Ian Hunter Photography

Ok so Island isn’t really the Island Records of old anymore, long since gobbled up by the corporate behemoth Universal, but 50 years is still 50 years. As such Chris Blackwell appointed the legendary rhythm section Sly & Robbie the task of assembling a Compass Point All Stars featuring Aswad, The I-Threes, Kid Creole, VV Brown, and Tichy Stryder.

A great lineup but on the night each and everyone of them was upstaged by a pair of 62 year old buttocks.

She may have only performed two tracks but Miss Grace Jones doesn’t do subtle appearances, she specialises in stealing the show.  From the second burly roadies appeared dragging a raised platform onto the stage the audience buzzed with the anticipation that Ms Jones was actually going to appear. She is quite literally above all other performers.

With a black recreation of the Lord’s media centre on her head, black leotard, eye mask, and a short dress made out of children’s sausage balloons she was as striking as ever. As she appeared the charming Londoner behind me exclaimed to his mate “Farking hell she’s got her fanny out!” and promptly disappeared into the crowd for a closer look.  For the record she didnt, unless you mean in the American sense of the word in which case, farking hell she got her fanny out!

New single “Love you to Life” stands up well to her old material but this was a chance to hear music from the golden 1980-82 period she spent with Sly & Robbie in the Bahamas creating Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life.
One only has to think of Madonna straddling a succession of young men in recent music videos to know such overt sexuality in the over 50’s doesn’t always work but Jones is still at home with the filth of “Pull Up To The Bumper“. Indeed she revels in it, turning away from the audience lifting her sausage balloon skirt, baring her buttocks and shaking them in our faces as beaming she sings “Pull up to my bumper baby… drive it in between“.  Yegads!
As ever with Grace Jones though its style AND substance, and hearing Sly & Robbie recreating that groove, that bass, in person with Jones on top was simply magical.

Grace Jones Myspace
Listen: Grace Jones – Pull Up To The Bumper” (MP3)
Read: The ever engrossing Sleeveage unpick the classic cover art for Grace’s Island Life (Check the blog anyway its fantastic).

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The evening began with Kid Creole and his Coconuts bringing back the ensemble band style – half James Brown, half Cab Calloway – 100% fun. A fantastic horn section, dancers, backing singers and at the heart of it all Kid Creole in a purple zoot suit and straw hat.

The Kid is no musical novice, masterminding the disco anthem ‘There But For The Grace Of God” in the mid 70’s and forming Kid Creole & The Coconuts in 1980.  Aside from Kid himself, Percussionist Bongo Eddie is the only original member, and mid way through he emerges from behind the bongo’s rubbing his considerable belly as Creole hails his almost 30 year’s of service. As for The Coconuts, Creole introduces them as “the children of the original Coconuts“.

This one goes out to all the illegitimate children in the house

The ode to illegitimacy “Annie (I’m Not Your Daddy)” gets perhaps the biggest cheer of the set with its classic line “See if I was in your blood… you wouldn’t be so ugly“, but almost all shines from the keyboard riff of “I’m A Wonderful Thing (Baby)” to “Stool Pigeon“.
Kid Creole plays up his role of male machismo flirting with his troupe of Coconuts but also delivering drops of social commentary into the comedic package. I like the story of the reviewer in the 80’s who attacked Kid Creole as having “finally sunken to shallow depths of insipidness and plain silliness with lines like, “There’s a smell of bird shit in the air…”‘. The actual lyric of course is, “There’s a smell of bloodshed in the air…”

Kid Creole & The Coconuts Myspace
Listen: Kid Creole & The Coconuts – Annie I’m Not Your Daddy” (MP3)
Buy: Kid Creole – The August Darnell Years @ Amazon

Sly & Robbie took to the stage for the main part of the evening with 30 minutes of bone shaking thudding reggae bass. Almost entirely instrumental, it was lapped up by a crowd with an even mix of old rasta’s and young lovers of dub.

I have to admit I didnt recognise many tracks (setlist anyone) but Dunbar’s unmistakable “thack” drum crack almost perforated my ear drum while Shakespeare’s rumbling bass may spark tsunami’s but is spellbinding when boosted by classic reggae horns.  Black Uhuru’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” received a welcome airing.
Not a word was uttered by either Sly & Robbie until Shakespeare took the mic to sing “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” in a strangely camp falsetto.  Gotta love those horns though!

