I really can’t remember the first time I played in L’Abattoir in Lillers, France but it must have been ages ago because I have the feeling that I’ve been playing that club since I was born!
It’s just one of those places. Very little has changed since I first played it. The only noticeable difference (from the musicians’ point of view) is the addition of a decent PA system and soundman. Everything else is just the same as when I first played there. There’s Christian, the owner. His hair might be a tiny bit whiter but for the rest, Christian is Christian and I love him for that. Marie, his wife, is always there as well and they have the good cop/bad cop routine down pat by now.
The same supporting cast of characters – his regulars, my audience – is by and large the same too. They arrive with old Albatross T-shirts and LP’s that they got signed in the year dot and substitute them for new T-shirts and a copy of either the latest CD or a CD version of the LP that they already have and I love them for it.
I think I first started playing in L’Abattoir in about the mid-eighties, when we used to take the ferry over to Calais and drive down through France to play in the south all summer, so it was a nice break on the way down. For all I can remember we might have stopped off to play it again on our way back up after about eight weeks of playing beaches, disco’s and town square festivals. Christian was never difficult about booking a gig. Basically, if you wanted to play there he’d say ok.
I remember we played there on both the Friday AND Saturday night a few times, which was great because Christian invited us down for Sunday lunch before we left. That was one of the few times he strayed from his famous spaghetti and cooked chicken. It was as tasty a chicken as I’ve ever eaten, with complete cloves of garlic in it. Tough s*** if you happened to get a piece of the chicken that had a clove of garlic buried in it. It was the luck of the draw but you could always wash it down with some of the very nice wine he brought up from the cellar for those occasions.
Here’s another strange thing about L’Abattoir – it has a great pint of Guinness! I kid you not. Here’s this little bar/club in a small town in the north of France that has better Guinness on draft than some of the pubs at home.
Lillers as a town has a rock ‘n’ roll vibe about it. Somehow you get the feeling that if Paris or Britney ever decided to join the real world and play there the local folks wouldn’t take too long to give an honest opinion about the gig! That part of France gets heavy fog quite a lot and that only helps add to the image of an industrial town with people who work hard all week and like to enjoy a few beers and some good rockin’ music in the weekend. That’s not to suggest that they’re a bunch of beer swilling rowdies. Far from it. You can have conversations about Irish culture and history, the ties to Brittany, French politics…whatever takes your fancy.
I’ve stayed in many different hotel there over the years. The first one was a little place just on the outskirts of town and you got hot water whenever the owner decided you would and the floorboards creaked and the bed sagged and somehow it all fitted the image. Then they moved us out to a Formula 1 hotel somewhere out of town. Don’t ask me where because one night we spent so long looking for it we were seriously considering just heading for home. This time another new hotel – the Tour Hotel – and it was quite pretty. Nice location, rooms were just fine and a bigger than normal breakfast by French standards. Somehow the croissant & pain au chocolat seem to taste better in France, which is probably how it should be.
So, you could say this weekend was just another gig, or just another gig in France but for me it was much more. It was just one of those times, one of those trips, one of those moments when you realise it’s great when you enjoy doing what you want to do.