Lee 'Scratch' Perry, The Jazz Cafe, London

The Jazz Cafe, London

A few moments before Lee "Scratch" Perry takes the stage, the DJ drops Chase the Devil, a seminal piece of Jamaican music. Perry produced it back in 1976, and its sharply distilled mix and scuttling rhythms sound as contemporary as any of today's Caribbean-inflected radio fare, be it Lily Allen or Chuck Fender. But Chase the Devil is not just Perry. It is Perry producing a great singer, Max Romeo. Along with Junior Murvin, The Heptones and Bob Marley, he was one of many fine vocalists with whom Scratch revolutionised reggae.

Unfortunately, none of them are here tonight, so for a very long hour the studio god resoundingly proves he cannot sing. He disregards any semblance of key and derails the simplest meter. Then he tells the congregation he loves his own "piss and shit". People go ape, presumably because they are in the presence of greatness, a living link to the mythical figures of Sir Coxsone and King Tubby.

To be fair, Scratch has a cute, otherworldly charisma. He moves like a lifesize Thunderbird. Moreover, his four-piece band, spearheaded by guitarist Stephen Wright, marshals razor sharp rub-a-dub grooves as if to the manner born.

That does not stop the gig from sinking into farce though. Scratch frequently spouts nonsense while the musicians smile through clenched teeth. Given his reputation for eccentricity, Scratch could probably get away with reciting nursery rhymes all night but the audience frankly deserve better. They only get it on the encore, War in a Babylon, which they sing while "the Upsetter" sits down and fidgets.

Kevin Le Gendre

The GuardianTramp

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