Lee Scratch Perry – Melkweg, Amsterdam – 6/12/2004

"A vision of sexagenarian bonkersness."

Lee Scratch Perry – Melkweg


"A vision of sexagenarian bonkersness."

Lee Scratch Perry – Melkweg


As we wander, still shivering, into the wonderfully intimate Oude Zaal at the Melkweg, we take a moment to peruse the merchandise stall. One thing strikes me immediately. There is bugger all here with the words Lee, Scratch or Perry on them. Not a single T-shirt, and only on fairly close inspection do we find a poster, a CD and a pretty dodgy looking DVD. But our host for this evening is not a merchandising kind of guy, and of the CD’s on sale his name is more often to be found in small, badly printed letters on the inner sleeve.


A  thousand years from now, when everything we now regard as possible is history and everything we see as science fiction is taken for granted; the world will look back and talk about Lee Perry in the same breath as people like John Lennon, Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa and any other prolific, groundbreaking and more than a little bonkers artist you care to mention.


Jah Lion, Pipecock Jakxon, Super Ape, Small Axe, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, The Peacemaker, The Mighty Upsetter,  Rainford Hugh Perry arrived from outer space in 1936. After spending several years as a baby, he went on to become a child. Little is known about this stage of his development, but it will probably go down as the least productive period of his life.


Rumour has it that childhood was quickly followed by adolescence, and from the late 50’s Perry went on to write, record and produce literally thousands of records, with everyone from Bob Marley to The Clash to The Beastie Boys. During the last 6 decades he has done more than enough to ensure that Reggae and Dub would not exist in their current form without him.


Men in polo necks and anoraks adorn the stage with set-lists, candles and incense, and the marijuana content of the Oude Zaal can be measured in cubic metres. Skilfully rolled smoke-machines are being lit and sucked and bellowed around the room and there is an almighty bass hum that makes my trousers vibrate. The White Belly Rats take the stage, guitar, bass, drums and loops pound us immediately into deep dub heaven. "Welcome to the Great Mother Earth!" His unmistakable voice echoes from the wings.


Then he appears – a vision of sexagenarian bonkersness. I’ll start at the bottom and work my way up. Trainers, but not just any old trainers, well…………yes, just any old trainers, but festooned with crystals, mirrors and gold doubloons. Knee length socks with thick black and white vertical stripes. White, below the knee, trousers, long sleeved top beneath scruffy T-shirt, Mardi Gras jewellery, more rings than fingers and a Native American head-dress atop his red, white and blue dyed, Dutch flag hair…………… And a satchel. Stylie! 


Although the world of fashion will probably not look back with a great deal of dewy eyed affection for old Rainford, he holds the gaze of everyone firmly upon him. He maybe a tiny old man, but there burns a fire behind his beady eyes.


After one song the head-dress is ditched in favour of a baseball cap which matches his rather snazzy pumps, and the light reflects off the mirrors and DAT tapes?? and refracts through the prisms of his hallucinogenic, soul miner’s helmet. They kick in to Secret Laboratory, a track born of his collaborations with Adrian Sherwood on his On-U Sound label in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the era which first led me to the weird and itchy world of Scratch. They follow this up with another from the same period, the certifiable, Inspector Gadget. This version, reworked for their latest album ‘Panic in Babylon’, is still deserving of the same small, dimly lit, padded cell and round the clock surveillance, once enjoyed by the original. Absolutely brilliant.


I have to admit, that by this stage, I am completely stoned, more than a little drunk and drifting away on a thick, enveloping, shag-pile, flying-carpet of reggae and dub. I am most definitely not alone. We blissfully dance and smoke our way through maybe half a dozen songs, maybe half a dozen days, pausing only to whoop and holler. During this indeterminable period my only lucid memories are that of Liz telling me that the incense he’s burning is melon flavoured – I don’t doubt this, but most everything else in the room was definitely Skunk flavoured – and I remember the bassist holding his lighter aloft, vainly trying to encourage the crowd to do the same, he gave up upon realising that most lighters were otherwise engaged in creating a cloud potent enough to cover up the smell of bloody melons.


I come round, as if released from a spell, when Lee Perry leaves the stage during a colossal dub version of Roastfish and Cornbread. The admirable White Belly Rats take us to the end of the set still perfectly entwined in the loops and samples that contrived to supply the gratuitous and necessary, oddness.


When he eventually follows the Rats out for the encore, "DAT hat" has been replaced by a shining, golden crown, and it suits him. For a man who is to regal, what the Kray Twins were to legal, he looks good in a crown. We get 3 more tracks to end a gig that was, understandably, of fairly modest length, but beautifully tailored. I loved it and I’d jump at the chance to go again. I suggest you make the effort too, he looks like he’s probably got another 20 years in him yet, but you never know, sometimes the good die young.


25 minutes later, we were sitting enjoying a Guinness in the Irish Pub, on the corner of Leidseplein, by the venue. Who should we spot heading off into the night? I nipped outside and shook the hand of The Mighty Upsetter. He smiled a gap-toothed grin and wandered off with his chaperone, looking every inch the old nutter, blending into the shadowy Amsterdam crowds, in his bejewelled shoes and glinting crown.




Words : MONO