Bataclan gets its mojo back after pain and grief

PARIS (AFP) – Some said it should never open again – and others doubted whether the public would ever return. But two years after 90 people were massacred by extremists at the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall has got much of its old mojo back.

Even after reopening with an emotional concert by the British rock star Sting on the eve of the first anniversary of the November 13, 2015 attacks on the French capital, some bands were still reluctant to perform there again.

“The months after the reopening were quite difficult in terms of putting a programme together,” the venue’s co-director Jules Frutos told AFP.

“But little by little it has come together.”

Frutos said he has been hugely encouraged at how music fans have returned in force, with the 1,700-capacity venue 90 per cent full on average over the year.

Such high turnout also came despite greater competition from other Paris concert halls, Frutos added.

However, French musicians in particular remain hugely divided over the venue.

People leave flowers as tribute in front of the concert hall. – AFP

While singers Saez and Vianney quickly volunteered to play the Bataclan to show their defiance of terror, others like Francis Cabrel said could not bring themselves to return.

Nicola Sirkis, the lead singer of Indochine, was even more vehement, declaring last month that he thought it was “ignoble to reopen” the venue which should have “remained a sanctuary… a memorial to the dead”.

“The families of the victims have been incredibly dignified,” he said. “What happened was of an extreme violence. That the city of Paris has not build a monument to their memory is a shame… I will never return to the Bataclan nor play there again,” he said.

“What happened there was too serious, unforgettable and unforgivable.”

But a defiant Frutos hit back, “I can’t understand how an artist can say that. How can he say that a concert hall become a mausoleum?”

The impressario has also crossed swords with Eagles of Death Metal, the US band who on stage on the night of the massacre, turning lead singer Jesse Hughes away from the reopening for suggesting that the Bataclan’s security guards were in on the attack.

“There are things you can’t forgive,” Frutos told AFP at the time, pointing out that staff had saved lives during the bloodbath.

“For us the most important thing is the public,” Frutos added. “It was they who were targeted, not Eagles of Death Metal.

“What we feared was that people would have a blockage” about returning to the Bataclan. “We wanted to see how people would behave, if they would be comfortable again” in the reopened venue, given what had happened.

“Now we no longer have that fear, even if what happened in Manchester (with the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in which 22 people died) brings it all back to us,” Frutos added.

The Bataclan has been under close police protection since its reopening, but Frutos said the management had “worked with the authorities to make sure that security was much less visible” than it was in the weeks after the doors reopening, when streets were around the concert hall were blocked.

Around 50 bands have already been booked for the first three months of 2018, and “the next year looks promising,” he said.

“Now we are trying to get our heads around normal everyday problems of running a venue, which is actually quite soothing,” he joked.