IF YOU feel like you spend too much time on your phone (and who doesn’t?), The Undercover Hippy – alias of Billy Rowan – is offering some advice via his new single, Hey Boy.

The song dates back to 2019, when 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: “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 two 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.”

Hey Boy is taken from his upcoming new album, Poor Little England, 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 US presidential 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…

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.

“Covid came along and everything went out the window,” says Rowan. “It’s been a real slog getting it back on track. At times I’ve almost given up, but somehow, six years after starting work on these new songs, they are all ready to share with the world.” 

From the downbeat diaries of Not Paying Attention, a song written back in 2018 when Donald 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.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. It also includes Hippy Dude, a deliberately cheesy dad-rock number about “a new-age sex-pest”.

The Undercover Hippy is playing at The Star in Guildford on Friday 31 March.