Thursday, 15 December 2011

Planet of the Ape

A Rewind for the South China Morning Post on a lesser known work by the world class mentalist and mind-bending maestro of dub.  

Lee ´Scratch´ Perry is probably the maddest man in music, or possibly the sanest, and certainly one of the most prolific. The man also known as Pipecock Jackxon, The Upsetter, Dr. On The Go, the Red Ninja, Inspector Gadget, Super Ape, Ringo, Wonder Man and the Duppy Conqueror began his career as a gofer for the Jamaican label Downbeat Sound System in the late 1950s, edged his way behind a desk and then in front of a mic, and went on to put out at least 60 albums containing some of the strangest and most innovative music ever committed to tape and vinyl. He has probably smoked more marijuana than any other living human, until about a decade ago when he foreswore his sacred herb “to see if it was the smoke or Lee Perry making the music.’’
By the late 70s, he would be capturing sounds on his four-track tape recorder at the famed Black Ark studios that would inspire artists from Bob Marley and the Wailers through to The Clash, The Prodigy and The Freestylers, employing delays and loops to create the fuzzy echoing dub sounds he claimed were being beamed down to him from “the extraterrestrial gang’’.
Back in 1975, however, he was just getting over an obsession with the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood when Perry saw Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, and was smitten. The result was Kung Fu Meets the Dragon (DIP/Justice League, 1975) by Lee Perry and The Upsetters, an album some hold up as a seminal classic, others dismiss as a shambling, rambling and somewhat boring dub dud, and most will simply never have heard of at all. Should the album’s name not convince you fully of Perry’s sudden passion for Bruce Lee, the song titles probably will: Enter the Dragon, Theme from Hong Kong, Heart of the Dragon, Hold Them Kung Fu, Black Belt Jones, Iron Fist, Kung Fu Man and more besides.
 The album is faster and to my ear catchier than some of his more feted later material, closer to ska or rock-steady, featuring the melodica of Augustus Pablo and plenty of crazed clavinet. Many of the songs sound somewhat similar at first blush, but upon repeated listens the entire work begins to make a trippy kind of sense. Perry mostly just grunts, hoots and hollers, although on Kung Fu Man he lapses briefly into lucidity, extolling us to “Kick dem Kung Fu, kick dem Kung Fu, hoo ha, hoo ha!’’ Even if you’ve never smoked a joint in your life, by the end of Kung Fu Meets the Dragon, you’ll probably want to.    

 I finally managed to catch “Scratch’’ live at Japan’s Fuji Rock festival in 2008. Despite edging up on his own mid-70s, the Super Ape looked in great shape, a sprightly cat in a smoke-belching voodoo hat, shambolically shuffling about the stage spewing streams of consciousness, rub-a-dub-a-dubbing umpteen to the dozen, looking for all the world like he was in on the ultimate cosmic joke.
So perhaps it’s only fitting that the last word on Kung Fu Meets the Dragon should go to The Upsetter himself, straight from his original sleeve notes: “Madder than mad, dreader than dread, redder than red, dis yah one … heavier than lead.’’

No comments:

Post a Comment