In the centre of a performance space, a man dressed in a black leather jacket, trousers and cowboy hat stands on a cube that says ‘immovable’ on a green-carpeted floor. He is surrounded by other performers, and beyond them, an audience. The other performers are dressed in a punk-type style and include someone on a bicycle and someone on a scooter encircling him. There is a raised stage behind them onto which a black and white image of a cowboy is projected. Three people stand on this stage as well.
Photo by TIm Mitchell

Song and the Social Model: ‘I’m Me, that’s who I am’

Next to join us as we reflect on ‘Whose Social Model?’ with Triple C at HOME in Manchester. Jez Colborne explains his personal journal with the model, what it means to him and why it’s important.

Disclaimer: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author. They are not necessarily shared by Unlimited.

Should disabled artists use the social model of disability?

Yes, as a learning disabled artist I believe that disabled artists should use the social model of disability. As long as I can remember, I have been working with other disabled people and learning disabled artists to remove barriers to inclusion and discrimination by changing attitudes and perceptions about learning disabled people.  I have not been limited by my disability; I have been limited by people’s views of me, and I have chosen to challenge and make change through my work as a performer and song-writer.

Growing up with a learning disability I was aware of being stared at, being labelled and stigmatised very early in life. I felt angry, I wanted to show people what I could do, what learning disabled people can do, to open their eyes and see their prejudices melt away.  I have directed my anger at this inequality into writing songs.

My songs are my protest.

We got to fight for the right to be free

We got to lift our hands up against society.’

I am politically engaged in fighting for the rights of learning disabled people and I have been going to speak at Festivals and conferences for as long as I can remember.  I believe that I have to do something about injustices and get out there and make a point. I see discrimination all over the place and I want to change it.  I want to change it through my work as an artist.

When I was 17 I went to a residential College in Northumberland to study Performing Arts and was inspired by a music tutor, who encouraged me to write songs.  I’ve been writing songs ever since and been in lots of different bands. I am now in the Jez Colborne and Mind The Gap Band and we released our first EP, Keep on Living in 2018. I love performing, and surprising people who make assumptions about what my music is going to sound like by the way I look.

My work as an artist is my way of influencing people to see the world differently.  I have been at Mind the Gap theatre company for 20 years and been in over ten productions, which have toured the UK and been performed to audiences in theatres and in outdoor settings. Some of those productions, like Mice and Men and Don Quixote, had integrated casts where I was on an equal footing with non-disabled performers.

I wrote the music and was the lead performer in the production, Irresistible, Trickster and Gift.  As an artist I feel equal to other artists.

‘Rising from the ashes, 

Like a phoenix in the sky

I’m gonna keep on living

I’m never gonna die

You can say what you want to

But you don’t know how I feel

There is something inside me that I can’t conceal

I’m Me, that’s who I am,

I’m Me, that’s who I am’

I hope that my songs and my work as an artist help to change attitudes towards learning disabled people and inspire other learning disabled people to have the confidence to find their creativity and independence.  I don’t like the word ‘normal’ because it ‘de-normalises’ learning disabled people. ‘Normal’ is a very rigid term. What does it mean anyway?  All being the same? I am an individual, not a robot to be programmed in a certain way. I am a bit of a punk and a rebel and I go with the flow of how I see the world.

‘Got to Have a revolution

It doesn’t matter if you are wrong or you are right

It doesn’t matter if you are black or white

Cos together we can be strong

Don’t let people think we can’t get on.’

I want to keep writing and performing songs that make a difference.  I am not going to sit back and let people walk all over me. I AM WHAT I AM.