Monday, November 26, 2018
The genius and eccentricity of Lee 'Scratch' Perry go before him in equal measure. One the one hand there is the prolific output of his band, The Upsetters, his production work with Bob Marley and a string of reggae luminaries and his invention of dub in the 1970s. On the other hand, there is his burning down of his own Black Ark studio, a fondness for cosmic pronouncements and an increasingly individual style of dress.
Incredibly, at the age of 82 he has just released a new album and seems to be permanently on tour in Europe and the States. When he took the stage at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill last Friday, what sprang to mind was Dr Johnson's surprise not at seeing something done well but seeing it done at all. And for the first part of the set, I was not sure it was being done well: despite there being much love for him from the audience, the songs were unrecognisable, Perry's talk between numbers was rambling and I had a feeling that he was making the lyrics up as he went along.
It was only when he played Max Romeo's Chase the Devil ("I'm gonna put on a iron shirt, and chase Satan out of earth"), a song that Perry co-wrote and produced in 1976, that things began to hit their stride. Followed up with another of his famous collaborations, The Congos' Fisherman, and a brilliant version of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Crazy Baldhead, there was suddenly a sense of Perry's deserved place as roots reggae's crowned head. And he was wearing a crown of sorts: a baseball cap bedecked with mirrors, badges and feathers topped off a shell suit that looked as though it had been rescued from an explosion in a paint factory. Oh, and his trainers and beard were matching crimson.
Perry also displayed some surprisingly sprightly moves for an octogenarian, although the high stepping and leg kicks might be attributable to the vitamin tablets he took from the suitcase parked in front of the drum riser and necked halfway through the set. Mind you, if I was doing what he does in my eighties I might need more than a few ginseng pills. Bizarrely, he also showed us that he was wearing another pair of trousers under his trousers; what the benefit of this was remained unclear.
Lee 'Scratch' Perry has a history of working with British artists - The Clash, Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor - and this year's The Black Album - what might be his 65th studio album as an artist - has been made with Norfolk-based producer, Daniel Boyle. Never one to shirk giving spiritual advice, Perry finished with arguably the standout track from the album, Your Shadow Is Black, exhorting us to "love yourselves and yourself", a sentiment we were happy to reciprocate.