A couple of punters were sharing a spliff on Madeira Drive, presumably to get their heads ready for an evening with the self-professed Ganja Angel. The merch stand posters had Perry depicted as an intergalactic, hosepipe-bearing pixie wearing a clock and a mischievous grin and this was a pretty accurate representation of what we were about to receive.
Following an introductory mellow reggae instrumental that got the packed crowd dancing, the bass suddenly became louder, the song slipped into heavy dub, some joss sticks arrived on stage closely followed by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, clad in an overcoat with army epaulettes and a mirrored baseball hat, having a toke and making proclamations about dog angels, Haile Selassie and praising ganja. In his distinctive high voice he said “Me have the best musicians, me have the best fans, go to the fridge and bring me some champagne”. The drinks order arrived and so began the set.
A squelchy keyboard sound appeared, that was to remain throughout the show, for an old school ska song that saw Perry toasting from the front of the stage and ending with a “Ganja very much” for the huge cheer. Can you see a pattern emerging?
As expected, the bass ruled supreme with rocksteady drums driving each song aided by the two guitarists. ‘Have Some Mercy‘ had the enthusiastic crowd joining in with oohs and aahs as Perry led them with little jumps while holding on to his hat. He repeatedly screams out Fire! over a John Carpenter-style dark futuristic soundscape. The audience lapped up every lick and lyric as the 81-year-old roamed the stage giving directions to the band that were sometimes followed, other times disregarded, especially if the song had already ended.
There was some Royal Family baiting and a dash of sexual bragging that would have made Baldhead Growler blush and a great tribute to The Pioneers on a mix of ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ and ‘Come Go With Me’. The band were faultless throughout, effortlessly easing from heavy dub into bouncy ska and rocksteady.
The set ended with an extended dub which allowed the band to stretch out as their leader gathered his belongings and left, continuing to sing offstage. The early curfew meant no encore but, to his credit, he came back for a final bow. He’ll probably be doing this for another 20 years.
Concorde2, Saturday 30th September 2017
Words by Steve Clements
Photos by Francesca Moore