With his childlike joy in vocal sounds, and an arsenal of feelgood tunes, the dub pioneer leaves the stage aglow
By Dave Simpson
“Give me a light,” yells Lee Perry, producing a lighter from his ring-enclustered fingers and attempting to set fire to his microphone. Moments later, he raises the flame above his head and for a millisecond it seems as if York Fibbers might go the way of his Black Ark studio, which he famously burned to the ground.
The Jamaican’s reputation as an oddball precedes him, and yet cannot surpass his enormous contribution to music as the pioneer of dub and producer of everyone from Junior Murvin to Bob Marley. However, the glint in his eye suggests he knows people expect eccentricity as well as sound. Wearing what look like purple pyjamas and a cap covered in CDs, he invites the crowd to admire his silver boots and chuckles to himself while shaking outstretched hands.
Between songs, declarations range from asking the sound engineer if he is deaf to claiming to be an alien and a fish. Scratch is the Mark E Smith of reggae, but with an arsenal of feelgood tunes. With an adept band launching into the songs as soon as he shouts the titles, he skips from his Upsetters classics such as Zion’s Blood to Marley’s Sun Is Shining and an epic remodel of Exodus retitled Sexy Dust. Perry’s singing sometimes bears the loosest connection to the song he is performing, and yet the 77-year-old possesses a wonderful tone and childlike, magical fascination with the noises he produces with his mouth: “Bam bam! Yam yam! Rastafari! Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaargh!”
“I am Peter Pan, I can fly. I never want to die,” he declares, taking the microphone with him to the dressing room, from where he continues to sing.
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