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Lee 'Scratch' Perry: 'I want to raise reggae from the dead'

MAKING A SPLASH: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

“I AM a fish, originally.” Even with due warning of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s eccentricity, this admission from the legendary producer was a mind-boggler.

But this is exactly the type of mystic musing audiences can expect from Perry’s upcoming film, Vision of Paradise. Described as “not a biography but rather a fairytale documentary,” the film from German director Volker Schaner will receive its world premiere in London this weekend, as part of the East End Film Festival.

Schaner followed Perry for almost 15 years, gathering footage for the documentary, which promises to deliver an intimate and fascinating look at the dub pioneer.

Famed for his work with Bob Marley and The Wailers, Max Romeo and Junior Murvin, to name but a few, the Grammy-winning producer, whose career spans over 50 years, is celebrated for his innovative studio techniques and production skills.

But the Jamaican producer, who formed his own label, Upsetter Records in 1968, is equally well known for his outlandish image, often donning multiple rings, outrageously bright clothing and a multi-coloured hairdo. Frequently dubbed as eccentric, the 79-year-old says he’s more than happy with the description.

“I think that’s fair enough,” he says. “I love it!”

Ask the I Am A Madman hitmaker where said eccentricity comes from, and you enter the producer’s wacky yet wonderful mind.

“I am a fish, originally,” he explains. “I am the two fish on the Zodiac. Part of me is visible, which is I, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The other part that is invisible is King Neptune. [The eccentricity is] from Neptune – the other fish in me. He’s the biggest fish in me. And because I have a double, I have no fear. And I have a double that kills devils!”

As Perry lets out a raucous laugh, it’s unclear whether he is chuckling at himself or at the fact he knows his sentiments will leave the listener totally baffled. But despite his ability to mystify, you can’t help but be enthralled by his spirit.

Even his attempt to describe his documentary is a tad vague.

“It’s all about righteousness,” he says. “Good over evil. The big must come down and the likkle must come up. I like to see the giant fall!”

A bit like David and Goliath?

“Yeah, I love that!”

With Perry responding enthusiastically to the reference of the Biblical tale, it seemed fitting to ask if he considers himself a religious man.

“I think so,” he responds. “I don’t know what people have against Jesus, whether it’s his colour or what. I believe Jesus is a black man. But I’m not thinking about his colour. I think about his word and his works. Like rising Lazarus from the dead – I want to raise reggae from the dead!”

Does Perry feel his beloved genre is dead?

“It’s not the reggae that’s dead, but some people are trying to use the music for the Devil’s works. Reggae is spiritual vibration. But you have another side – reggae dancehall – which is not about righteousness. It’s a Devil work to achieve vanity to make money.

STUDIO SOUND: Perry in action in his early years

“I don’t do anything like that. God is jealous and when you mix up in righteousness and unrighteousness, it can be a dangerous thing.”

He continues: “Righteousness is humble. There’s no aggression in righteousness. It’s peaceful. But you have some women go to a dancehall with no panties on – showing everything! You go to a Jamaican dancehall – [you’ll see] some big, fat, ugly woman with no panty on, showing the whole of herself to a camera!

“God couldn’t be involved in anything like that. I don’t think you could find a God that would bless that.”

Ask Perry if he’s not worried about offending dancehall lovers with his sentiments and you quickly discover why his nickname, ‘The Upsetter’ is quite apt.

“I believe in the truth and I speak the truth,” he says. “People want to replace Jesus but they’d have to replace him with something better – and they can’t do that. Jesus is about holiness and righteousness.

“You can’t go to the dancehall exposing your p*m p*m! Some women ah expose themselves to catch man. And if dem exposing themselves, dem nah go use nuh rubber neither! I talk the truth and mi nuh care who vex.”

Though he is outspoken and outlandish in equal measure, he remains passionate about the art form that found him fame. This becomes clear as Perry reflects on his proudest achievement.

“The music,” he says without hesitation. “And the people in the UK never let me down. They love my music and they always come out to see me. I’ve never had a flop show in London yet!

“The music creates a spiritual connection that has enabled people to follow me. I love that.”

Vision of Paradise will be screened as part of the East End Film Festival at Genesis Cinema, London E1 on July 4.

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