There’s nothing like going to watch live music. Whether it’s an intimate pub gig, a rousing choir or a full-blown orchestra, you gain so much over the likes of You Tube by seeing a performance in all of its wonderfully imperfect, as-it-happens glory. Now Paris being Paris, the programme of things to choose from is just mind-boggling (hurrah), though the dogged pursuit of live music could end up costing you a pretty penny if you end up concert chasing more than a couple of times a week (boo).
But all is not lost, as in Paris, there is music around every corner in the shape of the humble busker. Now Paris, being again Paris, prides itself on excellent taste, and high standards. For the love of God, people in this city risk death every day whilst riding their Velibs, refusing to wear helmets because they’re just not chic. So when it comes to buskers, we can expect the level of talent to be pretty high. And it is. Most of all because the buskers that you see on the streets (the official ones at least) have to audition in front of a panel to secure a permit and a spot on Paris’ famous streets. So the short of it is, you’d better be good or you’re just not allowed to play.
Some of the best talent is to be found near the touristy places where a receptive audience is guaranteed. But the metro is brimming too with live performers of varying genres, disciplines and from many different corners of the world. Scurrying rat-like through the long pipes of Chatelet metro station one day, one of the largest underground stations in the world, my ears were invaded by a haunting, bass-laden sound, reminiscent of some kind of Russian folk choir filling the air with song (lyrics obviously a complete mystery to me in their foreign disguise). As I rounded the corner, I came face to face with the source, a group of male musicians and singers, belting out some kind of eastern European folk classic. It was wonderful.
Buskers being buskers, they appear one day and disappear the next, save for some of the old faithfuls who have earned their right to the same spot over the years and stay stubbornly fixed. Therefore, it can be challenging to catch repeat gigs from the same performers, not knowing where or when they’ll pop up from one week to the next. But after a few years and plenty of time spent changing lines on the metro, I have at least managed to pin this particular group down.
They’re called ‘Les Musiciens de Lviv’, and hail from the Ukraine, specialising in a delightful repertoire of traditional Russian and Ukrainian songs, delivered in their trademark deep voices. There’s an impressive range of instruments accompanying the tunes too, which seems to change from day to day. If you’re a frequent traveler on line 1, then you’ll probably know them well, they’re most often found at the major stations on that line; Chatelet, Concorde and Nation (or at least that’s where I’ve seen them, there are probably others). If you’re a proper fan, maybe you’ve even purchased a copy of their CD (though I think it’s a bit pricey – more than 20 euros, the language barrier when I stopped to do a bit of research didn’t really help with the sales pitch).
They’re pretty awesome to watch though, and for the price of a euro (because that really is the point of course, to give them a bit of cash in exchange for your aural pleasure), you get treated to a musical experience you’ve probably never heard the likes of before. For those who aren’t lucky enough to be roaming through the bowels of Paris, you’ll find some clips of their performances on You Tube, and a CD on Amazon if you’re feeling flush. If you’re fortunate enough to encounter these particular musicians, then all the better, but if not, you’ll no doubt find something else to tempt your ears. Recommendations more than welcome…