All aboard the Zion Train

DUB pioneer Neil Perch, the man behind Zion Train, was on his way to a PhD in biochemistry and a career in the pharmaceutical industry, when he saw the legendary Jah Shaka Sound System play.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 18th May 2013, 6:00 am
Neil Perch
Neil Perch

“Seeing that was like a 
spiritual experience, it changed my life,“ said Perch, on the phone from Cologne, where he lives.

“I’m not religious, but there is some form of higher energy in certain music and Jah Shaka did something extraordinary that night.

“My family thought I was crazy when I quit my studies and a safe way to a high salary – but I’ve never regretted that.

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“There’s more to life than ticking the right boxes on the perceived ladder of success, and I wanted more.

“Luckily, I was in a position I could make that choice, to live my life through the culture of my music and really it was as fundamental as that.”

Before quitting university, Perch had never set foot in a studio, and also having received no formal musical training, The Zion Train founder was starting from scratch.

“I was doing DJ work and I’d send 80 or 90 letters a week to studios and got one reply.

“It was hand to mouth when we started Zion Train. I bought a one-day bus pass in London, packed some CDs and vinyl in my rucksack and visited a few independent record shops. We’d sell a dozen records, then John Peel played one side of our album, Natural Wonders of the World, and everything changed in a few hours.

“Zion Train went to the top of the independent charts and we were getting bookings all over Europe.

“It was just the most amazing thing, we’d gone from having nothing at all to the top of the charts.”

Neil describes dub as psychedelic reggae and while he does most things himself while running his own label, he is keen on promoting unknown bands.

“How we interact with each other in life is so important,” he adds.

“I believe in random acts of kindness, whether that’s helping an old lady across the road or giving a new band a helping hand.

“I get hundreds of letters and promos – and I make a point of replying to every one.

“I remember how disappointed I was when I didn’t get a reaction, and sometimes a negative answer with a bit of positive encouragement can go a long way.”

Although Perch’s heart is in dub from the 1970s, he also experiments with other underground styles, including electronics and world music.

“People like Adrian Sherwood are innovators, and he and Mad Professor were great inspirations to me.”

Zion Train plus Jeremiah Ferrari. Clitheroe Grand, May 24. £12. 01200 421599.