Billy Rowan is a Drum & Bass MC turned singer-songwriter and creates music under the moniker The Undercover Hippy. He has been described by Tom Robinson (BBC 6Music) as being “like the love-child of Steel Pulse, Kate Tempest and The Sleaford Mods”. He has a new album `Poor Little England` released this month and is the follow up to 2017’s ‘Truth & Fiction’. 

The album opens with `Dreamer` an amiable piano led ska tinged reverie rapped at speed and relating to somebody who seems to lack ambition in love and life but really isn`t if you dig deep down. A delightfully infectious number to ease us in. We have an equally compelling listen with `These Days` which is a tale of recognition that middle age has arrived and your party days are over. The piano / organ tones are an absolute joy to behold, as are the accompanying harmonies.  

There`s a deep resonance to `Not Paying Attention`, a much more laid-back listen and a song written back in the days when Trump was dominating the headlines, although he seems to be back to haunt us once again. Next up there`s a track that points the finger at those who profited from the pandemic with some Boris `the buffoon` Johnson impersonations in `Greed` which articulates the corruption we suffered in a manner that doesn`t become preachy with some superb brass inflections throughout. 

I remembered `Hippy Dude` from when I went to see TUH twelve months ago, a number about a sleazy guy who tries to impress disinterested females with his chakra (fnarr fnarr) at festivals. A vibrant dad-rock reggae-tinged offering. Another belter that was previewed at said show is title track  ‘Poor Little England’ and it`s subtle outing that captures the political balls up we have endured these past few years but shared with a wry sense of humour and a catchy tune. 

`Hey Boy` addresses the mental health struggles many faced during the troubled period of lockdown and the artist`s own personal battles. He shares “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.” There`s a touch of The Specials not only musically but politically in `Fool Britannia` a song about Britain’s nostalgia for the days of Empire, and how that has sent us into the hands of populist opportunists and right-wing zealots. 

`Not My Place` satirises the government’s efforts to get the public shopping again after lockdown and has an old-style dance hall vibe about it. The album closes out with `Breathe` and it`s a reflective and thoughtful outpouring on almost the meaning of life. A number that asks us to take a little time out to reflect on the things that are important in life and the society we live in. 

I caught The Undercover Hippy on his tour last year where he previewed a few of the numbers that are here on `Poor Little England` and have to say they`ve turned out equally as bright and breezy as they were when shared live. The Undercover Hippy manages to rap his politically tinged musings as fast as Eminem over some delightfully danceable infectious reggae rhythms which hit home as they are not  preached but shared in an informed, intelligent and amusing manner.  

The Undercover Hippy is out on the road promoting this release for another couple of weeks so get along and catch this urban poet for some thoughtful politically charged reverie and compelling dance vibes.    

Rating 8.5/10 

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