The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


This weekend France is taking part in the Europe-wide celebration of cultural heritage (including the Dublin Culture Night last Friday). In Paris, political and cultural institutions are opening their doors to the general public - even President Sarkozy is welcoming visitors to his residence, the Elysée Palace.

The Paris metro system is also joining in the events - for instance, certain lines ran all night, disused 'ghost' metro stations were opened to visitors, and various entertainment took place around the underground network.

Perhaps the most interesting from a music point of view was a talent show for commuters. The official blurb for the event invited metro users who happen to play instruments - but every regular underground traveller is aware of the sizeable community of dedicated metro buskers.

It is, of course, illegal to play for money on the metro - technically it's illegal even just to play music, as it can be construed as disturbing fellow passengers (penalty: a few euros of a fine). But when has this ever been a bar to metro-buskers, hopping from carriage to carriage with one eye out for the muscular boys from transport security?

After a while using the metro, you get to recognise certain musicians and their regular 'pitch'. On the line 3, which takes you to Père Lachaise and La Flèche d'Or, there's a man who plays the saxophone. His playing is excellent (he clearly loves John Coltrane; he has the same warm, rich sound), even if his sax is fairly battered. On our line, the 13, there are at least two regular accordionists.

Paris is always heaving with tourists heading for the usual sightseeing spots, so some lines are more profitable than others. Line 6, for example, goes from the Arc de Triomphe (at the top of the Champs-Elysées) past the Eiffel Tower, so it's a lucrative pitch for buskers. One guy in particular has made it his home: a man who hangs a curtain at the back of the carriage, from behind which two puppets pop up to dance along to a blast of rock n'roll or reggae. Simple, but always enjoyable; regular visitors now look out for him.

A busker at Saint Lazare metro stationMusicians also set up in the metro stations themselves - each station usually has a warren of walkways and tunnels with fantastic acoustics, good enough to make even bad music sound tolerable. Stations on the line 1 are especially complex, so it's a little easier to evade security. And as the line runs under the Champs-Elysées, Louvre and Bastille there are always cash-happy tourists easily charmed by a few riffs of 'La Vie En Rose' on the accordion.

A musician friend of ours here in Paris had a novel way of playing on the metro with his two bandmates. One of them would get on at the first station and play alone. A few stations later the second band member would get on and seamlessly pick up the tune of the first. Then another few stops down the line the third would get on and join in too. They made a fortune.

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Nuggets from our archive

2005Michael Jackson: demon or demonised? Or both?, written by Aidan Curran. Four years on this is still a great read, especially in the light of his recent death. Indeed the day after Michael Jackson died the CLUAS website saw an immediate surge of traffic as thousands visited to read this very article.