Some artists need flash bombs to make an impression on stage. Some need giant screens. Some need to run around like hyperactive toddlers. All Grace Jones needed was a hula hoop – not the delicious potato snack, but the plastic ring. For the ten minutes or so of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ that ended her set on a balmy evening in the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace, she languidly rotated the ring around her hips, all while she strode across the stage, then climbed a set of stairs. Not a single revolution was missed. I realise that you don’t come to these pages for reviews of hula hooping, but by God, it was astonishing. I like to think it was what Henry VIII would have wanted.
It was a fitting end to a brilliantly unhinged show. She had a different piece of extravagant headwear for each song; her patter was ludicrous: even after she and her band had left the stage, she was still talking into the mic, unseen, as the crowd filed out: ‘Go home now! Go home and fuck each other!’ The insanity was a delight, but it didn’t overshadow the main event – the music.
If Jones is best known as a face and a body – Amazonian, imposing, a Bond villain’s henchwoman – never forget the extraordinary records she has made. From the opening ‘Nightclubbing’ – Jones appearing in a mask atop the backline that made her look a little like a supermodel Sauron – her band created a luscious, luxuriant background for her. Even 40 or more years on, the music sounded so modern. Mixing genres is commonplace now, but Jones’s albums for Island in the 1970s and ’80s mixed reggae and funk and art-rock so fluidly, and in such a skew-whiff way, that they created something quite new.