In the landscape of French showbiz, the Bataclan is one of those ‘arrival’ venues. Once you’ve played there, you know your ship has come in. You walk out onto that stage and you’re a contender. You’re on the map. People are talking. You’ve made it: not to the very top perhaps – there’s still a way to go – but at least beyond the dives and the toilets.
In many ways, it’s the perfect size of venue: not too big, or too small. A convenient balcony. Good lines of sight. A sturdy dance floor fit for moshing. Solid, utilitarian fixtures and fittings. All the systems for dealing with over-excited rock’n’roll fans in place and down pat. It reminds me of the old Town and Country Club in London. It’s an exciting place to be.
Tinariwen with Robert Plant at the Bataclan, Paris – 7th April 2007
And so it proved back in 2007 when Tinariwen played their first gig there. Their third album Aman Iman had just come out to a loud international fanfare. The momentum around the band seemed unstoppable. There were journalists, photographers, TV people to deal with. Life was frantic. And exciting. The band’s bus was parked just outside the front doors of the venue. From mid afternoon onwards, there were fans hanging about. When Ibrahim came out to go into the venue, they mobbed him. Most of them were North African. They just wanted to do what fans generally want to do – say hi, have a hug, ask a question, snap a selfie. But it was strange for Ibrahim, and for the rest of us. We hadn’t really had to deal with these kinds of demonstrations of fan-love before. But this was the Bataclan and Tinariwen had arrived.
Because I hadn’t been with the band when they’d played at a festival in southern Morocco just a few months before, I was yet to realise the impact they were having in North Africa. It hit me for the first time there and then, outside the Bataclan. Later, during the gig, there were Berber flags waving in the audience. That was also new. This was an altogether different, more positive, assertion of North Africa cultural pride and defiance to the one we saw last Friday night. Robert Plant had agreed to come on and do a guest appearance. I seem to remember that he sang ‘Win My Train Fare Home’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to the broiling roll of Tamashek guitars, with Yadou kicking out that famous riff on his bass. Justin Adams was also there. It was a night I won’t forget.
Last Friday night, once again by all accounts, the excitement was palpable. “Eagles Of Death Metal Tonight – yet another sold out concert!” the venue proclaimed on its Facebook page. People had come from far and wide. It was going to be a cracker. Then the first gun shots – a different kind of death metal, unmusical, joyless, rhythm-less – cut across the broiling riffs. Men in black with goatees, of a similar age to most in the audience, had come to put and end to that feeling that anyone who’s been to an eagerly anticipated sold-out gig will know and cherish. It’s a feeling of immense good fortune, of being one of the privileged few, in the right place at the right time. Those young men stood that feeling on its head, and murdered it.
The ISIS statement called what was happening that night, before their bloody intervention at the Bataclan Conference Center (sic), “a profligate prostitution party”. How familiar the ring of those words, echoing a thousand puritan, Calvinist, kill joy rants from our own history. Christianity fought these same battles many centuries ago. They were still being fought in the 1950s. We thought they’d been won. But no, that battle is still being fought. And anyone who walks out onto any stage – in Paris, or London, or Madrid, Melbourne, Mumbai and Osaka – is now in the front line of that battle. Music itself is on the front line. The whole global community of musicians, promoters, managers, roadies, sound engineers, bouncers, merchandising sellers, bar workers, music PRs, music journalists – we’re all on the front line. Take courage. We’ve got to win. The alternative is too bleak to contemplate: a life without joy, relief, togetherness. In short, a life without music.
Bristol, 17th November 2015.