Lee Scratch Perry Live Review

Words: Mike McGrath Bryan

It’s a rowdy Paddy’s day crowd that filters into the Pavilion for this big night of reggae “Shamrock Jamrock” madness, headlined by the legendary space cadet Lee Scratch Perry.

Anticipation levels are evidently high (no pun intended) as a healthy crowd fill the venue a full two hours before Perry is due to hit the stage.

Support act The Ruff Chuffs’ blend of old-time dub & reggae with electronic and pop sensibilities kicks off the live portion of the show, (following on from Revelation Sound Crew’s DJ set) and is met warmly. It sets the scene nicely for what’s to come.

The buzz builds as Perry’s band hits the stage and proceed to jam, checking levels as they do. After some small tweaking they welcome out The Upsetter himself, Lee “Scratch” Perry. From here on out, things, as you might expect, start to get weird.

His name, his body of work, and the many, many anecdotes and stories that are inextricably linked to the mans legend are invariably at the back of everyone’s mind, from the fanatics up front, to the pissed-up old man in the fetching wife-beater helpfully informing everyone, least our eyes betray us, that the man onstage is indeed Lee Perry himself.

Scratch himself is seemingly oblivious to the awe and myth he inspires. He cuts a calm and collected figure, ambling out onto the stage in a tracksuit so garish it’d make a nightclub photographer’s leggings jealous. Covered in his trademark charms & trinkets, and brandishing a bunch of bananas functioning as a convenient incense burner, he is, unmistakably, his own man.

The band themselves jam away coolly and patiently through the stone-cold classic ‘riddims’ of Perry’s creation and others’. At various stages ‘Introducing Myself’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Sun is Shining’ and even a chilled version of ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ get breezed through.

But the story here, somewhat unfortunately given his bulletproof back catalog, is not of tight jams and a run through the hits, but rather a more immersive experience. Commanding the crowd, or trying to at least – difficult given that Paddy’s night is upon us – Perry attempts banter, almost incoherently, before hitting upon his masterstroke and indulging in nursery-rhyme call and response.

Band-leader, dance commander, comedian and musical luminary all at once, the Upsetting Upsetter simply improvising his way through the set, shaking hands and dancing with the lucky ones.

Drawing people into his world is Lee Perry’s thing (there’s an understatement), and in doing so tonight, he does what he does best: break down barriers. As his set comes to a close, your writer lets a more composed member of the crowd to the barrier upon noticing that there’s space.

Within about five seconds, Scratch notices, and immediately grabs her by the hands, dancing playfully with her, getting her to jump and generally get into it. Her demeanour changed utterly in those few minutes, from stoic observation to a beaming grin. That’s the power of Lee Perry in his seventies. Coherent? That’d be pushing it. But a force of nature? That’s a definite understatement!

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Cork music since 2010
Millroom 2,
3rd Floor,
Thompson House,
MacCurtain Street,
Cork City,
Conor O'Toole
Graham Lynch