Double bassist Sebastien Boisseau explains to Jean-Baptiste Urbain the difficult situation in which double guitarists and bassists find themselves.
Last year, a column appeared in Le Monde newspaper and a petition signed by 45,000 people alerted the problem of performers unable to travel to perform. This made it possible to discuss with part of the SNCF administration, to make it clear that it was possible to put the tools in a place that would not bother users. However, the level of 1.30 meters did not move. Sebastien Boisseau notes, however, that at other companies like Thalys, they have no problem traveling with their gadgets.
Sebastien Boisseau explains that musicians are essentially mobile people, working in nursing homes, prisons and conservatories, everywhere in France, and cannot carry a car that pollutes 50 times more than a train, as the SNCF regularly reminds us.
Tribune Sebastien Boisseau:
In July 2021, in a forum signed by more than 160 personalities from the music world, we sounded the alarm about the sudden hardening by the SNCF of conditions for access to trains for musicians traveling with fine instruments. Being a musician, we must remember, means always on the move, it involves dedicating a large part of one’s schedule to travel with the aim of meeting audiences and reviving performance halls and theatres. We travel to build links or projects with residents, schools, associations and communities in order to participate in cultural dynamics across France.
But for two years, the National Railroad Union denied access to trains to double up on guitarists, bassists, and percussionists.
What is their fault? Travel in the exercise of their profession with a huge tool beyond the organizational dimensions applied to bags. By targeting a group of workers, which is moreover a class already less mobile, by depriving them of the possibility of participating in the collective effort to combat global warming, by creating the conditions for conflict situations between its agents and a part of the active population, this “public company”, as Defined on its website, it no longer fulfills its mission of “smooth navigation, everywhere and for everyone”. SNCF takes a discriminatory stance and rejects a minority of musicians for its service to the entire population.
Fortunately, a large part of the staff on the main trains remains benevolent with us, as has certainly been the case since the existence of trains, and music sooths morals, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, all too often, we have to pay a fine, accept tyrannical or even insulting speech, and in the worst case, warn our employer that we may not be present at show time. On October 28, 2021, on the Paris-Bordeaux line, musician Sarah Murcia travels with her double bass to a concert in the region, and she is fined 50 euros. About her three observers and four police officers, “Someone advised me to change my job!”. Another train, another kitchen, double bassist Stephen Harrison was lowered from Paris Charleville-Mezière on June 9, 2022 by a monitor, and there again four police officers were called for reinforcements. The musician specifies: “My instruments settled perfectly in a baggage break, they threatened to end the day at the station, and I had to concede” … Who says better? On September 6, 2022, Leïla Soldevila was fined €150 for Paris-Vannes, and the agent cut off any attempt to agree and decreed that her double voice was detrimental to safety on board. Blowing way, the musician sounds.
As soon as the fine is paid, the observer resumes his rounds, and the safety argument disappears with him … Each time, these fellows, who have been traveling for many years, care to put their tools in inappropriate places. Do not obstruct exits or turn around on trains. Such examples abound, and the testimonies show quite inappropriate behavior on the part of some agents, sometimes thanks to the solidarity and intervention of other travelers the observers themselves resign. Thus, the SNCF establishes the fear of gendarmes, it manipulates the concept of access to music through marketing operations, and in every hypocrisy it installs piano in stations, but expels instrumentalists from trains. Have you forgotten that we are its customers, and that by the state’s acquisition of its €35 billion debt in 2020, we all contribute to its credit? What do you do to get out of this situation? Over the past two years, there have been many actions and attempts to solve this problem. The petition “allow double hits on trains” has collected more than 45,000 signatures, and a working group of unions, federations and artists is collecting testimonies, calling on the SNCF, and raising awareness among ministries and all institutions about the absolute necessity for artists to be able to follow the main lines with their instruments. Dozens of deputies from all the political spectrum, directly concerned with the impact of artistic activities on their lands, sent letters to this effect to the SNCF administration, including in September 2021 the assembly’s cultural affairs committee. The president at that time was Mr. Bruno Stöder. We showed, in October 2021, while visiting a TGV train to a technical center that our machines can find a place without compromising passenger safety. On October 4, 2022, in the National Assembly, the Member of Parliament for Moselle questioned Ms Isabelle Rauch (Prospects and related) Minister in charge of Transport by a question to the Government in which she indicated that the only alternative proposed by the SNCF was “a baggage delivery service, unimaginable for her sector.” Because of the value of the tools and methods for creating this service.” Deputy Minister Clement Boone called for “intervention to break this dead end file” by demanding “the creation of a simple notice of tolerance for customers”, and to emphasize the interest of this “simple and immediate solution for all parties, given the small size of the decision.” concerned population.
Players in the music industry, elected officials, and Ministry of Culture cabinets such as those for Environmental Transition, responsible for transportation, are active but the SNCF is not. “The state is, by law, the sole shareholder of the SNCF group,” a shareholder whose group that is 100% owned does not appear to be hearing (6). For many, it’s a misunderstanding, for us as musicians, it’s panic and bewilderment. We are surprised that we have hindered the exercise of our profession. We are dreaded to be the target of fines, to be subject to infractions, to receive letters of moral preaching from some staff on board, and we who do not take our eyes off our gadgets, we who help other travelers put bags away. The little spaces that are still available, we are the ones who spend fortunes in this national company (which also issues us loyalty cards). We are shocked to be treated like criminals and criminals while traveling with a valid ticket. We are afraid of not being able to get to the concert venue, of losing our commitments. Traveling with these old, fragile and expensive gadgets is already stressful, but for now there is a lot to worry about when buying a SNCF ticket.
However, by agreeing to amend its mainline regulations to raise the maximum baggage height to 1.30m (instead of 1.20m previously), SNCF recognized a problem. This is the only progress so far, made by our diligent representatives and thanks to the support of former Minister of Culture Roslyn Bachelo. Advance by 10 cm in 2 years! Something soothing cellists, but at this rate it would take many years before winning the case for others (double bass under the hood up to 1.90 metres).
Everywhere else, rail companies transport this type of baggage, skis and snowboards on TGVs, provided they are kept under watch and transported independently, and that’s exactly what we do with our tools. Thalys rightly recognizes our gadgets as “special baggage” and accepts them on the train up to 2m (7), which SNCF considers dangerous stuff!
SNCF can resolve our situation in a jiffy, and it can take into account our privacy as it does with other user categories. When its management wants to show itself on the environment track, it introduces and re-proposes private TGVs for Paris Saint-Germain footballers, rather than their flights on private planes. Everyone knows the rest of the story … How today we surrender to return to the car to travel thousands of polluted kilometers over and over again. The purists assume that choosing rail transport is the most environmentally friendly, they are in this fight against climate change, and they need SNCF on their side, not against them!
Another example, SNCF has recently amended its regulations and lowered its fares to allow passengers to board their pets on TGVs and Intercités with a simple click for a single price of €7, for any animal, regardless of weight or length. flight (8). Good for them, let’s hope the snake doesn’t escape from its box…
The example of pet transportation may seem trivial to you, but what comes to mind today, for certainly various reasons, is the title of the book written by legendary American bassist Charles Mingus and that feeling of rejection for who I am and what. It makes me live, that feeling of being “less than a dog”.
Sebastien Boisseau, bassist, co-artistic director of Yolk Records.
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