Just days into the beginning of the global coronavirus lockdown, musicians were already crafting ways to keep in touch with their audience and replicate the live gig experience the best way they can. Even while other gigs were still conspicuously going ahead in the UK and beyond in mid-March, pop-punk scamp Yungblud performed a virtual gig on YouTube from his home, opening the floodgates for thousands of similar events to be held over the last few months.
Since then, we’ve had a window into the bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms of some of the biggest stars on the planet, with livestreams, full gigs and even entire festivals held remotely to fill the irreplaceable lack of live music in our lives.
Laura Marling, a usually internet-shy personality, has been particularly busy during lockdown. Firstly, she brought forward the release of her seventh studio album ‘Song For Our Daughter’, originally set to come out in late summer, to serve as a salve for anxious, weary lockdown brains. Then, she began holding weekly guitar lessons for fans on Instagram Live, in the process creating one of the quieter, more wholesome new corners of the internet during this period of instability and upheaval.
Now she’s leading the way again, hosting what is, so far, the most authentic and exclusive live music event we’ve seen so far in the age of coronavirus. Held in an empty Union Chapel in London, the gig is ticketed, geo-locked to fans in the UK and Europe, and brings with it the delicious buzz of exclusivity and climax that makes live music so special.
Punters are sent their tickets via email before logging into a locked stream, and the show is as close as you can get to obtaining bragging rights about going to a gig while remaining in your own home. 4,000 tickets were sold for the UK and European show – she plays another set for North American fans shortly afterwards – which sees Marling run through the set she’d planned for her cancelled spring tour. Fans also had the option to donate money to the singer’s two chosen charities, Refuge and The Trussell Trust, on top of their modest ticket price (£12’s not bad for an artist of Marling’s stature, eh?).
The show feels like a level-up on the gigs we’ve experienced during lockdown so far. First of all, the production values are simply exquisite (wave a firm goodbye to the endless buffering of dodgy Instagram Lives), with 360 degree cameras intimately swirling around Marling as she glides her way through a gorgeous opening of the four-track suite from her 2013 album ‘Once I Was An Eagle’.
Performing solo, she heads fearlessly through highlights from ‘Song For Our Daughter’ and beyond, her cut-glass vocals spine-tingling throughout (turns out beautiful old chapels have better acoustics than bedrooms or living rooms) and transmitted wonderfully by the pop-up mixing desk set up in a truck outside the venue.
More important than anything, though, the gig feels like an event, not an Instagram Live you tune into for five minutes before getting your ever-shortening attention span drawn away by something else. Actively putting money in the pockets of a working musician, it shows that live music can do better in the age of coronavirus – for fans, crew and musicians themselves.
When gig was announced, organisers labelled it “a tentative step in helping to aid the flagging live sector,” vowing to set “a potentially positive new precedent for other artists suffering from the loss of live earnings”. Live gigs as we know them might not be returning for the foreseeable future, but Marling’s show signals a better way forward. The stream disappears into the ether as the show finishes – no replays or sharing around here – and you’re simply left with that irresistible, irreplaceable post-gig buzz. God, we’ve missed it.
Laura Marling played:
Take The Night Off
I Was An Eagle
Tap At My Window
End of the Affair
Song For Our Daughter
What He Wrote
How Can I