Sting reopens the Bataclan in emotional gig a year after Paris terror attacks
Legendary Paris rock venue, the Bataclan, has reopened with an emotional gig by the British singer Sting, a year after jihadi gunmen burst in and killed 90 people during a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital.
The former Police frontman, 65, appeared on stage to cheers as hundreds of concert-goers including families of the victims and survivors, crowded together struggling to comprehend how gunmen could have burst into the venue – now completely refurbished to cover up its lasting scars, including a new stage and red velvet curtains – and opened fire on music fans in one of the most brutal attacks on French soil since the second world war.
Sting told the crowd in French: “We’ve got two important things to do tonight … First, to remember and honour those who lost their lives in the attacks a year ago. And then to celebrate the life and the music of this historic venue”.
He added: “We shall not forget them” before holding a minute’s silence on stage.
Sting opened his set with a gentle version of one of his later hits, Fragile, which captured the cautious apprehension and sadness in the crowd, but as he launched into a noisier, raucous rendition of the Police hit Message in a Bottle, the audience began to trust him to lead the Bataclan through what felt like a vital and inescapable return to rock’n’roll, but which was no less raw and painful.
In the audience were many parents and relatives of the 90 people who were killed last November when watching Californian rock band the Eagles of Death Metal.
As Sting gave an emotional rendition of the Police hit Every Breath You Take, one bereaved mother in a balcony seat took out a framed holiday photo of her son in his 20s who was killed during the massacre and held it on her lap facing the stage, as if ensuring he was watching the gig. Other parents wiped away tears.
Some of the songs which Sting sang were written before many of the Bataclan victims were born but they had a resonance with the parents, some of whom were carrying flowers, who were resolved to enjoy the gig to the full as a memorial to their children’s love of live music.
“The last time I played the Bataclan, it was 1979,” Sting told the crowd. “I had written a song in Paris in 1978 and here it is…” he said before belting out Roxanne as many of the parents clapped and cheered.
The French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf was applauded as he joined Sting on stage for several solos.
Aurelien, 25, who survived the Bataclan massacre while his friend was killed, said it was the first time he had been to a public place since the shooting, as he had avoided cinemas, bars and gatherings.
“I’m here because it’s important to finally finish a concert that was never allowed to end” he said. “It’s for the memory of my friend and for all the 90 people who died”.
He added: “I came alone tonight. It’s very emotional, as I keep getting flashbacks of that night. I was standing just there, just the other side of the bar when it happened. Tonight is the first time I’ve been back here since”.
Another survivor, Mariesha Jack Payne, waited across the road from the Bataclan in the Barometer bar, where she had been rushed to after the attack. She travelled from Scotland for the commemorations in Paris this weekend. “Even if I’m not inside, it’s symbolic for me to be here nearby” she said.
But two members of the Eagles of Death Metal were turned away from the reopening gig by the venue’s co-director. This followed a falling-out after the band’s singer Jesse Hughes told US TV earlier this year he had suspicions the attack was prepared with help from inside and cast suspicions on the security guards.
One of the Bataclan’s managers, Jules Frutos, told AFP: “They came, I threw them out, there are things you can’t forgive”.
Sting closed his set sitting alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, performing a song he had written in memory of James Foley, the journalist killed by Islamic State in Syria in 2014. He told the audience that the song was “for everyone who has lost someone”. The lyrics included the line: “Keep my place and the empty chair, somehow I’ll be there”.