Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Jazz Cafe, London

Jazz Cafe, London

Just as the world of light entertainment promulgates professional northerners, so rock music seems to breed professional loonies. The model is Syd Barrett, whose legend rests less on his music than his LSD-derived insanity. Since then, rock has been thick with contrived nutters: a few "loopy" quotes, some "mad" lyrics and a cult following is guaranteed.

Rock's ultimate professional loony is reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, once Jamaican music's most important figure, now a crowd-pleasing über-twit.

One story suggests that his studied barminess was designed to discourage the attentions of Kingston gangsters at the height of his fame. It has also distracted attention from his waning musical powers. Perry produced countless staggering records in the 1960s and 1970s, but has maintained his media profile ever since by the simple expedient of talking gibberish. On BBC2's recent reggae documentaries, Perry wore a hat covered in CDs and shouted about being Moses. It is increasingly difficult to stifle a sigh: oh, give it rest, will you?

Sections of this audience make you feel the same. Aged reggae fans are thin on the ground. The crowd, 90% white, look as if they have popped in on their way to the freshers' fair. Their chosen mode of appreciation is the indulgent chortle, much in evidence before Perry takes the stage. One audience member repeatedly shouts "Ras-ta-far-i!" in a cod-Jamaican accent. His giggling chums find it highly original, highly amusing, and, quite possibly, highly Selassie.

Perry's band, mixed live by reggae producer the Mad Professor, sound fantastic. Drums ricochet from the speakers, keyboards echo cavernously. The songs are weird patchworks: one re-appropriates the chorus from the Staple Singers' If You're Ready (Come Go With Me) and the bassline from The Liquidator by the Harry J All Stars. Perry's contribution is to ramble in a ruined croak: "How do you do? I love you! Shoo-be-doo!" When the music peters out, Perry waves a candle and shouts: "I am a gay! I am a gay! I am an extraterrestrial!" If someone started doing this on public transport, you suspect that most people here would hastily move to another carriage, but tonight, they have paid to see it. In that respect at least, Lee Perry live is a mind-boggling experience.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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