‘I loved the weirdness’ – can Laura Marling’s crowdless gig rescue live music?

The singer played ticketed livestreams from an (almost) empty church to brighten up lockdown. We took up a lonely pew to see if it could match the real thing

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Back at it. Tonight. Twice.

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After three months of shuttered concert venues, hearing Laura Marling’s voice eddy around the Union Chapel in north London is like being dosed with a vitamin I had been leaving out of my diet. It’s almost like hearing live music for the first time; a different kind of beauty than you get on a daily walk or a drive to a castle, something vividly real but constantly evaporating into the air.

There have been plenty of free lo-fi performances by stars on Instagram during lockdown, or charity initiatives such as Together at Home, but Marling’s concert is the next step for a live music sector flailing for its previous levels of artistry and revenue: £900m losses are predicted for this year in the UK. The event is ticketed at £12 or $12 a stream, and while her manager won’t give me exact numbers, he says more than 6,000 have been sold. Michael Chandler, the chief executive of Union Chapel, says events such as this feel like “a glimmer of light” for a shuttered venue that, with two-metre social distancing, could only accommodate 84 of its usual 900 capacity.

“I loved it,” Marling says between her sets, relaxed and happy. “I love the weirdness of the intensity of playing live, and that was a totally uninterrupted version of it. I don’t have to take a break and say something awkward – banter doesn’t come naturally to me.”

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