As It Happens

Lee 'Scratch' Perry tells us about the fire that destroyed his studio

Recording equipment, costumes, and original music were all lost in a blaze that began after the artist left a candle burning.
Lee "Scratch" Perry stands in his burned down studio, in Switzerland. (Facebook )

Lee "Scratch" Perry's Secret Laboratory studio was destroyed in a fire earlier this week. Perry is considered one of the founders of dub music, producing tracks by the likes of Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the Heptones.

He's continued to make music to this day, working out of his home studio in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, which he calls Secret Laboratory. He announced the Secret Laboratory fire in a Facebook posting yesterday: 

On Friday, As It Happens host Carol Off caught up with Perry and his wife, Mirielle, before the couple boarded a plane for Jamaica. Here is part of their conversation:

Lee 'Scratch' Perry and his wife, Mirielle Perry. Mirielle says she usually hides candles from Lee, because he's "careless." (Facebook )

CAROL OFF: When did you realize that your husband's studio was on fire? 

MIRIELLE PERRY: We wake up late in the afternoon, because he comes to bed around 6 o'clock in the morning. At 9:30 a.m. my son runs into our room, and says it's burning downstairs. Oh man. Then I thought "no, the white candle." 

CO: The candle? 

MP:  Yes, the candle. Right away, I know it's the candle, because three days before that, we had a photographer at home. He wanted a white candle, and I hide all the candles from him [Perry] because I don't want him to take them when I'm not around.

CO: You're hiding the candles from Lee, your husband?

MP: Of course, I have to hide everything. Everything that burns, I have to hide.  He loves candles. But I know he's careless, and he thinks nothing can happen to him. He even stands in a bucket of water, and holds some electronic stuff, and does his installations and says nothing can happen. And if something drops in the water... he does not believe me that it can be dangerous. 

You know how much trouble he used to cause, even in hotels? One time, he was in England, and he loved to decorate the hotel rooms. He loved to put his t-shirts on the lamp. And sometimes he connects his cables, like, charging cables for computers and whatever he has with him, laptops and phones... 

Perry says the fire started after he fell asleep, leaving a candle burning in his studio. (Facebook)

CO: Have hotel rooms caught on fire, when he's there? 

MP: [Laughs] No, no, no. They look very strange, the cables, because every 20 centimetres there is another something wrapped around it. He went to eat, and when he came back, the whole street was evacuated, everyone was outside of the hotel, police and everything was around, and they blocked the whole street, because the cleaning lady went into the room, saw the installation, and thought it was a bomb! [Laughs] 

CO: That's extraordinary. But now, back to the candle. So right away, you knew it was probably the candle [that caused the fire]? 

MP: Yeah, because the other two nights, I did go to check it, and the candle was burning. I [put it] out. It was a big white candle, so the first two days was not so bad, because it didn't burn down so low. But I don't know, when he came to bed, I was just tired, I didn't think about going downstairs, and that was it. I know it was the white candle, because that's the only candle he had. 

CO: So many valuable things, in what he calls his Secret Laboratory. Life collections, his art, his costumes, everything was there, all gone? 

I told him not to play with candles anymore- Mirielle Perry, wife of Lee "Scratch" Perry

MP: That cannot be replaced. He has a lot of fans that love to make things for him, they make hats for him, or costumes. He made these shoes with metals and crystals, and all those shoes are gone. All his machines, his computers, all the keys, the USB sticks with all the music. 

CO: Was any of this original music, of which there is no copy, any of his new, unheard recordings in there? 

MP: Yes! He stores everything on the USB now. All destroyed. And you know, if I ask him to get a copy, to store something, to make sure nothing happens, he don't want to give me! He doesn't like to give away his energy, he says. That's how he thinks.

At this point in the interview, Mirielle Perry passes the phone to her husband.

CO: Lee, I'm so sorry to hear what's happened. 

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Well, something has to happen to make the world go around, and that's what happened. Maybe I have to make a change in my life, and put away the candle burning for a while and clean up my brain... Maybe I was tired and wound up sleeping, something like that... and didn't know the candle was burning. 

CO: You said that you're very sad and you're wife is very mad.

LSP: Yeah, that's the way it is... On the Facebook I know a lot of people that love me that much.

CO: You're getting a lot of love on Facebook?

LSP: Yeah.

CO: What's the most valuable thing that you lost?

LSP: Well, in the future...

Mirielle Perry is heard in the background, "No, what is the most valuable thing you lost?"

LSP: I have some new [USB] keys when I go out to do shows and make a copy of the shows. The CDs, DVDs, yeah, music. I was planning to release the best cuts from those shows.

CO: So, you're going to pick up where you left off and keep going, we hope.

LSP: Yeah.

CO: Can I speak with Mirielle again?

LSP: One minute.

CO: Thanks Lee...

MP: Yes?

CO: We wanted to thank you for making that time for us.

MP: You're welcome. Maybe you can tell people that Lee may come in April to Canada for some shows. So it will be great to come back to Canada again. 

CO: Absolutely, we will watch for it. Thank you so much both of you and I'm so sorry about the studio. 

MP: OK, thank you too. Bye Carol. Bye-bye.

CO: Bye.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To hear the full interview please select the Listen audio link above.