(AFP) – The directors of the Bataclan concert hall thought long and hard about ever opening its doors again after jihadist gunmen massacred 90 people there during last year’s Paris attacks.
With the British star Sting set to reopen the refurbished venue Saturday, co-director Jules Frutos told AFP that they had had their doubts and “for some time it was difficult”.
“But then, after a few weeks it was clear. We had to go on after such horror and not leave a mausoleum, a tomb,” said Frutos.
“One night of tragedy” should not be allowed to wipe out decades of great musical memories, he insisted.
“We owed it to ourselves to rebuild everything. It was obvious that it had to be rebuilt identically,” added Frutos, who has managed the venue with his business partner Olivier Poubelle since 2004.
“It’s important we didn’t change it as a venue, its past — that’s why people loved it. One night of tragedy mustn’t overshadow decades of parties and music,” he said.
– Everything replaced –
The venue was ravaged by three suicide blasts as well as the bullets unleashed by the attackers, firing systematically into the crowd as an ordinary Friday night descended into carnage.
The interior of the former 19th-century music hall has now been gutted during eight months of refurbishment works.
Everything from the seats to the floorboards were replaced with identical fittings to purge the horror of that fateful night, which saw a total of 130 people killed across Paris as the jihadists targeted bars, restaurants and the national stadium.
Frutos and Poubelle were part of a consortium that bought the theatre only a month before the attack.
Once the decision was made to reopen the theatre, Frutos said they were determined it stay true to its history as the French capital’s top indie-rock venue.
“Reopening the Bataclan with a ceremony and then some music didn’t cut the mustard for me,” said Frutos, who was determined to put on a show before the November 13 anniversary.
Getting a high profile artist such as Sting — who first played there in 1979 with The Police — fitted perfectly with the Bataclan’s unique identity, said Frutos.
“When he came to Paris (in September) he was interviewed by a journalist and said he wanted to come and sing at the Bataclan. I called him and things moved very quickly,” said Frutos.
– Sting ‘really keen’ –
“He’s really keen — that’s an essential ingredient,” added Frutos.
“His coming here is the cherry on the cake that we needed, it gives it meaning. More so than a concert with several acts… that’s something I never considered.
“That’s not the Bataclan, it’s not about that. It’s a concert hall that’s had several lives, where the programme has never been based on such cliches.”
While some survivors and families of victims have been keen to have their say on how the building should reopen, convincing French musicians to take to the stage has been harder.
Only one fifth of acts so far booked for the Bataclan are homegrown. But Frutos said he understands their reluctance.
“I think it’s more difficult for them. We’re in Paris, this happened in a Parisian concert hall, I can understand all that,” said Frutos.
“I also understand what (folk singer) Francis Cabrel said (‘Singing at the Bataclan is more than I could manage’). I understand, but others will come.
“An artist such as (young French singer-songwriter) Vianney was meant to play several gigs at the Cigale and he cancelled one to come to the Bataclan. For Damien Saez it was obvious (to come and play), and he prepared specifically for this.
“For the international artists it’s not exactly the same thing — there’s the (emotional) distance,” he said.