Perry was born in Whitechapel, London, England, UK, in 1959 to Anglo-Irish[clarification needed] parents and subsequently raised and schooled in the East End of London, until his family emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand. Having received no formal musical education, Perry began to play the guitar at St Paul's College, the Catholic school he attended in Ponsonby. After failing to become a primary school teacher and to join the civil service, Perry worked at a series of jobs until joining the Scavengers in 1977. At first Perry played bass guitar, later taking on the duties of lead vocalist when the original singer left the band. Apart from a handful of original songs, the band covered music from the Stooges, New York Dolls, and late-'60s psychedelia. After two years, having failed to secure a recording deal or live dates, the band moved to Melbourne, Australia, in 1979 and changed its name to the Marching Girls. In 1980, Perry left the Marching Girls to pursue a solo career, experimenting with tape loops, synthesis, and alternative forms of rhythm. In 1981, Perry formed Dead Can Dance with Simon Monroe and Paul Erikson (both of whom were to leave soon after they had relocated to London), and Lisa Gerrard.
Though now primarily known for his quiet introspective work with Dead Can Dance, Perry's first musical forays were in a markedly different style. In 1977, Perry was a leading member of New Zealandpunk rock band the Scavengers, working under the pseudonym of Ronnie Recent. Perry started as the band's bass player, becoming lead vocalist after a lineup change in 1978. In 1979, the band moved to Melbourne and changed its name to the Marching Girls. Perry left the band in 1981. Perry's work with these two bands can be found on the compilation album AK79 and on a compilation of Scavengers singles that was recently released on CD. The Scavengers are regarded as New Zealand's equivalent of the Buzzcocks, with the Perry co-penned song "Mysterex" regarded as one of the country's best and most distinctive punk-rock singles. The Marching Girls also reached the New Zealand singles charts in 1980 with "True Love."
Dead Can Dance originally formed as a quartet in 1981 in Melbourne, with Perry, drummer Simon Monroe, bass player Paul Erikson, and, last to join the band, Lisa Gerrard. In 1982, Dead Can Dance moved to London leaving Simon Monroe in Australia. Peter Ulrich played drums on the band's first demos, concerts and recordings. Paul Erikson soon left the band to fly back to Australia, leaving the band a duo. The band went on to record eight albums on the 4AD Recordsrecord label beginning with the self-titled Dead Can Dance album, which was released in February 1984.
In 1999, Perry released his solo album Eye of the Hunter on 4AD Records. The album contained songs written by Perry and a cover of Tim Buckley's song "I Must Have Been Blind." Perry would eventually cover more Tim Buckley songs: "Happy Time", "Chase the Blues Away", "Dream Letter" and "Song to the Siren".
Around 2001, Perry did the music for a 10-minute film (Mushin) made by Graham Wood, who designed the artwork of the box set Dead Can Dance (1981-1998) and the album Wake.
Perry announced his departure from 4AD in September 2008, and promised a new album titled Ark in early 2009. According to a reply Perry made to a comment on his MySpace blog, the new album will be very different from Eye of the Hunter, notably because it will feature rhythm machines and electric guitars. "Utopia", a demo version of a song from the album, was made available on his MySpace blog.Ark was eventually released on 7 June 2010.