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A musician back on a mission – THE UNDERCOVER HIPPY – makes his long-awaited return in 2023.
After a few years off-grid, the alias of Billy Rowan is embarking on a fresh operation for the new year ahead, briefed with a brand new album release ‘Poor Little England’ (out 7 April), and an extensive UK Tour unlike any he has done before.
Firing the starting gun for the journey to come, today (3 Feb) The Undercover Hippy releases his first music from the new record – the irresistibly catchy single: “Hey Boy”.
THE UNDERCOVER HIPPY – LISTEN TO THE NEW SINGLE: “HEY BOY” HERE
“Hey Boy” dates back to a time in 2019 in which Rowan found himself relying on his phone with the unnerving dependency of a life support machine. Emerging with a poppy, upbeat, and motivational song about a thoroughly miserable experience and how he overcame it, he explains of the track:
“I wrote this song about my own unhealthy relationship with my phone and how I used it to self-medicate when I was feeling depressed. I was living alone at the time, and when I was in a negative headspace, I would escape into the world of social media scrolling, only to emerge 2 hours later feeling 10 times worse! So I wrote this song to remind myself that the best way to get out of a funk is to get up off the sofa, leave the house and seek out some real face to face interaction with other human beings. I hope it can help other people in the same situation, and also help to break down some of the stigmas around mental health and asking for help.”
Balancing a buoyant ska beat, starry piano lines and those dextrous, pop-culture packed quips that have made The Undercover Hippy a lyrical force to be reckoned with; “Hey Boy” is taken from his long-awaited new album ‘Poor Little England’, which drops this April.
The follow-up to 2017’s ‘Truth & Fiction’, a deeply political album forged in the shadow of the Brexit referendum and consumed with fake news, internet privacy paranoia, and the fallout of the U.S. election; its successor reflects a world with even bigger fish to fry, and a public (and artist), whose overloaded attention spans are facing critical mass…
With writing sessions beginning in 2017 (and the album originally planned for release in 2020), ‘Poor Little England’ has been a long time in the making; and in-fact almost didn’t make it at all. Waylaid by the pandemic, politics, and just about every hurdle life could throw at him (many of which are expressed in the record’s self-effacing lyrics), through grit and determination, The Undercover Hippy stayed true to his vision to create one of his most observed and honest records to date.
“Covid came along and everything went out the window. It’s been a real slog getting it back on track” remembers Billy, “At times I’ve almost given up, but somehow, 6 years after starting work on these new songs, they are all finally finished and ready to share with the world.”
But sometimes delays happen for a reason. A testament to its six year gestation period, the record now stands as an intriguing chronicle of just how much has changed in that time.
From the downbeat diaries of “Not Paying Attention”, a song written back in the barmy days of 2018 when Trump was dominating the headlines, through to The Specials-esque two-tone of “Fool Britannia” which captures the rabid pandemonium that consumed the UK on the eve of its exit from the EU in 2019, and on to the socially distanced satires of 2020-21 like “Greed” (which points the finger at those who profited from the pandemic, with some choice Boris Johnson impersonations to boot) and “Not My Place” (which lampoons the government’s feeble efforts to get the public shopping again after lockdown was initially lifted); ‘Poor Little England’ captures the political s**tshow the British public have endured these past few years with a sparky lyrical wit and wry sense of humour.
It seems it was enough to drive even the most optimistic of natures into a downward spiral though. Songs like the affecting “Breathe” and the deceptively bubbly recent single “Hey Boy” offer a sincere and relatable side to the album, with Billy addressing the mental health struggles many faced during that troubled period and opening-up about his own personal battles.
But it’s not all doom and gloom by any stretch, with the album peppered with sardonic zingers and blazing brassy sections at every turn. Not to mention tracks of zanier nature too… Take the tie-dye tipped “Hippy Dude”, a deliberately cheesy dad-rock number about “a new-age sex-pest” that you’ll need a restraining order to get out of your head; or the rippling reggae-driven rumble of “These Days“, a song that finds Rowan comically bemoaning the sun setting on his partying days.
“It’s a song about the fact I don’t get out very much now that I’m middle aged, which ends with a call to arms for everyone to leave their houses and party…” grins Billy. “No sooner than I had finished writing it, Covid and lockdowns arrived, making the chorus line “I don’t get out a lot these days” feel rather ironic!”
Opting for a deliberately back to basics approach, across ‘Poor Little England’ longtime listeners will notably detect the kind of signature flavours that made his 2014 breakthrough album ‘Monkey Suit’, snap, crackle and pop. Taking the opportunity to reconnect with some of the acoustic elements that made that former record such a fan favourite, the new album also finds The Undercover Hippy experimenting with a warm array of sounds that lean from reggae to ska, dancehall to dub, hip hop to pop. Featuring acoustic guitar, fiddle, and even a full string section (on tracks like “Breathe” and “Hey Boy”), ‘Poor Little England’ also sees the return of comrades of old like Andreas Millns (on organ/piano); a man who proved so pivotal to the development of The Undercover Hippy’s classic sound these past fifteen years.
Beaming with light and rhythmic melodies that never cease to shine and time-travelling lyrics that will twist your mind; turn off the news and turn up the tunes, the new record from The Undercover Hippy is one that deserves your full attention. ‘Poor Little England’ by The Undercover Hippy is out 7 April 2023, via Uncivil Records.
An established favourite on the festival and live circuit already, fans can rejoice that The Undercover Hippy will be touring the new album with an extensive UK tour throughout the Spring. Planning a series of shows unlike any he has undertaken before, The Undercover Hippy live sound will be beefed-up with the assistance of the Leeds based latin-dub-ska outfit State Of Satta, who will providing horns for the headline set, plus providing a supporting set of their own material for the whole run.
Kicking off in Oxford on 23 March, the 19-date run will take in shows across England + Wales, before winding up in Plymouth on 16 April, with a special album launch party planned aboard the Thekla in Bristol midway through (5 April). Dates are listed as follows:
THE UNDERCOVER HIPPY – UK TOUR 2023
2023-03-23 Oxford The Bullingdon
2023-03-24 Norwich The Waterfront
2023-03-25 Manchester Gullivers
2023-03-26 Settle Settle Victoria Hall
2023-03-29 London Hootananny Brixton
2023-03-30 Ramsgate Ramsgate Music Hall
2023-03-31 Guildford The Star
2023-04-01 Stroud Sub Rooms
2023-04-02 Salisbury Brown Street
2023-04-05 Bristol The Thekla
2023-04-06 Aberystwyth Arts Centre
2023-04-07 Shrewsbury Albert’s Shed
2023-04-08 Sheffield The Greystones
2023-04-09 Nottingham The Bodega
2023-04-12 Totnes Barrelhouse
2023-04-13 Bideford Palladium Club
2023-04-14 Falmouth The Cornish Bank
2023-04-15 Glastonbury Red Brick Building
2023-04-16 Plymouth The Junction