Sly & Robbie Myspace / official site (inc Free download)
Listen: Sly & Robbie – Boops (Here To Go)” (MP3)
Ini Kamoze – World-A-Music” (MP3)
The Tamlins – Smiling Faces (Extended Mix)” (MP3)

Sly & Robbie were then joined by the first of the evenings “Compass Point All-Stars”, Aswad.
Aswad are one of the UK’s most long running and celebrated reggae acts – first signing to Island in 1976 – but you wouldn’t guess it based on their slightly luke warm reception.  They’ve been stuck with the tag of “Sell Out’s” ever since they topped the pop charts in the eighties with “Dont’ Turn Around“.  Drummie Zeb, Tony Gad plus a third member who had me thinking “christ one of them’s barely aged” duly belted out their big hit, and to these ears it sounded like it always did – a perfect reggae-lite classic. Sod you musical snobs! I’m off to dig out my 7″ copy.  I was also slightly amused by the way Zeb waggles his mic hand frantically at the end of every line, presumably to get a wavy effect on his vocals?
After one more pop reggae track (“On & On?) they departed the stage just as a thunderous dub bass began to ring out, only to return minus the young member and exclaiming “this is a revival time“. Turns out Brinsley Forde hasnt performed with the band for a decade but tonight he’s back and Aswad duly treated us to some of the heavy dub sound that originally made their name.
African Children” and possibly “Not Satisfied” get the crowd firmly on their side with Forde on lead vocals.

Aswad Myspace
Listen: Aswad – Not Satisfied” (MP3)

Of course any reggae tribute to Island Records can’t help but feel the shadow of the label and Jamaica’s biggest star, Bob Marley.  He may have been dead for almost three decades now but probably the warmest most heartfelt response of the evening met Marley’s backing group, The I-Three’s as they came on stage, featuring his widow Rita, Marcia Griffiths and new member Erica Newell.
I don’t think even Brinsley Forde would disagree when I say he’s no Marley but he ably joined the three ladies for a series of Marley classics. “Redemption Song” closed the Marley tribute set with Forde pausing at points to let the whole of the Empire sing acapella. Spines tingled enmasse as the song Marley wrote when diagnosed with the cancer that would take his life rang out.

The sole performer to fall flat on the night was the only one with any recent chart success. Fresh from a UK No.1 Tichy Stryder may have declared it a good night on his website but his rambling rap added little to Sly & Robbie’s “Boops (Here to Go)“.  VV Brown almost hidden by the side of the stage did a much better job at the overblown “You have one desire and thats to dance until you drop” chorus.

With Tichy gone, VV Brown nervously took centre stage herself in a multicoloured plastic skirt to perform a song I didnt recognise, possibly called “Papa“.  On this evidence she’s got a lovely and surprisingly powerful voice and with the might of Universal behind her she’ll go far. The song itself though was a bit of a bland r&b workout (I await an email telling me its an alltime classic – what do I know!?).  Talking about the performance on her blog she also revealed what I’d suspected on the night – she had the words written on her hands.

“I want to pour out my joy and happiness of being apart of this night. Performing with Grace Jones meeting Bob marleys wife and singin with sly and robbie ! No words can even compare ! I never get star struck or nervous but yesterday night I NEEDED A NAPPY ! IT WAS THE SECOND HIGHLIGHT TO MY CAREER ! The first one is a secret ! But it was magical. I had only learnt the song that night and wrote all the lyrics on my hands so it was a little shaky and it wasnt my best performance”

Finally Grace Jones joined the I‑Threes, Brinsley Forde and VV Brown on an admittedly fairly obvious, but none the less moving take on Marley’s “One Love” to send us all home.

Island 50 Website
Other Reviews: “Life enhancing” says This Is London
The Telegraph salutes Grace
BBC News compares Grace to Madge
The Guardian

The Taxi Gang blow apart Word Magazine as they enjoy the “stunningly sexy” Coconuts
Photos: This Is London snaps
Islands official photographer took loads too
Grace Jones fan site