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Chat with the chief of world's greatest music; One of music's great innovators and characters is coming our way. Matt McKenzie tunes in to Lee 'Scratch' Perry.

IF you ever get the chance, have a conversation with Lee 'Scratch' Perry.

Half an hour with the man behind some of the greatest music ever made - his own and other people's - is thick with Biblical allusions, lashings of fire, ice and thunder, protestations of greatness, rap, rhyme and occasional bouts of reason.

Packed with long and winding sentences where he's toasting, not speaking, there's also lots of laughter.

His very being reminds us to not accept pop stars who are remotely normal. Let them be different, wildly different, he seems to say... let them be otherworldly, breathlessly brilliant, supernaturally creative; let them take you to another place.

There's a moment when he even sings to me, my own private Lee 'Scratch' Perry gig, a fragile and soulsquashing version of I Wish It Would Rain Peace, his tweak of that beautiful Temptations track. "Rain and bless my brain."

And there are quotes like this: "Conquer illness, conquer giant, conquer Goliath, conquer war, conquer police, conquer soldier, conquer government, conquer Pope, conquer churches, conquer evil and find a needle in a haystack and don't get old."

Turning 80 earlier this year, he still tours, still makes music, when you'd forgive him for sitting back and admiring his status as one of the most influential artists of our times, in any genre, helping to invent reggae - and dub, sampling, some would even say rap - with his own music and as a producer/engineer for others.

Perry started to make singles in the 1960s having left Studio One (dubbed the Motown of Jamaica), some so ahead of their time they still sound unlikely today.

1968's People Funny Boy (a vitriolic attack on rival producer Joe Gibbs) contains a sample of a baby crying. Many consider it one of the first reggae songs. So, Lee, did you help invent reggae? "God sent me to do that," he confirms.

His album Super Ape is a landmark dub work, bulging with sounds we'd struggle to even hear in our dreams.

If his own music is often magnificent, what he did for others as a producer/engineer is miraculous. His union with The Wailers paved the way for Bob Marley's superstardom and yielded many wonderful things. Many see this early '70s period as Marley's finest.

"It's funny," he says. "I did do that to help Bob who was suffering. God Jesus said, 'Knock and it shall be opened unto you, seek and you shall find'."

He knocks loudly on the other end of the phone. "So Bob knocked and I had to open the door for him."

Scratch lists Punky Reggae Party, African Herbsman, Don't Rock My Boat and Keep on Moving as standouts for him, Sun is Shining as "one of the best songs me and Bob wrote together".

His legacy also includes a host of classic reggae albums - War Ina Babylon (Max Romeo), Heart of the Congos (The Congos), Police and Thieves (Junior Murvin) and Party Time (The Heptones).

Did he have any idea at the time of how epochal this body of work would turn out to be? "I am in the business but I am not a businessman, I am a child of a king. What you sow is what you gonna reap, what you give is what you going to get... so make sure you sow what is perfect."

So he knew they were special when he was helping to make them? "Yah. I am a prince and my father is the king of kings."

Many of these landmark works were born in his fabled Black Ark studio, in Kingston, a tiny shed in which he wrestled sound then bent it to his will. What happened in there? He talks about Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey.

"Marcus Garvey represent the Ark.

Marcus Garvey happened to be Noah, the Golden Lion of Zion. The Ark belongs to Marcus Garvey so Marcus Garvey tell me everything in the Ark. And he tell Bob that there's a natural mystic blowing through the air and if you listen carefully, you will hear it."

Scratch talks about the rising sun, fortune, magic, science, miracles and the sky.

"It was like a stable, a little ark, all the magic, good magic, white magic, blue magic, red magic, but no black magic was there.

"I'd open my Bible and the first chapter come up me read it, 'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly "Rain, thunder, lightning, brimstone, fire, flood, hurricane, ice and snow and that become my addiction. God's sound is my addiction. I was only working with God's sounds, I'm still working with God's sound. God is my addiction and God is my prediction."

And he laughs his irresistible laugh.

I tell him I saw him play in Newcastle 10 years ago and he was brilliant.

"I am handsome now. I am more brilliant (on stage) now. The house of angels are there. The cherubim, the seraphim I have no beginning and I have no end."

His gig, though, will begin at Riverside, Newcastle Quayside, on Sunday. Buy tickets at


Musician and producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry Volker Schaner

Lee 'Scratch' Perry is at Newcastle's Riverside on Sunday
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 25, 2016
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