“leave everything in yesterday… everything!” 

Benjamin Coyle-Larner, known by his stage name of Loyle Carner, raps over the playback of Jordan Rakei featuring on his latest single, ‘Ottolenghi’ from his new album, Not Waving But Drowning. “Everything” he stresses, to the lovingly loud Bristol crowd. He reveals a nugget of advice from the song: leave behind what no longer serves you and resist the urge to ruminate on regrets. Carner gives this advice as if he is still learning it himself as he uses his music to process those yesterdays. Dubbed ‘heartfelt hip-hop’ by The Guardian, Carner reminds his listeners that rap is an art form that can be personal and emotional. He cautiously asks the crowd if he can perform a poem, the crowd roar with encouragement. His uncertainty is explained by an experience of toxic masculinity many of us, regardless of gender, are familiar with. He was told that poetry not cool, it was too feminine and flowery for a lad from south London. I’m reminded, and it seems he is too, that rap is poetry and it should be performed and appreciated by everyone despite what gender norms dictate.

Whilst most of his songs reference the yesterday that has gone, Carner has used his yesterdays to craft and communicate a picture of his life experiences. With each song on the setlist, he passionately shares these stories and reflections with the crowd as if he were catching up with an old friend, instead of performing to a sold-out audience.

he passionately shares these stories and reflections with the crowd as if he were catching up with an old friend

Trinity Arts Centre still bears the antiquated exterior of the grade II* listed church it was. However, it is now a space that has been reappropriated into a venue and community arts centre. It seems rather ironic to attend a hip-hop gig in an old church until you hear the gospel ring of ‘The Lord Will Make a Way’ on ‘Isle of Arran’ and Carner’s prayer-esque poetry recitals. The Bricks and More tour was completely sold-out in the UK, so it’s no surprise to see that scattered throughout the chatty crowd are fans clothed with Carner’s white and red Umbro F.C. shirts. Later the crowd would roar with football fan energy and sing “Ohh Loyle Carner” in the melody of ‘Seven Nation Army’ to beckon Carner back from the encore.

Pianist and composer, Ashley Henry, took to the stage with double bassist Donald Fergus, and drummer Jordan Hadfield for the support of the night. The trio played instrumentals that exhibited their individual talents; Henry performed his piano solos like a rock star would shred guitar. The double bass instantly gave their performance a chill, jazz vibe but heated moments of fast-paced build-ups were not amiss. It was the perfect way to ease an excitable, chatty crowd into Loyle Carner’s set. Ashley Henry later joined Loyle Carner on stage, with rapper, Rebel Kleff. The audience buzzes with anticipation at the attendance of any other possible special guests, particularly since a speaker on stage is labelled ‘Tom Misch’. However, Carner confirmed that Misch would not make an appearance but hoped the audience will stand in for Misch’s vocals on the track he features. The crowd willingly sang loudly over the playback for ‘Angel’.

Carner fostered a space for sharing stories of vulnerability, misplacement, and comfort, connection, and love

With his latest record feature-heavy, Carner used each playback as an opportunity to express how much he loved the musicians he collaborated with. Humorously, he signalled Sampha’s vocals on ‘Desoleil (Brilliant Corners)’ by whispering “Samph-ahh!” in awe and captioning his favourite parts of Sampha’s angelic vocals. The track closes with Loyle Carner rapping the last verse rapidly, the audience’s excitement grows as they cheer him on.  Rebel Kleff joined Carner on stage to perform ‘You Don’t Know’ and the two friends bounced across the stage with energy suggestive of Carner’s excitement at collaborating and connecting with other artists. He candidly explains the formation of the opening and closing tracks on his latest album as dedicates his opening track ‘Dear Jean’ to his loving mother, Jean Coyle-Larner, who writes a tear-jerking poem in response on ‘Dear Ben’. He reminds the crowd to tell their mothers how much they love them as he sat on the edge of the stage to perform such a personal piece.

Humbled by the praise and applaud of avid fans after every song, Carner admits he attempts to keep a serious, composed face as the song ends – but can’t help but cheekily grin at the smiling faces in the crowd. With his genuine comments in between each song, Carner fostered a friendly gig environment, a space for sharing stories of vulnerability, misplacement, and comfort, connection, and love. He configures himself as a fan, a member of the audience and a performer all at the same time. As he raps ‘Loose Ends’, he recalls how he would resent the stage and “Watch the crowd, watch the stage thinkin’, “Shit”. Rather be in the crowd with your mate’s drinkin’”.

He seems to have found a way to balance being a mildly famous rapper and a genuinely decent person, which many famous people still cannot manage. Even the “uh” that Carner raps in between each verse of his songs sounded confident, it wasn’t hard to see that he was enjoying the positive and loving audience response. As he bid goodbye to the crowd, he humbly admitted that as long as avid fans still want to rap along to his songs, he will continue to write music.

Loyle Carner continues his tour in Europe and will return to London and Manchester in the summer for festival appearances.

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