Few names are bigger in Reggae than that of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. A 50 year career as both a producer and artist has seen him work with the likes of Bob Marley, Max Romeo and The Clash. As well as being an early pioneer of dub, he has released countless studio albums with his band The Upsetters. Such a legendary performer winding up in York was a chance not to be missed.
Walking in to a packed Fibbers, fans were warmly greeted by the deep grooves of York’s own Irie Vibes Soundsystem; spinning a selection of old ska, reggae and dancehall to get the Red Stripe wielding crowd in the mood. It was a solid set from the collective, but the whole audience had their eyes fixed on the stage throughout – waiting for the big man to appear. The band were right on time, with the bassist jumping on mic to amp up the crowd. Proclaiming ‘We are The Upsetters, but we come to uplift you,’ the beat kicked in and they jammed out an instrumental number to set the tone of the evening.
Perry’s eccentricities were displayed from the outset as he swaggered on stage to a rapturous applause; wearing a velvet robe and a gold hat encrusted with CDs, coins and myriad shiny objects – even the microphone was bejewelled, with a disco ball hanging off it for the duration.
What followed was an hour and a half of impeccable dub reggae with The Upsetters fully on form. Certainly the tightest line-up of recent years, they handled Perry’s unpredictable performance style very well, grinning amongst themselves at his crazy scatting and improvisation.
The interludes between each song were superb, with Perry making speeches to the crowd about love, teleportation, the dangers of smoking and how rum makes you lose your mind. Between these sermons, dancing about the stage and trying to shake every hand in the audience, he was having so much fun that the band had to prompt him constantly – or else he might’ve rambled on blissfully forever.
Given the hour he’d been on and his grandma-rivalling age, an encore seemed unlikely. But he bounced back with a lively cover of ‘Exodus’. Closing on the classic ‘Roast Fish and Cornbread’, he walked off stage with microphone in hand and finished the song from the dressing room whilst the band creased with laughter.
Perry summed himself up perfectly during one monologue, ‘I am the magic man, and I can never grow old.’ I think he may be right. A show made unique by the unlikely setting and joyfully whimsical delivery, it was an endearing, passionate performance from a reggae legend.By Karl Bos