Grace Jones reinforces her iconic status in boundary-pushing show at ONBlackheath 2019
If the first day of ONBlackheath 2019 was a love letter to the 90s, day two goes further back with a bill stacked with 80s stars, headlined by none other than Grace Jones.
A virtual earthquake hits Blackheath when UB40 continue celebrating their 40th anniversary to a monumental reception. From Here I Am to Red Red Wine, the reggae giants show no signs of slowing down. Astro, rejoining the band alongside Ali Campbell for this special tour, declares, “Blackheath, we’re here to party!” One in Ten is a hit with the crowd, who ardently echo the words. Inexplicably, the technicians turn off the screen projection midway, obscuring the visuals for the people in the back, but it’s really the sound that’s key.
The reggae doesn’t stop with UB40: wander over to the second stage and British legends ASWAD are performing to their fullest, particularly during the emotionally charged Tuff We Tuff and African Children. Their delivery and lyrical content are radical and thundering, bolstering the low-key stage solely with the power of their voices.
Following them are The Brand New Heavies, themselves titans of yesteryear’s British music. New lead singer Angela Ricci looks radiant in sparkling silver and her voice pierces through to younger generations, who cherish the motivational joy of Never Stop and You Are The Universe whilst hoisted on their parents’ shoulders.
Glastonbury has a slot reserved for legends but ONBlackheath is built around them, so it only makes sense to reserve space for a major contemporary artist. This year’s is blues-rock singer Rag N Bone Man, standing against a black and white decorated skull flag looking like he’s from a motorcycle gang, an aesthetic endorsed by jewellery and tattoos. And that’s his secret – looks are deceptive. He vocalises his worries of performing to a huge London crowd but when he’s singing Human and Giant, it’s an aural spectacle like no other.
Beyond his nonpareil vocals, Rag’n’Bone Man’s strength is infusing melancholy lyrical content with catchy appeal, as evidenced in the delight of a crowd singing along to Skin. Backing vocalists are praised for their amazing supporting work, particularly in the intro of As You Are. Rapper Professor Green makes an appearance for Photographs and tells the self-deprecating singer that there’s no need to worry. Blackheath is treated to an unreleased record which he’s nervous about performing but the reception suggests another hit. Professor Green was right.
Grace Jones is late, arriving 20 minutes after the billed start time. A curtain obfuscates the stage, unambiguously promising an outstanding reveal. The prophecy is real: the curtain drops and it’s a jaw-dropping sight of the artist, who’s caped, masked, painted and leather-clad – an image that can’t be described in simple adjectives – roaring her acclaimed cover of Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing. She’s here to “scare the children” and her Lauren Bacall-esque larynx could intimidate adults too. Jay Kay had a cool headpiece yesterday – Jones has many, switching outfits for every song.
Her band members are present and engaged but it’s impossible to look away from Ms Jones herself, who flexes her booming vocals with This Is and has the whole of Blackheath in the palm of her hand. She pushes the festival’s boundaries, in terms of both creativity and vulgarity, loudly reminding herself that it’s a family-friendly festival and thus opting to ditch a wardrobe choice for My Jamaican Guy and repeatedly apologising for cursing. It’s almost necessary to use our imagination until she starts thrusting her pelvis.
Technicians and costume crew tirelessly ensure the transitions occur without a hitch. Cleverly, she keeps the mic on during these off-stage moments to continue entertaining us. A cover of Amazing Grace works as a justified pat on the back and lasers bounce off her glittery hat during a cover of Roxy Music’s Love is the Drug for a dazzling disco-ball effect. Whether it’s lasers, smoke machines, hula-hooping to Slave to the Rhythm or even employing a very talented pole dancer for Pull Up to the Bumper, the singer always has a trick up her sleeve for each number.
This excellent performance reinforces Jones’s iconic status as she gives it her all within the confines of a family-oriented environment that dares to obstruct her expression.
Photos: Mike Garnell
For further information and future events visit ONBlackheath 2019: Grace Jones’s website here.
Watch the video for Slave to the Rhythm here: