Thursday, 19 July 2012

Me and my very good friend Lee 'Scratch' Perry

They say you should never meet your heroes - that they won't live up to expectations, that you'll be disappointed. I don't have a clue who 'they' are, but their heroes clearly don't walk around sporting a bright red beard and a gold hat with shiny little mirrors on.

For that is the chosen style of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, a 76-year-old Jamaican music producer, reggae pioneer and one of my heroes. Through his Black Ark Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, Perry produced - in his typically lavish, eccentric style - material from Bob Marley & the Wailers, The Congos, Junior Murvin and Augustus Pablo.

He's a man two generations my senior from a Caribbean island 5,000 miles away. He's rubbed shoulders with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer and has the nickname Pipecock Jackxon. Yet here he was in London City Airport's check-in area, with little old me. Or rather, in the same queue as me, shortly to make my acquaintance.

"Jesus Christ," I whispered to my girlfriend through gritted teeth, "I think that's Lee 'Scratch' Perry behind us."


There would be no-one to share in my excitement other than the man himself. My girlfriend was more concerned about boarding her flight to Amsterdam - yes, how incredibly selfish. I was probably more shocked by her self-centredness than you - after all, I was there. Did she not realise that the psychedelic-looking fellow behind us produced The Pioneers' Long Shot - the first track to utilise what would soon be referred to as a reggae beat?

I quickly realised I had a delicate balancing act on my hands - help my lady with her bag, and be sociable with my hero. Notice the absence of an 'or' in that sentence. When I say balancing act, I bloody well mean it [hint: I am a good boyfriend].

The queue was progressing slowly. Amazingly, no-one else in the crowd recognised Scratch. Who were these uncultured heathens? Obviously, myself and the big man (I use that term liberally; he's 5' 4") were kindred spirits - he just needed to be told as much. So, I took advantage of a lull in momentum by placing my left hand on the bag's handle and my right hand outstretched into the empty space in front of me, as if pre-empting a handshake. It's safe to say I knew exactly what I was doing.

I was in danger of looking ridiculous, so I plucked up the courage to say: "Lee Perry! Wow - it's a pleasure to meet you; I'm a massive fan of your work."

Silence, but for the pathetic sound of an unenthusiastic handshake (unfortunately I didn't actually hear this because the airport was quite busy and people were talking and there were trolleys and a lady announcing that the gate for the flight to Amsterdam would soon be closing).

"Um," I continued, "Would you mind if I have quick picture taken with you?"

"Ah need fe check in first, maybe later," he grumbled in reply.

"OK, thanks Scratch, speak in a bit!"

Result! Lee 'Scratch' Perry had shaken my hand, replied to my question and agreed to be photographed with his number one fan! I was as happy as Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace shortly after he restored justice to the people of Kingston in the 1978 film Rockers, in which Lee 'Scratch' Perry disgracefully did not appear.

What a weight off my shoulders when that bag was finally checked in. At last, I had both hands free with which to pin down my hero. Obviously I couldn't let my girlfriend go through security just yet - who would take the photo? Fortunately, by this point she understood the gravity of the situation, the explanation of which was helped by the indisputable fact that there are lots of flights to Amsterdam from London every day of the week, while it was very unlikely that Lee 'Scratch' Perry would be here again anytime soon. And when he was, there wouldn't be big virtual timetables on TV screens in every corner of the room announcing his arrival. Yes, she would wait with me - it was a no brainer.

We stood a little to the side, in the way of only tens of people, which I deemed perfectly acceptable given the circumstances. He and his entourage (another term I use liberally) checked in and began their amble towards security. Despite the crowds, there was 'nothing' in their way, 'nothing' at all. The airport's staff understood the importance of keeping this route clear - these people were here to board aeroplanes, after all. But not all of them, ha ha!

"Ehhh Scratch, you checked in OK?"

Perhaps I sounded too chummy. I was greeted by a look of confusion - an expression exaggerated by a man quite obviously in a rush. [He was flying to Switzerland by the way; I forgot to include that earlier. Yes, I downplayed our conversation in the above paragraphs; I don't want to provoke any jealousy.]

"So, um, mind if my girlfriend takes that picture of us?"

A female member of Scratch's entourage weighed in - it would have to be one photo, and one photo only. I spared my girlfriend the lecture on photographic composure and Android Pudding Camera filters, and let her work her magic.
Scratch was a pleasure to work with - such a pro. The way he looks kind of nonchalant but still engaged, that cheeky but symbolic thumbs-up; that's years of experience right there. Admittedly I look a little overawed, but I think the shoot went well. I'm yet to hear back from Scratch about how he thought it went, but no doubt he feels the same.

A wonderful evening was capped by girlfriend catching her flight on time, in case you were wondering (it ended up being delayed by an hour-and-a-half once she got through security, so we really had nothing to worry about after all).

Pic credit: Michelle Heighway

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