or tucked in a tent in the Field of Avalon at Glastonbury rather than in the middle of Old Market."

‘Long way down’ is always a crowd favourite. This is the song the band use for maximum crowd interaction; with a friendly singing (well, shouting, stomping and whistling) competition. Each side of the room was roaring with their given sentence – a battle of “It’s a long way down from the top to the bottom, yeah” and “but it’s a longer way up from the bottom to the top” filled the room.

When talking to the man himself after the set, he told OTB that his favourite part of playing live is the audience participation; they’re not just there being entertained, watching a stage, they’re part of making that music, and that sound, that evening. It’s nothing to do with the ego trip of your own lyrics being quoted back to you (though he admitted this is, of course, lovely) but rather, it’s the connection with the audience that makes playing live so special. 

The whole gig had a fantastic festival feel to it. The venue was BYOB, so no queuing at a bar necessary (unless like me you forgot your bottle opener), the toilets are communal, the décor was an ensemble of mismatched furnishings and despite the amount of people crowded into a small space there was plenty of room for dancing (which almost everyone fully participated in). You felt as though you were dancing in a field at WOMAD or tucked in a tent in the Field of Avalon at Glastonbury rather than in the middle of Old Market.

The favourites were played (‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Last Chance to Dance’ saw the most jumping, dancing and whooping), the audience interacted and all had danced, laughed and sung their hearts out: what a gig. The atmosphere was electrifying, both band and audience alike had a great time, it’s no wonder the Undercover Hippy has grown over the last decade to become one of Bristol’s favourite acts. 

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