Music Review: Undercover Hippy @ Old Market Assembly
by Polly Hember
The Undercover Hippy is a motley reggae-folk-hip-hip outfit fronted by Billy Rowan; the group integrate catchy rhythms and modern folky protest songs, creating an energetic explosion of renegade protest music that never fails to impress.
The Old Market Assembly was at capacity, people were being turned away on the door and the buzzing and bustling excitement was palpable. A combination of it being a sold-out event, a late Friday night gig and a maybe a few too many pints consumed by a couple of fans meant that it was a voraciously lively gig. The audience needed no encouragement from Rowan, who were dancing and singing along to the first song.
Undercover Hippy’s music combines the playful and political. Switching from light-hearted, jokey songs like ‘Boyfriend’ (which was met with raucous cries of delight) and tales of annoying pals in ‘Mate Like That’, full of cheeky rhymes and infectiously catchy lines and riffs, to songs weighed down with nuanced political commentary that still somehow manage to remain optimistic, light and lively enough to dance along to. From austerity to national debt, fake news to government surveillance, to drug abuse (“Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing, but I’ve got a bladder and not a bag to piss in”), Rowan’s politically driven song-writing is as deftly astute. He combines public and private polemics, excavating both the high and the low to present engaged, culturally significant tracks that cut straight to the heart of modern-day politics with his lively optimism and wit that invites us to think critically as well as imploring us to dance.
The night was made up of a welcome amalgamation of tracks from Monkey Suit and his more recent Truth & Fiction. Old favourites were as fresh as ever, performed with insurmountable energy and emotion, ‘Borders’, ‘Coming to the Gambia’ and ‘Long Way Down’, which made for some of the rowdiest call-and-response cries I’ve ever witnessed at an Undercover Hippy gig. The brilliant ‘UKIP On Telling Me’, dedicated pointedly to Nigel Farage, was one of the highlights, along with the brilliant encore of ‘Last Chance to Dance’, ending on a monumental high and an open invitation to dance the night away – not that the audience needed any further encouragement.
This was a raucous and rowdy gig that presented meaningful, explosive and electric socio-political commentary to an adoring crowd that could not get enough of these undercover hippies. Billy Rowan’s unique reggae rap, clever musical craftmanship and incredible stage performance made for a thoroughly enjoyable night, one that the sold-out Old Market Assembly could barely contain.
Watch out for the rest of The Undercover Hippy’s tour, they are not to be missed.