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Grace Jones - On Blackheath Festival, London 13/09/2014

24 September 2014, 09:58 | Written by Seb Law

“I feel like I’m married to this hoop,” Grace Jones says as she closes her set, “I might put it on eBay!”

For anyone that’s had the good fortune to witness the 66-year-old singer perform her 1985 anthem "Slave to the Rhythm" while hula-hooping for the song’s entirety (yep, you read that correctly), this would be a disaster. Luckily, Jones is never serious about anything, but tonight she does seem a little…perhaps not ‘worse for wear’, but maybe ‘ready for a holiday’.

That could be any number of external factors though: On Blackheath Festival is hardly Studio 54, especially as the ageing-hipster crowd is waiting for Massive Attack to come on so they can light up the last of the hash they bought from their assistants three months ago. I’m also stone-cold sober, and to my delight have my very game Mum in tow – but we’re keeping a lid on partying tonight after a long day seeing the sights.

On Blackheath itself is a predictably civilized affair; sponsored by John Lewis and peppered with sugar-filled kids and cookery stands, it’s the kind of place that you can immediately imagine in your head. A kind of Latitude for local South Londoners, or Field Day for foodie families: The line-up is predictably ‘Jonathan Ross’ - think Imelda May, Athlete, Frank Turner, Massive Attack and The Levellers. Picnic mats abound and the lengthy queues at the organic food stalls are matched only by the lengthy queues at the Pimms bar. It’s a civilized day out, if you like that kind of thing from a festival.

Without the fuzziness of festivals or booze, Jones however seems somehow more fragile than usual, with her legendary between-song banter focusing on her weaknesses (“I hate my legs, but everyone else loves ‘em!”) rather than a party atmosphere. Again this could be the staging: Jones is a club performer and her slot just before sunset is not her favourite: “I hate performing in the daylight! I’m a vampire – I might start to melt!”

All that said, Grace Jones still puts on a hell of a show. After opening with a ballsy, creeping rendition of "Nightclubbing" she segues into her substantial singalong hits back catalogue, and proves that - despite all the odds - she is still a striking, commanding, impressive performer. "La Vie en Rose" doesn’t quite seem as much of a hit with this crowd, but "Pull Up to the Bumper"'s onstage self-ass-smacking shows Miley Cyrus who *really* pioneered on-stage twerking. It’s impossible not to laugh along with Jones, as she sings and dances her heart off to entertain the crowd – younger popstars would do well to take note that putting *everything* into your performances doesn’t just mean turning up and doing a rent-a-show. Live gigs are about performance almost more than just singing. Look at Beyonce.

"Love Is the Drug" gets the parents back in the mood before Jones closes, as ever, with "Slave". I’ve seen it five times in recent years, but very little matches up to Jones hula-hooping while hitting the high notes. If Grace Jones was feeling old, she certainly wasn’t looking it.

My Mum was hugely impressed with Grace’s on-stage antics, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be? She’s pop royalty (the eccentric aunt, obvs) and she deserves her place at the top of the bill. The hula-ing has become her calling card over the past decade or so, and I reckon she’ll be doing it for a long time to come. I wouldn’t be scouring eBay for that hoop just yet.

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