[sic] Magazine

Book – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Kiss Me Neck – by Jeremy Collingwood

The ‘Scratch’ story in words, pictures and records.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is a true legend of the reggae world. Perhaps best known for his production work, ‘Scratch’ was also a performer, innovator and enabler. If anyone deserved a book like Kiss Me Neck it is Perry. Bob Marley and the Wailers may be better known but Bob’s work with Perry is regarded as the seminal, Marley period. Indeed Marley is already the subject of one of Jeremy Collingwood’s other books. There is plenty of commonality in fact. Both were on Island Records ,( the highly respected, Jamaican born label which relocated to the UK bringing roots reggae into the living rooms of British and American homes) both had associations with Trojan ,( the British imprint dedicated to Jamaican music, particularly reggae in all of its forms) and both, of course, were icons.

Perry though is the more mercurial figure and Kiss Me Neck is a veritable careerology . Everything is covered, from Perry’s early days in ska and rocksteady, through his Upsetter years, the aforementioned work with Marley, dub innovation (with King Tubby ), Black Ark studio, Island Records (and his subsequent dropping from), losing it, re-emergence with Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor and eventual re-location to Switzerland. Of course there is a greater emphasis on Perry’s golden decade, 1969 to 1979. He remained active afterwards but the pioneering excellence was diminished. Outside of reggae an equivalent figure could be David Bowie who illuminated rock and pop in the seventies and, despite doing little of note afterwards, remains an influential figure to this day.

The book begins in typical biography territory, before indulging the connoisseur with an extensive, exhaustive discography covering all of Perry’s output. As the sub-title suggests, it really is the ‘Scratch’ story in words, pictures and records with a high emphasis on the latter. Everything the man touched is lovingly chronicled here. The breadth and scope of Collingwood’s research is awe-inspiring and a major reason why Kiss Me Neck scores so highly. This is far and away beyond the usual music biography, often penned by the artists preferred, fawning scribe. Kiss Me Neck is something quite separate. True aficionados will cherish the attention to detail here. This book will not fit into the type, once read, thereafter forgotten . It will become a point of reference; the point of reference in fact, consulted in much the same way as the true Cricket fan will always reach for his Wisden.

Those with their heart set on a more traditional bio might be better directed towards something like David Katz’, People Funny Boy . In fact the two books make great companion pieces. Kiss Me Neck focuses on Perry’s career, rather than life and Collingwood’s matter of fact style allows little room for conjecture. There is no mention for example of Perry’s spiritual beliefs. The man’s legendary herb intake is also glossed over. The only real critique Collingwood allows himself is a sideswipe at Perry’s more recent guise as Svengali figure (The assertion is that Perry’s attempted wisdoms usually amounted to little more than pseudo babble) and his tendency to sign every record deal going (thus creating a legal minefield as far as publishing is concerned) For the most part Kiss Me Neck stays objective and is all the more refreshing for it.

The reggae world may be small in comparison to rock and pop but there is no doubting Perry’s huge significance therein. Small pond, big fish, certainly. Even bigger splash. Let’s consider the ripples – the wider implications. Look at what reggae and dub have influenced since. Trip hop and dubstep clearly owe a debt but are we trying hard enough? What about punk’s crossover? ( The Clash covered ‘Police and Thieves’) Would post-punk have been the same? ( Public Image Ltd , Martin Hannett’s production for Factory , etc) New wave bands were influenced ( The Police ), as were the Two Tone , Ska revivalists. ( UB40 , The Beat etc) The use of echo and reverb is all over shoegazing, electronica and even some post-rock.

The idea of the remix as something valuable by itself… that originated with dub. One can easily make a case for Perry as one of the most influential figures in music, period. At the end of the day, dub is a form of ambient music, a way of creating space in the mix. For many music lovers a sense of space is so much more satisfying. It leaves music open to interpretation. It emphasises both what is there and what is absent. It is about so much more than just chilling out. It is contemplative. There is the argument that space = the infinite = God. There, I’ll let you be the judge yet I suspect Lee Perry’s spiritual beliefs and musical approaches were interrelated. The results were certainly beautiful. Maybe we shouldn’t take the ‘pseudo babble’ quite so lightly after all.

But these are my words, not Collingwood’s. Our author keeps things simple. He’s the reggae expert after all. Here I am cluttering the picture, filling the mix. Collingwood’s own approach is the literary equivalent of dub, stripping the subject back to its essence and reinforcing with repeat motifs. Less is certainly more in this case making Kiss Me Neck essential for the reggae devotee.