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Colin Hambrook can't resist the sound of Jez Colborne and the call of the sirens / 5 September 2012

Jez Colborne on stage outside the National Theatre, Southbank

Jez Colborne on stage in the theatre square outside the National Theatre. Photo by Tim Mitchell

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‘I've got the sound of the sirens going around my brain. It's the sound of the sirens, driving me insane!’ I'm on the milk train home, having pushed the boat to watch the irresistible Jez Colborne doing his thang outside the National Theatre on the Southbank.

Jez, his backing vocalists and crew of dancers and siren players, created a riveting performance. I saw a pilot of Irresistible first at decibel a year ago, so it was interesting to see how it had moved on.

Instead of a huge stone edifice we had a square marble rock, used as a plinth to focus attention as a platform for Jez and a much larger crew of trumpeting dancers, attempting to resist the sound of the backing vocalists with their refrains and songs of desire.

The doubling up of the meaning of ‘sirens’ ie wailing instruments that were being played from pivotal locations around the roof terraces and ‘sirens’ as in enticing spirits was much clearer in this version. We see the sirens – as in the backing vocalists – helped by the power of the moon and a flock of murderous crows calling the travelers to cross the water. (As seen on a large screen placed behind the singers).

And separate, nearest the river, was a bonfire lit for warming hands and huddling up to against the cold.

Every bit of space was used to enhance the atmosphere. Performance areas, defined by rope, were interspersed within and without the main area. This meant the audience, seated between these areas, cleverly became part of the crowd of hobos and vagrants looking for home on the south bank.

The atmosphere had an echo of the days when Hungerford Bridge and the arches underneath Charing Cross station were home to a large community of homeless people, many of whom were disabled people, (still there but much dispersed since the revamp of the south bank in the late 90s)

The eerie quality in the siren sounds were used to annotate the building of the blues songs that were at the core of the performance with lantern-wielding Jez, wearing a roaming mike, free to sing his songs of hope and redemption, and rapping his way through a heartfelt number that told of his fear of the wail of sirens as a child, which led eventually to his realization of the many tones and the musicality within those warning demons.

Well done to Mind the Gap for giving Jez Colborne the opportunity to share his remarkable talent and vision for creating such an entrancing spectacle!

If you are up in the Royal Festival Hall do make a point of seeing 'Irresistible' on Saturday 8 September in the Clore Ballroom at 4pm & 7pm. Go to