Based on the roar from the crowd, I had arrived at the sold out venue just in time. The Brook was at capacity and I had to manoeuvre my way through some pretty tight gaps in the crowd in order to get a good spot. Lee “Scratch” Perry, now aged 78, was wearing an outfit consisting of a gold flat cap with small mirrors attached to it, plenty of gold chains and rings, and some of the coolest shoes I have ever laid eyes upon (again, gold with reflective material attached). A young stage-hand followed him on to the stage with a luggage bag that had the word “pi$$” written across it … I was later informed by a group of people that it contained Lee’s oxygen in case he collapsed on stage!
When Lee “Scratch” Perry produces his music it is full of weird and wonderful sounds, mangled by various FX, and packed with more dub delay than you could lay your hands on. However, this live performance consisted of a much more close-knit reggae-influenced band. The live band had a distinct lack of mangled FX, but that didn’t detract from the performance whatsoever because Lee Perry himself was the weird and wonderful instrument and FX unit all in one.
Perry’s set consisted predominantly of dubbed out renditions of familiar reggae tunes including “The Sun is Shining” and “Crazy Baldhead” both by Bob Marley. The best part of the performance, for me, came when an unrecognisable dub rhythm suddenly evolved into a jazz-dub fusion with Lee “Scratch” Perry whispering “we are getting jazzy” on repeat, each time becoming louder and louder until the whispers transcended into passionate screams.
In-between songs Perry would engage with the crowd by giving us various moral messages and bits of advice such as “I used to smoke but then I found it gave me cancer so I went and found another answer” and “I used to eat pork but then I found out you become what you eat so I started eating vegetables instead”.
Perry and his band rounded off an excellent set and, after exuberant applause the band were welcomed back on to the stage for an encore. The music restarted but the main man was nowhere to be seen … Suddenly the sound of his voice came over the system and it was as if the reggae Wizard of Oz was hiding behind his curtain. The crowd sung along danced to Bob Marley’s “Exodus“, which the band slowly sped up to almost double time making a perfect finish to the night. Perry’s set was a full of surprises, smiles, and wonderful music.
Sometimes, with classic artists, one might go to their gigs just for the sake of seeing them even though they might be past their prime. One might become bored of the sub-par performance or take some kind of pity on the artist. Lee “Scratch” Perry managed to avoid both these traps throughout his live show: He truly was a joy to see. His crazed ramblings and screams left me wondering whether he is simply mad or perhaps an artistic genius. I’ve settled on the side of genius.
Photography by Graham Quick.