harking back to the ark #2

‘Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – burning down the Ark’ with Henk Targowski

Saturday 29th November – 5pm

Housmans Bookshop
5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1 9DX

Black Ark photo by Peter Dean Rickards, afflictedyard.com
Black Ark photo by Peter Dean Rickards, afflictedyard.com

Reggae producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is one of modern music’s undisputed legends; his groundbreaking production techniques proving hugely influential to this day. However, his visionary talents came at a price – by 1979 the pressure of the Jamaican music industry and the excesses of his lifestyle caught up with him, leading Perry to a mental breakdown that damaged both his personal and musical life. Perry’s studio, the Black Ark, fell into disrepair, and it looked as if Perry would never work again.

In April 1979, Perry received a visit from Henk Targowski, an impresario and owner of Black Star Liner distribution, a record company based in the Netherlands. Targowski wanted to distribute Perry’s material, but was not prepared for the madness he would encounter at the Black Ark – reels of master tapes lay strewn on the floor, and the recording equipment was next to useless due to water damage from a leaky roof. The once proud studio was now little more than a junkyard.

Along with some associates, Targowski decided to attempt a salvage operation, trying to refurbish and restore the studio to working order. Financed by Black Star Liner, construction work progressed throughout 1980, and new equipment was ordered and installed. Along with a motley crew of European studio musicians, Scratch erratically recorded what would eventually become the ‘Return Of Pipecock Jacxson’ album – the last album to be recorded at the Ark.

By the spring of 1980, however, the restoration project was abandoned, and Black Star Liner’s crew left Jamaica for good. What had been painstakingly rebuilt in the past year was dismantled and destroyed by Perry. Worse was to come: one morning in 1983, the Black Ark burned down. Fire raged through the concrete structure, the temperature inside becoming so intense that it eventually blew the roof off. The studio, the source of some of the most powerful music ever recorded, lay in ruins.

“The Black Ark was too black and too dread,” Perry explains. “Even though I am black, I have to burn it down, to save my brain. It was too black. It want to eat me up!”

We are delighted to welcome Henk Targowski to Housmans to recount his memories of Lee Perry, and discuss all aspects of this seminal producer’s work. Henk is also the publisher of the now ultra-rare fanzine ‘The Upsetter’, copies of which we hope will be available on the day.