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Review: Féilè Celebrates One of the legends of Jamaican music 

Lee Perry:  Andersonstown Leisure Centre

Gerry Fitzpatrick

23 August 2007

On a very wet balmy evening in West Belfast people gathered to celebrate one of the legends of Jamaican music Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. This was his second visit to Belfast in seven years. The gig began with an extended set from old Féilè regulars ‘The Gangsters’ who gave us their usual high octane mix of Ska favourites. Then after a few more pitchers of beer had been heartily consumed the crowd moved up to cheer Lee Perry.  Something strange happened instead. Scratch did not seem to be on stage, was he held up, was he not going to show? The audience quieted down and watched as the Lee Perry players slowly and majestically emerged, took up their instruments and began little by little, riff by riff to refuel the roots rock reggae revolution train that tore up the music scene in the late nineteen seventies.

After some breath taking playing from the band driven on by the organ and drums their sound got deeper, louder, and faster. Racing down the track they were laying the cymbals blasted through the air like super hot steam escaping from this massive militant music engine. From far off, a voice began to join in. It was Lee coming to climb aboard. 

And what a vision he was. Now over seventy, less than five feet tall, taking slow graceful steps and wearing the famous shining silver thinking cap which kept glowing in the light of travelling baby spotlight. Lee began by signing in the rasping Jamaican ‘toasting’ style about life, love, and why he wasn’t going to stop giving us sounds like these - and that was just the first number! The next was even more startling than the first which had been just his introductory warm up and it came with some excellent playing from the bands lead and bass guitarists.

It had been a long wait for the rebel music maestro’s return but Lee and his band more than made up for it, covering many of the hits he had written or produced. Half way through the set, it was our turn to surprise these great ambassadors from the place we are trying to get to. This happened when Lee and the band struck up War Ina Babylon. Up until that point the band and Lee were strictly professional – they would give us what they did best and that would be it. But it wasn’t. I’ve seen some of the most serious roots reggae musicians in my time. The most serious by far, was one of Bob Marley’s original Wailers, the great Peter Tosh,  whom I never saw smile as much as once when he performed or even in interview. But by the time the West Belfast crowd had sung the second chorus of War Ina Babylon, all these deeply serious players were smiling and began waving and talking to the audience. For we knew of what we sang, political neighbourhood wars, gangland killings and the uneasy peace in their aftermath –  the sound track of Kingston Jamaica which entered it’s music and our hearts. We had arrived at the place where this great performer?producer and his musicians were from – the place of solidarity and freedom. 


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