It felt like goodbye to something last night sitting in what used to be our local bar, the Lawrence d’Arabie – it’s now a bar/restaurant called Le Saxo. We’d resisted going into the place out of loyalty to Nico, our friend and the old owner – in memory of what he’d created there. The butcher across the street will not set foot in the new place, nor have some of the old clientele. But the new owner is a sweet man, a bit on the anxious side (but who wouldn’t be trying to make a go of a new business in France these days?) If you were in Glasgow or Nashville, Norwich, Wheeling even, it would be easy to find somewhere else to go. But here on a Saturday night within a thirty mile radius there are probably only a half dozen places to get a beer or something to eat. Plus, given that Nico really wanted to sell the bar, an embargo doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But I felt this wave of nostalgia and even grief, last night. Nico hadn’t offered just another option – he’d given us an alternative. It wasn’t just a place with food and alcohol, it was our place.
Was it coincidence or fate that made us stumble in there four years ago? Chalus was not our village, but it has a lot of history and there’s something compelling about it even though it’s pretty dead. You get the feeling, walking around, that once upon a time there was a lot going on in. We walked into the bar called “Lawrence d’Arabie” that had an almost Moroccan feel, with colored lamps and bamboo furniture, and I think we heard a record by Nick Cave or Tom Waits or even Alan Vega playing. Now the chances of that happening in a tiny village deep in rural France are very very slim but I had no way of knowing that back then – I thought hipsters were everywhere! Not hipsters in the derogatory sense but people into interesting music, into the world, new things, old things. By the time we walked out we had arranged our first local gig, and we ended up playing there a lot over the last couple of years.
Completely wood and stone inside, the sound was difficult. In winter I had to play next to a huge roaring fireplace, and the right corner of the stage area was also the entrance to the toilet. Sometimes people sat in front of us grimacing and sticking their fingers in their ears (for two sets) and every time the pizza oven upstairs kicked in my keyboard would cut out.
But when we played, friends and acquaintances and visitors and locals would come see us. It felt like we were most of us in it together, and by the time we got to Dancing With Joey Ramone or Round or Take The Cash, we had usually gotten somewhere – we’d changed the atmosphere of a tiny spot in the middle of France.
Sometimes I didn’t want to play there, I wanted somewhere bigger, better, grander or at least somewhere without such a good view of a toilet door. But it’s where Eric and I really learned to play together, to work together, like soldiers in a foxhole, or window washers up on the side of a building – keeping the balance, looking out for the other guy, if one of us goes down we both do.
I didn’t think about any of this when we were sitting there last night. I just thought about how…dull the place seemed. Music kept at a barely audible level, an ipod shuffle, nothing that would put anyone off. No familiar faces, a decent meal with a sincere attempt to do everything correctly. I went in the bathroom, a tiny medieval closet under the stairs and thought of all the nights I’d gone in there after playing to wipe the eyeliner and mascara off from under my eyes. I’d go to the bar and there was always a glass of cognac there for me. Marquee Moon would come on, somebody pushing the volume up. Nico – a lanky dark Frenchman in a well-cut velvet suit jacket – would hug me and start shouting Amy! Eric! Amy! Eric! Le meilleur groupe en France!
Nico moved his family to Berlin – we hear he has a new bar there already. I think he’s very happy which is good because he was often miserable in France. We’ll move on too – I think the disillusionment really started sinking in for me when we found we couldn’t call ourselves musicians here. A place I’d always thought was proud of and encouraged its artists requires you to jump through so many hoops it hardly seems worth it. The new bar owner had hoped to have us play there, but the charges and fear of putting a foot wrong have him hemming and hawing when we ask about a gig. None of the local bars are putting on music.
There’s a sign on the wall outside the bar that says young Lawrence Of Arabia slept in one of the rooms upstairs when he was cycling through France. I think when we leave I’ll put up a post-it note below, saying “here, for a few years in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby sang and played.”