Paris’s annual Fête de la Musique – held every 21 June and now in its 30th year
Everywhere, but I concentrated on Canal Saint-Martin area in the 10th arrondissement
Balmy – the forecast rain held off
Barmy – those crazy Parisians know how to party
Where do we start?
10pm, corner of rue Alibert / rue Bichat, outside the Bar Carillon
Ça chauffe! (Hot!)
The Beautiful. Well named, they are kitted out in impeccable riding gear, winning my prize for the best-dressed band of the night – and a special award for “handsomest man in charge of a euphonium”.
Small kids learning how to jive for the first time, two beers for each musician lined up on the pavement, the 75 bus trying to get to Porte de Pantin and people too caught up in the music to notice and let it through. Tunes from the 1950s to the present day blasted out on brass instruments plastered with stickers advertising the likes of “I ♥ Monty Piston” and other bandas, in a phenomenally tight set that just seemed to build and build.
11pm, along the Canal
Techno decks outside the cafés Atmosphère and Chez Prune, another banda outside Bar Jemmapes and a couple of tuneful rock bands rather losing the battle of music against craziness
11.30pm, rue Sainte-Marthe
The heartbeat of carnival begins to pulse as the samba school Batala arrive at the far end of rue Sainte-Marthe. Several of these buildings have fallen down since last year – others I know are fragile, supported inside by giant timbers as they await reconstruction. I can just see that the exotic mix of ethnic restaurants – Rwandan, Chilean and Colombian – survives, though the Rotisserie Associatif, which raises money for charity, is threatened by developers. The whole street shivers, the crowd erupts. Someone runs out of the Brazilian restaurant waving a giant Brazilian flag, Restaurant workers sprinkle water on the drummers, cooling down the giant engine of noise to keep it running. Batala surge up the narrow street, the crowd goes wild.
11.30pm, place Sainte-Marthe
Meanwhile, up in the square Miss Mama get people skanking – the effect is a cross between Police and Madness, though their music is original and their own. As they wind down, Batala are still only halfway up the street towards them, scattering people before them like boulders before a tidal wave.
12.30pm, rue Sainte-Marthe
Just when it couldn’t get any better, it does. Another samba school, Mulêketú, arrive to drum up a storm. Though a much smaller outfit, they generate even more whoops from the crowd, their drumsticks flailing, thrown high in the air, caught just before the beat. No one sleeps tonight.
That’s just a snapshot of what happened in Paris this Midsummer’s Night in one small corner of the 10th arrondissement that normally takes about five minutes to walk around. In the Marais, with the singalong accordionists of the place des Vosges and mass vogueing outside the gay bars, on the quais of the Seine down by Bibliothèque Nationale, where the Batofar and other clubbers’ boats are one of the biggest draws of the night, and all over Paris, people of all ages and backgrounds join in making and enjoying music. It’s all free – and will probably be even better next year (if it doesn’t rain). Do come.