There aren’t many gigs that would make me want to drive across the Pennines and back on a Sunday night when the alarm clock is set and ticking for Monday. But I bought tickets for this gig as soon as they came on sale because after a life time of listening to hip hop it’s quite rare to hear something that sounds so completely new. I first heard Loyle Carner on a freebie via Annie Mac, guesting with Kiko Bun on Cadenza. It didn’t grab me by the scruff of the neck but every time ipod shuffle threw it in the headphones I found myself more and more drawn to his lyrics and so then I went searching and now I’ve got everything he’s released, I think.
I love his flow, and his chilled melodic beats. I love the sense of place you hear in the distinctively UK sound, steeped in the heritage of grime, but with golden era sensibilities firmly planting him in the hip hop genre. But most of all I love his words. I love the story telling and the imagery and I love – really really love – the vulnerability he is willing to share and the way he does it without tipping into Drake style mawkishness. “BFG”is one of the most heart breaking songs I’ve ever heard, all the more so because of the understated delivery. Loyle Carner doesn’t need to shout or over emote to impart feeling, it’s there in the crack around the edges of his voice. Florence, a hymn for the sister he wished he had is funny and sweet and the only time I’ve hear a rapper aspire to making pancakes like his nan.
This was the last night of the tour and it was sold out. It was rammed when I arrived just in time to miss the support act, Otha Soul which (judging by the riotous applause) was probably a mistake. They were replaced by a warm up DJ with some serious knowledge who dropped classic after classic, and the young crowd were head-nodding along. I’m an old soul so I love it when the youth understand their musical roots.
Then Loyle Carner bounded onto the stage looking even younger than his 22 years, and long-time collaborator Rebel Kleff took over the decks. Pardon the cliché, but the crowd really did “go wild”, and Carner was visibly delighted and seemed genuinely overwhelmed. The atmosphere in the venue during his set was, for want of a better word, communal. Carner manages to perform without putting himself on a pedestal, and chats to the audience like they are all old friends. He said hi to the woman in the crowd who baked him a lemon drizzle cake last time he was in Manchester, and pointed out the girl who’d been punched during the gig in Sheffield the previous night who he’d given free tickets too by way of an apology, and seemed almost as excited to be on the stage as the fans were to be watching.
I had wondered how the material from the melancholic “A Little Late” EP would translate to make for a live performance. The answer is brilliantly because he (& Rebel Kleff) beefed up the beats and switched up the style of delivery, so that, for example, the weary repeated refrain of “ain’t nothing changed” was transformed into a defiant and jubilant call to arms that had the whole crowd jumping – though not as high as him.
The crowd knew every word of every song, and filled in the female vocal part of “Florence” for him and almost drowned him out on the chorus of the recent witty and catchy “No CD.” He may well have told every audience on the tour how much he loved them and how they’re better than any other audience, in fact he almost certainly has, but I bet he means it every time. And, let’s not forget, he’s a brilliant performer. When was the last time you saw a hip hop gig where every single word was crystal clear? Where the MC can move from a sing along anthem straight into an acapella freestyle that silences the crowd so you can hear a pin drop?
I want Loyle Carner to be HUGE. I hope that his first full length album, due for release in February, catapults him into the stratosphere. I want that because it’s just so heartening to see an act with so much talent, enthusiasm and heart. I just hope that in that journey, he never loses the connection with his crowd that made this show so special.
And, yeah, if you get the chance, you should definitely travel a considerable distance to see him.