p18c2suk671s2c35tbrk15mk18u84– BAND ON THE WALL, MANCHESTER –

Read anything about Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and you will undoubtedly encounter the words ‘genius’ and ‘insanity’ and with good reason; Perry is credited as the catalyst of dub music, wrote and produced hits for The Wailers, The Congos and Max Romeo (amongst others) and has maintained a prominent figure in reggae for over fifty years.

The insanity charge is a little murkier but walking onstage wearing a hat which, at the right angle looks like a WWE title belt, certainly helps. Truth is, Perry’s career is marred in myth and mystery, most of which relates to money or marijuana. However it would be difficult to argue the case of complete sanity for anyone who intentionally burned down the studio in their own home.

Given Perry’s past then, there is genuine sense that anything could happen tonight. Fortunately, before he takes to the stage an instrumental from touring band The Upsetters confirms at the very least Scratch is backed by accomplished musicians. When Perry does emerge, he is sporting an outfit every bit as colourful as his life story, and is greeted with a warm, if not rapturous reception.

Standing at just 5’4, Perry has a presence on stage much greater than his physical stature may suggest. Roaming with an almost constant grin, there is a youthful exuberance one would not expect from a man less than a week from his 78th birthday.

It is interesting, especially given the opening, that the early stage of tonight’s show is not hampered by the frontman, but his band. The sound is much brighter than many of the records Scratch has produced, and whilst The Upsetters play with precision, the four-piece fail to recapture the experimental sounds from which Perry made his name.

It is only around the midway point when ‘Pum-Pum’ (from Andrew WK-produced album Repentance) brings the first real shift in tempo. The previously steady rhythms are replaced with dancehall urgency and serve as a welcome reminder to Perry’s versatility, but ultimately make much of the show so far feel pedestrian.

Another clear highlight is the bass heavy reworking of The Wailers’ ‘Sun Is Shining’. Vocally, Perry is surprisingly unstrained and his band finds a thumping groove which would have been welcomed some time ago. Both artist and audience seem happier for pushing the musical boundaries.

The five song encore offers as much diversity as the main hour-long set, with The Upsetters supplying Perry with elements of ska, rocksteady and roots reggae to create the sort of party that many revellers may have expected from the outset.

As Perry leaves the stage, removing his hat to reveal a full head of purple hair, you get the sense that the show sums the man up perfectly; at times brilliant, often perplexing and like no one else on the planet.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry  Official | Facebook | Twitter

Joseph Curran

Features Editor and gig reviewer