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> > > Jez Colborne: GIFT at the Southbank Centre

Jez Colborne’s live sound installation GIFT is one of 20 pieces commissioned by the New Music Biennial and destined for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Gus Garside saw Mind the Gap’s latest production at the Southbank Centre on 6 July.

photo of Jez Colbourne wearing a yellow raincoat and a leather hat, standing in the open doors of a large shipping container with two other performers

Performers: (L-R) Billy Hickling, Jez Colborne, Alan Clay. Photo (c) Tim Mitchel

Set in a shipping container, it is possible to experience the piece either from the inside or outside (though you need to do both to get the full benefit of its theatricality). The use of a shipping container as an instrument, an amplifier, a stage (for outsiders), an auditorium (for insiders) and an object on which to attach various tuned and untuned percussion instruments and bowed or hammered string is imaginative. 

The title refers to the Trojan Horse from the Odyssey and follows on from Jez’s Unlimited commission Irresistible, which used air raid sirens and referenced the seductive singers from the same Greek myth. The theme of journeys is a central for Jez. He talks about the brutality of shipping containers and how they were used to traffic people and of the idea of a gift arriving suddenly in different places. 

Conceptually it is avant-garde, musically it is decidedly populist, drawing a huge crowd of passers-by when I saw it at the Southbank seduced by the loud driving rhythms and abrasive sonorities, the cyclists and dancers.  

As with all exciting art there are many different levels and ways in which to experience and think about GIFT. For me it is Jez’ most assured piece of work to date and you get the strong sense that although it grew out of collaboration it is very much, as was Irresistible, Jez’ work.

It’s clear that he enjoys collaborating and gains much from those he collaborates with. On GIFT he worked with music producer Si McGrath, and performers Joyce Nga Yu Lee and Billy Hickling (of Stomp). The show was directed by Tim Wheeler and the cast includes many regulars from the wonderful Mind the Gap Theatre Company

Jez acknowledges a great debt to Mind the Gap who have given him the impetus and space to develop his creative talents as an actor, musician and writer. He is keen for future collaboration and he spoke of a desire to work with Eastern European and Middle Eastern musician and many others.

The future is looking exciting for Jez – already he is working in Galway on another Odyssey related work, The Trickster, collaborating with That's Life and Black Box Theatre. And GIFT is to be broadcast on Radio 3, though listeners will miss the rich spectacle that makes it so unique.  

Irresistible was funded from the Unlimited programme for disabled artists, giving Jez the opportunity to make a major new work, and it led to GIFT which is funded by the PRS for Music Foundation, which is open to anyone. It’s great to see Jez gaining the mainstream recognition that he deserves. 

GIFT is an important step for an imaginative artist who says he wants to keep on challenging himself and us.

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