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Little Bitty Pretty One

Posted by The man 
The man
Little Bitty Pretty One
January 30, 2006 05:11PM
Little Bitty Pretty One

Penny Reel meets the McLean machine

"If people want to refer to me as a pop singer, then personally I have no problem with that," says Bitty McLean flatly. "To me, the word pop is short for popular and you can't show me any man out there involved in making music who doesn't want to be popular."

Bitty McLean imparts his considered opinion as we sit together in a small room set aside for the purpose of this interview at his record company Brilliant's offices in Acton. It is the most animated I've seen him yet during all our conversation together. Not that this young man is ever anything other than enthusiastic to discuss any subject I care to broach, but his extra vehemence here suggests that this is something of a sensitive subject with the singer. Clearly, it's a criticism he's had levelled at him before.

"Yeah man, enough times," he assents. "Ever since my first hit. Whenever I go into certain record shops in Birmingham, man accuse me of being soft, but then I've seen some of the roughest man in Birmingham going around playing my music on their car stereos. They say the same thing about UB40 too," he muses, "yet I know that if UB40 were to make a special for, say, Saxon, then they would play it, and they'd big it up same way."

If pop is short for popular, then assuredly Bitty McLean can take pride in referring to himself as a pop artist. In less than a year, the singer has released four brisk selling singles and an album, all in the lightweight style of his mentors UB40. He had earlier teamed up with the group straight from Sandwell College in Birmingham, where he had been studying sound engineering under lecturer Alan Cave, who had himself engineered UB40's hugely successful 'Labour Of Love' LP as well as helping the group set up their own Abbatoir studio in Digbeth. Cave had recognised the teenage McLean's musical potential and when UB40 needed a tape-op for their studio had recommended his student to the group.

"I went down there one afternoon and ended up staying for the next three years," he recalls. "I progressed from tape-op to engineer to co-producer of UB40. It all happened very quickly."

Although McLean penned three songs on his debut LP 'Just To Let You Know...', all his singles so far have been covers of other people's material, the music he remembers growing up with.

"My dad had a small sound system in the Sixties, playing all around Brum," he says "The reason I chose 'It Keeps Rainin'' as my first single is that one of my earliest memories was of my grandfather playing saxophone to Fats Domino records."

Since then, he's released a version of Bunny Wailer's 'Pass It On' and for his third single updated Justin Hines' mid Sixties adaptation of 'Here I Stand'. It was the only version of the song he knew, and on this release Hines is credited as writer. In fact, the tune was originally a US R&B hit for its rightful progenitor Wade Flemons back in 1958 and also a national hit for Californian surf outfit The Rip Chords in the early Sixties. I brought along the original for him to hear and Bitty insisted on taping a copy.

Similarly, his latest release 'Dedicated To The One I Love' is a song that McLean knows only through its reggae incarnation by Hubert Lee, though he has since learnt that The Mamas And The Papas scored massively with the song in 1967. I point out that in fact it had been a top three hit for the Shirelles back in 1961, and it was almost certainly this version on which Hubert Lee had based his own recording. However, its pedigree stretches back further even than this, having been originally waxed by the doo wop group The 5 Royales in 1958 for a US R&B smash.

Bitty McLean returns to the studio shortly to begin work on his next album. Personally, I can hardly wait to trace the geneaology of this new set of songs.
papa ray
Re: Little Bitty Pretty One
January 30, 2006 05:40PM
Mr. Man, PLEEZE please please hit me up @paparay@vintagevinyl.com,
concerning Mr. Mclean. It is a must...
Re: Little Bitty Pretty One
January 30, 2006 05:49PM
When was that written Mr. Reel?
The man
Re: Little Bitty Pretty One
January 30, 2006 06:02PM
It was written in 1994 and published in the UK's black music weekly Echoes.

Reel
Re: Little Bitty Pretty One
January 30, 2006 06:13PM
Thanks, that gives a more accurate timeline. Good to know Bitty's history & hereditary dancehall roots.
The man
Re: Little Bitty Pretty One
January 30, 2006 06:30PM
Papa Ray, check your email. Are you by any chance Tom Ray?

Reel
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