Bitty McLean has been performing his own brand of sweet Lover’s Rock vocals over classic Reggae tunes since 1993. Originally a studio engineer for UB40, he’s always worked on his own music which harks back to the classic Rocksteady and Roots era of Jamaican music. It doesn’t hurt that he also posseses a distinctive falsetto that he delivers with perfect pitch.
He’s here tonight to promote new album “The Taxi Sessions” recorded with Sly & Robbie and using the classic “versioning” template of taking well known Reggae backing tracks and recording new lyrics to them. His band is made up of two keyboard players, drums, bass, lead and rhythm guitar and two saxophone players (alto and tenor). They’re the perfect accompaniment to Bitty’s lilting vocals, the sold out crowd enjoying every note perfect delivery.
He plays “A Step Closer” from the new album, a love song with a great a cappella intro and one of my favourite newer songs, and it goes down well. He always had a good knack for covering popular songs but making them his own by applying Lover’s Rock stylings alongside his distinctive voice, and really it’s his more familiar tunes like his great cover of The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” that gets the biggest reception. There’s also a big cheer when he plays the Fats Domino song “It Keeps Rainin’ (Tears from My Eyes)” which was his big UK hit.
In 2013 he recorded a version of Desmond Dekker’s “Fu Manchu” with the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra and this one also sounds great when played live. After almost 90 minutes of great songs delivered with great panache, he encores with his version of “Dedicated to the One I Love”, originally done by The Shirelles and here transformed into a Lover’s Rock sing-along by the jubilant crowd.
In a similar vein to Tarrus Riley and Beres Hammond, Bitty McLean’s show is basically Reggae presented in a classic style with no pretension or gimmicks. (I imagine Richie Stephens is also in this category but I haven’t seen him live yet).
Bitty McLean’s elegant voice and great performance makes him one of the UK’s greatest Reggae talents.