An interview with Bitty McLean

Vocalist Bitty McLean was born and raised in Birmingham, and got involved with the City’s music culture as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He worked behind the scenes with UB40 before launching his solo career with a succession of hit records in the 1990’s, and continued his success in the new Millennium, collaborating with the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra and Sly & Robbie among others. Ahead of his show at Band on the Wall on 13th May with DJ Mikey DON supporting, we caught up with him to discuss his earliest performance memories, his highlights in the studio and on the road as well as his plans for the rest of 2016.
Tell us about your first performance experience, was it with a sound system or live band?

My first performance would have been most definitely on a sound system. Handsworth Carnival 1983/4 the sound Wassifa Showcase. Frankie Paul’s The Closer I Get was the Riddim (80’s Version of Studio One’s The Answer). Wicked vibes and the start of building a reputation as the new voice outta Birmingham.

With sound system culture in the family, what sort of music were you hearing in the early days?

My Dad’s sound system was the home hifi so most records were showcased on the sound. Johnny Clarke, The African Brother’s, U-Roy, Delroy Wilson, Burning Spear, Justin Hinds, The Dominoes and Culture were favourites. On Sundays we would be entertained with easier vibes such as Nat King Cole, Ace Cannon, The Clovers, Jackie Edwards and John Holt.

You’ve worked with so many great acts, in a performance and production capacity. What have been the highlights in the studio and on the road?

In my earlier years working with UB40 both in Studio and also touring whilst developing my craft and enjoying chart success were major highlights. 20 years later working with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for nearly a decade is the current highlight as they are my biggest musical influence in terms of the music I grew up listening to, both individually and collectively in many of Jamaica’s top session bands such as: The Aggrovators/Revolutionaries/Black Disciples/The Professionals. Oh yes also combinations with U-Roy (Power of Love) and Josie Wales (Running Over) were two more recent highlights.

Tell us about your experience of lovers rock; do you see commonalities between the soul and reggae music that feeds into the genre, and do you see yourself as a ‘lovers rock artist’?

No experience of lovers rock, I was born in 1972! On a serious note Doo Wop and Rocksteady are my first loves in music and all the artists that inspire(d) me can be found in these two genres.
When i was old enough to be going out and standing around sound systems Rub a Dub was the soundtrack. Sly and Robbie at Channel One Studio with artists like Sugar Minott/Little John/Johnny Osbourne/Dennis Brown/Lone Ranger/Frankie Paul/Half Pint and Yellowman just to name a few…

What are your thoughts on reggae music today, are artists like Protoje and Chronixx, with their roots-leaning styles, appealing to you, or do you like some other developments in the genre?

My thoughts about today’s scene is that I wish or hope artists will take a leaf out of the book of some of our veteran artists and by that I mean: artists such as Freddie McGregor, Sugar Minott, Dennis Brown, Marcia Griffiths, Beres Hammond and Gregory Isaacs cannot be categorised as Roots, Lovers or Dancehall artists because they have built catalogues of songs that cover many of these styles, which appeal to all types of fans of Reggae music, and does not segregate or fragment them or their music into various categories or styles other than Good Reggae Music. Unity is strength!

What are your plans for the rest of 2016, are you planning a follow up to last year’s EP?

Plans for 2016 = More Music!

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Friday | 13.05.16

Bitty McLean + DJ Mikey DON

Band on the Wall, Manchester