Brighton Festival – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Max Romeo, Adrian Sherwood

The air was heavy with anticipation for an audience spanning all ages from 16 to 80 for a line-up of true reggae legends. After a brief DJ set by On–U Sound production hotshot Adrian Sherwood, the backing band (for both Romeo and Perry) warmed up with a quick instrumental before Romeo took the stage.

Initially famed in the UK for his lewd, suggestive late 60s output tonight he drew upon his Perry-produced conscious political works. Like Perry, a diminutive figure, Romeo cut a dash in a bright tangerine beach suit, grey beard and dreadlocks down to his waist, he was in excellent, voice, vibrant and urgent, the band produced a tight and punchy sound as he delivered classics ‘One Step Forward’, ‘War Ina Babylon’ – culminating his set with a very crowd-pleasing ‘I Chase The Devil’. An encore, ‘Jamaican Ska’, concluded an unexpectedly fine performance.

With almost no interval the band started again. They played for a couple of minutes before the famously unhinged 75-year-old Perry appeared from behind a curtain backstage with hair and beard dyed fuchsia, sporting a baseball cap and jacket encrusted with shiny things. By contrast to Romeo, Perry’s performance was more eccentric, more perverse. Between songs he was a ‘positive toaster’, spouting puerile rhymes: “You’re in a very good mood/Because you’re eating very good food and pounds stirling are my Merlin”, which the audience loved.

Carried by the band Perry rewarded them by being recalcitrant, randomly changing tempo, requesting the guitarist free his dreadlocks before performing ‘Curly Locks’. He introduced songs “from the Bob Marley era”, takes on ‘Sun Is Shining’ and ‘Duppy Conqueror’, concluding with a diatribe on the lack of recognition from Marley and the original Wailers for his input: “Bob Marley dead. Peter Tosh dead. Carlie Barrett dead. I still here!” he yelled.

After an elongated version of Roast Fish And Corn bread aided with dub echos added by Sherwood, Perry concluded with ‘Soul Fire’, and wandered out of view behind the monitors reciting what appeared to be the Lord’s Prayer. Once he had left the stage there was a curious acappella version of ‘Whisky In The Jar’ from the band and the lights went up on what was a legendary evening.

Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, 20 May

Rating: ★★★★★
Stephen King

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