Continuing the Brighton Festival’s theme of ‘Rebel Music’ at The Dome (Asian Dub Foundation played under the same banner a few weeks back), Max Romeo and Lee Perry with a live mix by On-U Sounds Adrian Sherwood were a combination I was dribbling over.
After hearing Sherwood’s live mixing for Tack>Head and Mark Stewart last month, the prospect of hearing him do the same for a full reggae band with the sweet vocals of Max Romeo and the rambling dub-centric ‘poetry’ of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, was something I was looking forward to since the tickets were purchased a few months back (thanks Lou.x).
Keen not to miss anything, times of the performance were requested- and it appears that we we’re working on dub-time, some when between 9 and 11 was the answer. So, we took ourselves to the arena.
The lights dimmed ‘The first act will be on soon!’, excitement! 25mins or so later (dub time) the band sauntered on to the stage- a mixture of black, white, male, female, dread, non-dread- a truly mixed bunch. We were warmed up with a reggae instrumental before the night’s first legend hit the stage- wearing a loose, peach safari style (?) suit and brandishing a head of long grey dreads, Max Romeo wanders on to rapturous applause, and launches into the first of many Jah praising tunes.
The thing I’ve found with live reggae is that it takes a few tracks to drop in to the groove- the quick pace of modern living which raises our body’s inner tempo above what it should be, may be the cause, I dunno, but by the third track I was ‘at one’ with the music, my heart was beating like the Nyabinghi drum and I was grooving.
The highlights in Romeo’s set were off the classic Perry produced ‘War Ina Babylon’ album- ‘Stealing In The Name Of Jah’, ‘War Ina Babylon’, ‘One Step Forward’ and the classic ‘I Chase The Devil’ which has been much sampled, including ‘Iron Shirt’ by Dreadzone and a hardcore anthem by a band whose current frontman is Krusty The Clown, but then it was just Liam Howlett. Indeed it was this tune that received the greatest audience participation all night.
He returned to the stage to perform the upbeat ‘Jamaica SKA’ which had the place a-skanking. My only criticism, was that he didn’t play ‘Norman’, my favourite Romeo track- and I’ll indulge you with it now…
(the chatting over the top at the beginning is a game of dominoes which was put on the 12″- bonkers Perryisms…)
A short interlude was had- there was meant to be a seamless link, but the female Bass player retired hurt (as we say in cricket), and the Bass was taken up by the guitarist- who I later found out was Black Steel- another legend! He was part of Mad Professors house band, and also provided vocals on the second side of KLF’s ‘The White Room’, another classic album.
The band started up again, and Black Steel introduced the second (or third in my mind) legend, by calling out the decades in which Perry had released material- starting with the 40’s! Then the little guy with the big presence walked on stage Singing ‘Crazy Baldhead’ to a great response. Covered in all manner of shiny things and mirrors and stuff, Lee’s eccentric stylings are well known, his pink beard added to the look.
Now, last time I saw Perry live was about 15 or so years ago, that night was disappointing, his band of session musicians were lifeless, lacklustre and dull- coupled with his rambling non-sense it left me cold, and if I never saw him on stage again, it wouldn’t bother me. His latest material released through On-U Sound, however, had re-kindled my interest in him (although, please understand that Perry as a genius producer has never left me, the productions that came out of his Black Ark studio are some of the best things I’ve heard, truly remarkable. For me, Marley’s greatest stuff is the Perry produced material- it retains the sound and spirit of Jamaica that Blackwells’ productions lacked. Also, the great reggae albums ‘War Ina Babylon’, The Congoes ‘Heart Of The Congos’ and Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’ are all Perry productions.)
What we got tonight from Perry was his ramblings and rhymings over familiar reggae riddims, although, contrary to 15years ago, I liked them, they made more sense and were in the main part funny- his chanting of ‘play me on BBC, don’t play me on MTV’ resonated well with me (BBC’s 6Music is THE station for me), his [putting one hand in the air and fluttering it] ‘wave like a butterfly/ butterfly skip/butterfly jump’ showed this 74year old’s childlike simplicity.
He played a couple of tracks ‘Jah live’, ‘Duppy Conqueror’ and ‘Sun Is Shining’, that he wrote with Bob Marley, while announcing that he gets little or no credit for the tracks from Marley’s estate (the way Jamaica’s music industry was throughout the 60’s and 70’s, this must be the ONLY case where the singer got more publicity, fame and wealth than the producer).
Perry announced that Black Steel (this is where I realised who he was) should unfurl his dreads- what I initially thought was a hat, turned out to be the longest dreads I have ever seen, almost sweeping the floor! This also brought to me one of the biggest surprises of the night- as Perry, rambling, singing the praises of the Dreadlock and the band started playing Curly Locks (in my mind a stone wall classic, originally on Perry’s (strongest?) ‘Roast Fish, Corn Bread and Colly Weed’ album and later covered with the sweet vocals of Junior Byles (Perry produced), a track I would sing to my daughter to get her to sleep when she was a baby) the track was met with almost silence from the crowd- bizarre.
Perry would slow down and speed up the band at will, which had a greater effect than it sounds, and the band were easily up to the task- they sounded fantastic all night. More humour was injected whilst playing the title track off the aforementioned album- ‘Roast Fish, Corn Bread and Colly Weed’, as Black Steel sang the chorus of ‘Roast Fish’, Perry turned to him, proclaiming that he doesn’t roast fish anymore, he is a Vegetarian, and the fish are now Flying Fish! Perry continued with ‘I’m a Vegetarian, a vegetarian’ as new lyrics to this old tune.
Let me now mention the effect of having a live mix, especially with one which has the maestro Adrian Sherwood producing it. Usually, bands would set up, have a soundcheck, get the levels sorted and that would be it for the show (more or less, I’m guessing the sound guys do a little tweaking here and there if necessary), with Sherwood mixing it live, and supplying sound effects, we effectively have another dimension to the act- some of the tunes were stretched out with the inclusion of live dub versions- the use of echo and reverb, record style spinbacks and thunder effects, the horns bought in and out to add a bit of energy here and there, and,of course, the increased sound of the Bass helped make this great gig into a fantastic live experience- many thanks Adrian.
Finishing Perry’s set was ‘Soul Fire’ a personal favourite of mine off ‘Roast[Flying?] Fish…’, starting slow, and building to an uproarious climax- Perry left the stage.
Black Steel then did a solo accapella rendition of ‘Whiskey In A Jar’, and was off too.
I briefly met and shook the hand of Adrian after the gig, his daughter was there too- her first gig, as her proud Father announced, a lovely bloke, and remarkably humble for a man with so much quality behind him. My night was complete.
BBC Radio3 Broadcast some moments from the night, get it here.