Print Music Editor reviews Loyle Carner at Exeter Great Hall
What’s worse than walking up forum hill? Walking up forum hill in order to join a massive queue at the top, that’s what. And it’s freezing. But Loyle Carner’s name is well-known and often spoken around Exeter university; I’m confident he’s going to be worth it. I join the back of the queue, meandering out from the great hall doors, which would have impressed an Apple store on iPhone day. As my fingertips turned to permafrost, they hustled us through the entrance and into the great hall. I tear off my balcony wristband and slip into the standing area.
It’s a bit weird seeing a hip-hop gig in the same place you do your exams, like when you catch your maths teacher browsing the cabbages in Sainsbury’s – it’s not the right place for them. But I find a comfy spot near the stage on the left-hand side and settle in to wait for the first act. And wait. And wait. The waiting goes on for over an hour, which gives plenty of time to listen to the vanilla flavoured, airport lounge music playing from the speakers – and for the hulk of a man next to me: monstrous and hairy like a tactically shaved bear, to pick a fight with somebody half his size. As another guy waters down my shoulder with his beer, two guitarists and a drummer emerge from the backdrop of the stage, all sporting your standard indie musician look: stripy t-shirt, floppy cap, and creepy semi-moustaches.
He injects a surprising amount of energy for an artist known for his mellow bars and refrigerated beats.
Arlo Parks, the support act, follows them, bounding out mic in hand and launching straight into her smooth R&B. She reminds us that she’s only 19 and can’t believe that her dream has come true; the people around me start mumbling about how they’re 21 and can’t even cook lasagne. Clearly, they don’t like it when their music comes with a side of inadequacy. Arlo raps on through a couple of songs that blend into one mellow mood, the basslines aren’t quite distinct enough and her voice not quite dynamic enough to make them pop. But after few skittering guitar solos and a strong rendition of her most well-known song ‘Cola’, her set has pulled itself up by its own guitar strings and finishes with a cheer.
We enter the space between sets, part-satisfied, still-anticipating, and itching when the stagehands pull down the cloth over the backdrop of the stage, displaying four signature Loyle Carner football shirts framed on a wall. The rest of the stage suddenly slots into place: the armchair, the set of shelves, the lampshade. We’re in his bedroom. For a home-made beatmaker, five-a-side rapper and mum enthusiast like Loyle Carner, it makes total sense to do his gigs in his bedroom. His musicians make their way out on stage. The guitarist goes by the chair, Rebel Kleff behind the record shelves on the DJ decks, and a large beard with a keyboardist hanging off it slots in stage right.
The song cuts, Carner disappears to huge applause, and the crowd disperses into the cold night air
Loyle Carner runs out to thunderous cheers wearing his Saturday away kit, scarf included, and launches into ‘Ice Water’. He injects a surprising amount of energy for an artist known for his mellow bars and refrigerated beats. As he continues on through new and old songs, it becomes clear that he is loving every minute of the performance. He doesn’t hold back any of the old favourites from his first album Yesterday’s Gone, delivering ‘Stars and Shards’ and ‘The Seamstress’ with every word sitting comfortably on beat. He allows Rebel Kleff out from behind his decks for a couple of songs, and they do a great duet of ‘You Don’t Know’ – getting everybody moving. He addresses the absence of his funkier friend and long-time collaborator Tom Misch; apparently he’s on a jet-ski in the Bahamas. So for ‘Angel’ we have to make do with the recorded version of Misch, but I’m not worried as I doubt it would sound any less like black treacle from the man himself. Suddenly, I hear the first marshmallow notes of ‘Ottolenghi’ and get excited, only to slump back sadly as the sound cuts out and Carner has to apologise for technical difficulties. The beard behind the keyboard looks sad as if his pet stick-insect had died. But the rapper takes the chance, while they iron out the technical hitch, to approach the front of the stage and float some new material. Unaccompanied, he delivers a poem, gesturing in smooth circles, seamlessly in time like he’s painting with his words and hands.
From here things only get better, he loses none of the energy he began with. He rattles off ‘Damselfly’ and ‘Isle of Arran’, jumbled in with ‘Loose Ends’ and a heartfelt speech about finding his Guyanese roots. And a little letter to his mum, of course. He finishes up with ‘Aint Nothing Changed’ and they’re all off stage. The lights go up. Or do they? They run back on and those first dark synthesizer beats of ‘No CD’ punch one, two, three ripples through the air. The crowd really lose it now, all arms go up in the air like the hairs on your arm standing on end, everybody’s moving and it’s electric, not static. The song cuts, Carner disappears to huge applause and the crowd disperses into the cold night air, and I think he’s delivered one of the best gigs I’ve seen. He has a unique take on making music because you can tell how personal it is to him. He creates from a love of his family, friends and the music, so there are none of the cold and impersonal thrashings out of filler tracks that you might see from your run-of-the-mill indie band. His little brother was even selling his merch outside. The gig felt all the more intimate and involved like you were getting a little look into his home life. A glimpse into his bedroom, and the music that comes from inside.