The CALM Lock In live on Instagram: online fest offers joy from Years & Years, Declan McKenna and more

Joy Crookes, Arlo Parks, Years & Years, Oh Wonder, Kodaline and Declan McKenna performed at the charity's life-affirming livestreamed gig

With every passing day, it feels like life outside of the four walls of your house is drifting further and further away. Festivals are being postponed until next year, tours simply aren’t happening and we aren’t even allowed to go see our friends down the pub. There’s a really good reason for it – you know: to help squash the spread of coronavirus and to stop people dying – but that doesn’t make it any easier.

In the week since the lockdown started, mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) has seen a 37% increase in their daily calls. That’s 37% more people struggling with the anxiety, uncertainty and chaos of times like these. And as everyone keeps promising us, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

That’s why CALM have thrown a festival on Instagram (with a loose promise of shindigs to come). From 5pm to midnight – the same hours that their helpline is open, 365 days a year – their Friday night (April 3) live Lock In is comprised of a chaotic pub quiz hosted by Love Islands Chris and Kem, a cosy book reading from actor Jamie Campbell Bower and a surprisingly informative cook-along with comedians Ed Gamble & Phil Wang (egg fried rice this time but fresh pasta and beef wellington next, they promise). There are also party starting, late-night living room DJ sets from Kurupt FM and DJ Yoda. Throughout the evening, the emphasis is on positive distraction, offering a real sense of joyful escapism.

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It’s the two hours of live music in the centre of it all that really provides the heart, though. Coming live and direct from their own homes, each artist has a 15-minute slot (aka the perfect set length). Breaching the distance between us, it feels intimate despite the circumstances as the likes of Joy Crookes, Arlo Parks, Years & Years, Oh Wonder, Kodaline and Declan McKenna got vulnerable with their front-facing phone camera.

Years & Years spent last summer touring the communal power of latest album ‘Palo Santo’, their live show a real shared celebration, so it feels unusual to see singer Olly Alexander alone at his keyboard. But it doesn’t take long for his warm persona and a jazz lounge jingle to welcome you in to his front room. His soaring rendition of ‘Worship’ is captivating and fearless, while a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ – chosen, he says, because “her music makes me feel better when I feel alone… like there’s meaning in it” – demands attention with its self-assured beauty.

Declan McKenna’s chaotic energy shines bright as he takes on a more ramshackle approach to the evening. Whether he’s taking requests before realising he can’t play the songs without a keyboard, or closing the set with the sunshine anthem of ‘Brazil’ (as he  puts it: “I suppose I should play the hit”), the indie scamp is very much making it up as he goes along. But aren’t we all?

Elsewhere alt-poppers Oh Wonder are in the midst of an Instagram Live tour, playing every song they’ve ever released over the following weeks, and tonight they debut brand new track ‘Lonely Star’, which was written and recorded while they’ve been in isolation. “In everything that’s happening in the world, being a human is pretty much the hardest thing to be,” it opens, before the duo ask, “Is there anybody out there?” It’s a moment of quiet reflection that continues into the spirit-warming pop of Joy Crookes. Blighted by an injured finger, her set veers between silly and soulful, but the heartfelt anthem ‘Hurts’ grabs attention and holds it. There’s still power to be found in being alone, it promises.

It’s Arlo Parks who really steals the show, though. ‘Angel’s Song’ is a haunting meditation on loss, all heart-on-sleeve vulnerability and overflowing desire, while a poem about being thankful – written especially for this show – is a stark reminder to be grateful for the things that can still make you smile. Her cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ exposes new hurt in the pained lyrics as she pours her whole self into the track in dedication to friends she’s lost. It’s the best the song has sounded in a decade.

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A festival from your sofa may not be the future we want and yes, it’s still weird to not hear any applause after a performance, but the CALM Lock In does create a feeling of togetherness. It’s not the same as actually going to a gig, but it still feels like a celebration. Despite the different vibes, what remains constant is how thankful each act is to not be alone right now. It’s not scripted, but everyone pays tribute to how important it is to be heard, especially during times like these. And that’s what CALM offers.

– Last year 122,000 people phoned the helpline and they directly prevented at least 500 suicides. You can donate here to help keep the service running

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