Lee Scratch Perry
The Regal, Oxford
Saturday 4th June 2011
Lee Scratch Perry myspace
Situated within the confines of Cowley Road, Oxford’s musical and cultural heartland, The Regal is one of the city’s fastest growing venues. A Mecca Bingo Hall back in the day, it re-opened as a night club/wine bar three years ago, before spreading it’s wings and playing host to a vast multitude of events; everything from Drum ‘N’ Bass nights to comedy shows and bands (Mogwai played a great set here a few months back). Having managed to obtain a free ticket for this particular gig, and being a big fan of the headlining act, I think I can safely say I was more than a little excited! Lee Scratch Perry, Godfather of reggae and dub, is making his (to the best of my knowledge) live debut in Oxford. Sounds like a cause for celebration to me…
Upon entering, we are greeted with the mesmerising soundscapes of the Addis Ababa Sound System and their textbook setlist of 70’s dub/reggae tunes, along with some far out toasting and maraca shaking. The Regal is an atmospheric, dark and roomy venue; it’s vast, Ancient Rome style pillars stand firm amongst a wilderness of booming basslines, timeless melodies and ace visuals of legendary Jamaican musicians, both alive and dead, being projected via three large screens situated around the stage. As comperes go, these guys take some beating! To further add to the excitement, there’s two support bands on before The Upsetter takes to the stage. We’re spoilt for choice tonight, we really are.
Oxford has a diverse, thriving reggae scene, and Dubwiser have a reputation as being one of it’s very best live acts. Frontman Jonas is amazing to watch; a dreadlocked, astonishingly physical ball of energy, seeing him leap around the stage completely lost in the music is a genuinely electrifying spectacle. From the word go the crowd are on their feet; these guys have been known to get entire venues, including bar and cloakroom staff and doormen, dancing around the room like maniacs! Their music’s great too; a white hot mixture of roots, dub, Sugar Minott type pop and new age fusion. Malcolm Atkins is an extraordinarily adept keyboardist/violinist, and drummer Spider Johnson Etienne is a session musician of considerable stature; artists he has performed with include Mad Professor, Madness, U.K. Apache and Mister Lee Perry himself, not a bad C.V. by any stretch of the imagination! The band end their set with a spine tingling rendition of the Perry penned reggae standard “Soul Rebel”, the most famous version of which was performed by Bob Marley. It’s an indescribably joyous, moving end to a great set, and leaves you in no doubt that these boys are one of the best live acts out there at the moment.
Laid Blak are next. A Bristol based reggae collective, these guys have a bit of history behind them. Band members DJ Bunjy and MC Joe Peng are veterans of the nineties rave scene, having been highly prominent on the Jungle live circuit. With some highly accomplished musicians behind them, the pair have turned their attentions to reggae, and have become a highly acclaimed live act, going down particularly well at the festivals. The band turn in a fun, energetic and innovative performance, taking in disparate genres such as dubstep, drum and bass, ragga and pop and blending them into one whole, along with snatches of roots, rocksteady and dancehall. It’s rare to see so many musical styles incorporated into just one set, but the band prove it can be done, and for that they should be applauded.
The next act needs no introduction. Hugh Perry Rainford, AKA Pipecock Jackson, AKA The Upsetter, AKA Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, all of this and more! The musical genius who invented dub, and produced and wrote so many classic seventies reggae singles/albums it’s almost impossible to keep count. I mean, where do you start with this guy? Originally finding fame in the late sixties with his predominantly instrumental ska/rocksteady band The Upsetters, Lee Perry was never one to play by the rules. Scoring a big hit in 1967 with “Return Of Django”, Perry was unable to perform the track with the rest of the band on Top Of The Pops, having been stabbed by a female friend! His 1968 single, “People Funny Boy”, featured the first ever use of a sample, in this case a crying baby. In the seventies, of course, he opned his famous Black Ark Studio, which quicly became one of the most widely known recording studios in Jamaica. Classic albums by the likes of Max Romeo, Junior Murvin, The Congos, The Heptones and Bob Marley And The Wailers. Lee Perry also wrote many of the classic songs recorded by these artists, including “Sun Is Shining”, “Police And Thieves” ,”War In A Babylon” and a whole lot more! He was behind the thundering, disembodied dub effects on The Clash’s “Complete Control”, and even did some production work for Wings, with Paul and Linda Mccartney having recorded some sessions there at the time. Linda’s “Seaside Woman” is probably the most widely known of these recordings. He lost the plot in 1978, burning the studio to the ground in a rum fuelled fit of anger, and since then he has been releasing some brilliantly way out dub/reggae solo albums; two notable examples are 1987’s “Battle Of Armagideon (Millionaire Liquidator), and 1989’s “Mystic Warrior”. History lesson over, on to the gig!
The sense of excitement and apprehension filling the room is incredible. Lee Scratch Perry, in the confines of The Regal! Unreal. From the moment the new line up of The Upsetters take to the stage, you know this is going to be something special. The set commences with an intense, nail biting rendition of Django. Lee Perry takes to the stage just before the end of the song, and the crowd goes ballistic. Clad in a shiny silver hat adorned with badges, a dazzling array of gold jewellery and a bright red beard, Perry looks every inch the self styled “Jamaican E.T.”, it wouldn’t come as a great shock to find out he’d been whisked to Oxford on a private Unidentified Flying Object. It’s quite a moment, especially when you’re down the front; the history behind this man is overwhelming enough, to actually gaze at him in full regalia at this close a distance is a truly magical feeling. He moves to the front of the stage to shake hands with members of the audience, before ripping into an amazing rendition of “Zion’s Blood”, the opening track from his 1976 dub masterpiece “Super Ape”. Of course, with Lee Perry at the forefront of things you know that this isn’t going to be an average, going through the motions type of gig. As well as songs, we get plenty of banter, calls for audience participation and rants thrown into the mix. During an epic “God Save The King”, Lee launches an astonishing diatribe at the Royal Family, calling for Liz and co to be burned alive, whilst on “Scary Politicians” he implores the crowd to overthrow the government, telling us to “stamp them down” whilst raising his fist defiantly. This is much of a punk gig as it is a reggae one; Lee’s political diatribes, outsider stance and outlandish appearance pretty much confirm this, as does his refusal to play it safe by sticking to the hits. He frequently takes his hat off to the crowd, exposing a fierce crop of dyed red hair, telling us how he loves us and considers us his “family”. The feeling’s mutual, Lee. One of the most raw, bizarre, confrontational and intimate gigs I have ever seen, and am ever likely to see. The man is a genius; 75 years old, and still pushing the boundaries in a way that no other artist on the planet could possibly imitate, or compete with. He’s Phil Spector, Captain Beefheart and Sun Ra all rolled into one, although comparisions with other artists don’t even begin to do him justice. Long live Lee Perry, the undisputed King Of Reggae, extra terrestrialism and free thinking. Don’t miss out on seeing him live, you WILL regret it!