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Lee Scratch Perry - Heavy Legacy

Reggae pioneer and self styled madman Lee 'Scratch' Perry recently gave Adam Bennett a piece of his strange but entertaining mind.

5 Sep 2002

See Lee Scratch Perry play at

Reggae pioneer and self styled madman Lee 'Scratch' Perry arrives in the Southern Hemisphere later this month for concerts in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland and Wellington. He recently gave Adam Bennett of New Zealand Press Association a piece of his strange but entertaining mind.

Wellington NZ, Sept 2 2002

Reggae's clown prince Lee 'Scratch' Perry is somewhat immodest about his recent shows at London's Jazz Cafe: 'It was the best show on earth ... the very best show on earth'. Perry -- about to tour Australasia -- can be forgiven his lack of modesty. 'I am He, A to Z, abracadabra, the great ball of fire. I am not a fake, I am for real, the reel to reel... Teac.'

If that doesn't make too much sense don't worry, Perry is famous for his extended stream of consciousness monologues in response to interviewers' questions. Just how much of Perry's exuberant lunacy is genuine and how much is a performance for fans and journalists remains a mystery but there's no denying that along with fellow fruitcakes Phil Spector, George Clinton, Sly Stone, and Prince, Perry's madness is matched by superlative musical genius in the recording studio.

Perry's career spans five decades, from the ska and rocksteady of the sixties to today's digital dub but it's his work in the 70s that has cemented his place in musical history. Between 1974 and 1979, working out of a shed at the bottom of his garden known as the Black Ark studio, Perry collaborated with the cream of Jamaica's singers and players to produce what are now widely regarded as some of the greatest musical riches to emerge from the impoverished nation's hugely influential music scene.

He's credited by many with guiding Bob Marley and the Wailers to develop the soulful but militant style with which the group would go on to conquer the world. Apart from helping to originate and refine reggae and dub, Perry also pioneered the use of the recording studio as a musical instrument in its own right.

However, Perry's prolific streak of musical innovation came to an end when, under mysterious circumstances, he burnt Black Ark to the ground. The destruction of his studio marked a phase of his life he spent battling what he calls reggae's 'heavy legacy', the downside of the music's international success in the 70s and 80s. 'That legacy depend how people deal with it', he says. 'It's a heavy legacy, it bring death and give life also.'

While stars like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Dennis Brown fell victim to violence, drugs and illness Perry himself battled mental illness and alcohol problems. Emerging from this dark period Perry enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as a singer and performer in the late eighties when he teamed up with London-based producer Adrian Sherwood. Perry's work with Sherwood introduced him to a new audience who may not have known of his groundbreaking production work in the 70s.

Since then he has worked fairly consistently with the Mad Professor and although his creative peak may well lie in the past, Perry remains a warm charismatic performer and a powerfully idiosyncratic personality. His live shows are celebrations of a fuzzy ganja-fuelled spirituality which has found fertile ground in Australia & New Zealand, and Perry promises an uplifting show when he performs here.

'I programme only the holy who are looking for a future to come to my show -- telepathically, magically, scientifically, technologically. Those that expect any prosperity and any future will have to come and see I and those that don't deserve any future and any place in the sun will not come and see I'.

The last time Perry came this way he was accompanied by the Mad Professor's group the Robotiks, this time it's just him, another musician and the Professor at the controls, or maybe it just looks like the Mad Professor...

'The people who are working with me, who they was before they starting working with me, those people that they was disappear, and the people who are working with me, I put extraterrestrial in their structure and in their bodies.

'There won't be any Robotics, it will be Lee Scratch Perry and the Upsetters. No robots will be there. Real for real perfect perfect extra terrestials will be there.'

Perry sounds a warning that his group of musical extraterrestrials are not in Australasia for the sole purpose of laying down some righteous reggae, they also have another mission.

'Extraterrestrials come to clean up politicians, to wipe out politicians, kaput politicians, and to give the suffers who respect Jah Rastafari riches and wealth and fortune, happiness and peace for ever. All the politicians I programme to die unless they repent, if they don't they shall surely face death my sword Excalibur given to I by Merlin the greatest magician on earth.'

Apparently Perry's shows can be something of a hit and miss affair but on a good night Perry is capable of building a mutually euphoric rapport with the audience, something he says he treasures.

'Well I'm feeling richer than Rockefeller, I'm feeling richer than (Island Records founder and long-time Perry bete noir) Chris Blackwell, I'm feeling richer than Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, I'm feeling richer than Tony Blair who don't have any magnets in his hair.'

Looking forward to his forthcoming shows, Perry offers a special message to those intending come along.

'Seven times seven happiness, and seven times seven blessing, and seven time seven riches for ever. They that love I deserve I blessing, and they that love I deserve I love, and they that love I deserve to share everything I have fifty-fifty. That's all I've got, my inheritance is love.'

Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Mad Professor, International Observer
Melbourne 18 & 22 Sept Prince Bandroom
Sydney 19 Sept Metro Theatre
Auckland 20 Sept St James
Wellington 21 Sept Starlight Ballroom

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