Grace Jones opened her curated edition of the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown festival with an enthralling concert in the Royal Festival on Friday 10 June. Visibly ecstatic to be performing for an audience that has had to wait two years to see her live Meltdown performance due to cancellation and delay caused by the pandemic, Grace Jones opened the festival with an imperious performance full of her characteristic style, splendour and spell-binding stage presence.
Joined by Southbank Centre resident, Chineke! Orchestra, and choir The Soul Sirens, Grace Jones worked through a masterful repertoire of rarities, new tracks and old hits. Descending down stairs built on the Royal Festival Hall stage, a suited Grace Jones, complete with a towering top hat, opened with her hit ‘Nightclubbing’ while other highlights included hula hooping through ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ and a new track, ‘Blacker Than Black’. Accompanying the music with dazzling outfit changes, from a mirror ball headpiece to a billowing black cape, and a wry, witty commentary, her performance was certainly worth the wait and the addition of special guest Dave Okumu only heightened the thrilling atmosphere of the evening.
Elsewhere during the opening weekend, dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood gave a moving, bass-laden tribute to his friend, collaborator and former Meltdown curator Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry followed by Honey Dijon who hosted proceedings for the after party in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, which ran long into the early hours. Peaches, meanwhile, transformed the Royal Festival Hall into an intoxicating party complete with a giant inflatable condom while back-to-back shows from Cut Hands and Hercules and Love Affair kept the tempo hard and fast. Closing out the opening weekend, Angélique Kidjo performed her GRAMMY award-winning album Mother Nature with the help of Nigerian mega-star Yemi Alade and South African rising talent Desire Marea gave their first-ever UK performance in the intimate Purcell Room.
Across the Southbank Centre, the public got into the full spirit of Grace Jones’ Meltdown. On Friday 10 June, radio station No Signal took over the Riverside Terrace with a high energy roster of DJs and artists while, on Saturday 11 June, fans donned their skates in tribute to the iconic image of Grace Jones at Compo Beach for ‘Roll Up To The Bumper’ featuring roller-skating masterclasses and music. Finally, thunderous sound systems Jah Youth and Lionpulse went toe-to-toe on Sunday 12 June in celebration of Grace Jones’ native Jamaica.
Grace Jones’ Meltdown continues until Sunday 19 June with tickets remaining for many of the unique events. Huge shows in the Royal Festival Hall from Hot Chip and Kasai Allstars, the Love Unlimited Orchestra with Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, Greentea Peng and Skunk Anansie will reflect the incredible career and influence of the curator before Grace Jones herself draws the curtain on this year’s edition with a not-to-be-missed festival-style show.
Meanwhile, the Queen Elizabeth Hall will feature post punk powerhouse Dry Cleaning, Dave Okumu reworking some of Grace Jones’ most legendary albums, the Songbird of Wassoulou Oumou Sangaré as well as the masterful Meshell Ndegeocello and an up-close audience with alt folk piano-man John Grant. In a very special appearance, Sky Ferreira will take over the Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer for a late night show on Thursday 16 June, celebrating the release of her long-awaited new single ‘Don’t Forget’. The Purcell Room will continue to be a hotbed of exciting talent with performances from experimental duo Kevin Richard Martin and Hatis Noit, the eclectic Two Another, DIY punk group Big Joanie, Southbank Centre favourite Skinny Pelembe, Noisettes frontwoman Shingai and South London’s cktrl with the London Contemporary Orchestra.
There is also another packed weekend of free activities to come: ‘Slay to the Rhythm’ with ShezAr & The Soul Sirens, who made their first appearance during the opening night of the festival, will invite the public to join in as they rework Grace Jones' classics into gospel masterpieces while ‘A Night of a Thousand Graces’ with Africa Fashion Week London will see models, and anyone who can dress the part, to strut their stuff on the catwalk. Finally, Marawa's Majorettes will lead a mass-hula-hooping homage to Grace Jones complete with workshops, routines and performances.