A Lee "Scratch" Perry gig is a paradox. Alongside King Tubby, he invented dub, and as a producer, he brought magic to, most notably, Bob Marley and The Wailers' early spiritual reggae. Both are virtually impossible to reprise live.
He has built up an impressive body of work as a reggae artist in his own right, but in typically maverick fashion, the septuagenarian prefers to largely ignore it live. Instead, this gig consists mainly of Perry (backed by bass, guitar, keys and drums) toasting, rambling, and, occasionally, singing. It hasn't stopped a far larger and more diverse audience turning out to see him at London's Jazz Café than for the evergreen Roy Ayers a week before.
The band starts by striking up a hearty, offbeat ska bass line, and as it unfurls with a hint of psychedelic rock, Perry celebrates his Rastafarianism with the chant "Jamaica, Africa, Rastafar-I", and rhymes "love" with "rubadub". He directs the audience's dancing – "kick, kick, skank, skank" – and offers a demonstration, before officiating over an impromptu exercise class ("touch your toes"). He's wearing a natty, customised three-piece suit, and, taking off his hat, reveals a full head of cherry-red hair to complement his beard of the same colour. "I don't exercise any more, I just sexercise, I'm 72," he says.
Perry made his mark by "upsetting" and going against the grain, and so it goes with his live performances. Rather than present the music he's most famous for, or run through his back catalogue, or even promote his more recent material (last year's Grammy-nominated album, End of an American Dream), he gives us an insight into his thoughts, however peculiar.
After an hour of generic but nourishing reggae, ska and rocksteady, he wanders off the stage as unassumingly as he came on to it, with the audience baying for an encore. He obliges with a cover of the rudeboy-turned-conscious reggae polemicist Max Romeo's anthem "War ina Babylon", produced by Perry with the Upsetters backing.
This was Perry the human being laid bare, which is far more than you get with most performers.Reuse content