“This has been my favourite show I’ve played EVER” shouts a very gracious and glowing Loyle Carner at the end of his set on Sunday night – I don’t think I can put it better myself really, but i’ll try anyway.
The Marble Factory is filled with Bristol’s edgiest, all partly desperate to get out of the freezing cold, but mostly to see London’s brightest up and coming rapper, Benjamin Coyle-Larner. The stage looks like a theatre set, with various lamps, an armchair and a shelving unit full of old records; we are welcomed into Loyle Carner’s front room.
However, we’ll get back to the freckle-faced Apollo in a minute. First to warm up the crowd is newcomer Manik MC. This pipsqueak of a boy looks about 17 but his words speak of a man with many more years. Hailing from London but now based in Leeds, Manik is an appropriate name for the rapid-fire verses spat by this performer, recounting tales of partying all night and sleeping all day. But there’s more to him than that. Half way through his half hour set Manik performs a spoken-word piece which delves into poignant truths about the ways in which ‘the system’ continues to let so many young people down. In solidarity with Carner, Manik chooses not to be accompanied by trap beats but instead remains true to hip-hop’s 90s origins – his set receives a unanimous nod of approval from the bouncing audience. Look out for new music coming very soon from this talented young MC.
If you know about Loyle Carner, you know that there’s one thing more important to him than anything – family. This is obvious throughout his debut album Yesterday’s Gone, with tributes to his Mum and Dad and lyrics often referring to his little brother. And its no different at his live show. His album artwork features a photograph of Carner surrounded by family and friends – the photo makes up the backdrop to his sitting-room set on stage; a photo of his beloved late step-father, who raised Carner, sits on the shelves.
Accompanied by his producer and best friend Rebel Kleff, Carner bounces onto the stage, launching flawlessly into the gospel-infused ‘Isle of Arran’ – the atmosphere is electric. This guy’s stage presence is entirely captivating, his energy filling the lofty warehouse, everyone’s attention is drawn away from what trainers the guy next to them is wearing, and glued to Carner the whole time.
Every song earns a huge reaction as he runs effortlessly over eloquent lyrics about family, unrequited love, responsibility and the pressures of youth, all whilst swaying to and fro across the stage, never missing a breath. In-between songs Carner charms the audience with stories about his parents and his songs, all delivered with twinkling eyes and a huge grin. If you were here, you would agree, this guy is special.
Big tracks ’No CD’, ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ and ‘Damselfly’ have the crowd roaring along with Carner, a sea of hands in the air all hailing their leader. At other times it is staggering to feel the emotion the crowd share with Carner on tracks like ‘Florence’, written for his mum, Carner tells us, who always wanted a daughter, ‘so she could imagine what it would be like if i’d had a little sister’. Track ‘BFG’ from his 2014 EP ‘A Little Late’ is an incredibly touching moment in the set; all the #lads in the audience unashamedly shouting “‘course i’m fucking sad I miss my fucking dad”. Carner has this effect, seemingly having no fear of being openly vulnerable and sensitive, it is inspiring to see this reciprocated by his listeners. Loyle himself remains genuinely baffled and humbled by such a positive audience reception; especially by the fact that the audience knows his early music.
In a time when the uk’s rap scene is being predominantly led by grime, it is refreshing to experience such tender and honest lyricism
The show’s finale is breathtakingly moving. Album track ‘Sun of Jean’ bonds Carner with his parents, sampling soundbites from both of them. In the show his mother, Jean, appears on the screen reciting the poem she devised for the song. Kleff’s genius production incites a haunting kind of nostalgia – “I feel a bit teary” says the boy behind me. So do I.
In a time when the UK’s rap scene is being predominantly led by grime, it is refreshing to experience such tender and honest lyricism – when else have you heard a factory full of people chanting and cheering to here a piece of spoken word, when the show is supposed to be over? Loyle Carner is an intelligent and talented artist and even better experienced live. I for one, can’t wait to see him again.
Find Agnes’ review of Loyle’s debut album here.