Photography: Michael Kirkham /

Loyle Carner

Arts Club 30/9/17

Known for his unique brand of “confessional” hip hop, random acts of kindness (offering tickets for sold out shows to any fan who can find him a vintage footy shirt) and loving his mum (who guests on his latest record), it turns out LOYLE CARNER is pretty great live too.

The theatre-style bleachers are packed as we move from the bar, down the sloping floor and into the centre of the space at Arts Club. The room is bustling, filled with young faces eager for a glimpse of their favourite rising star. Carner takes to the stage amongst screams and whistles; having done his time playing support to Nas, Joey Bada$$ and MF Doom, Carner finally has his own headline tour, and a Mercury Prize nomination for best album under his belt.

The South London hip hop artist arrives wearing the colours of his favourite team, LFC. Though sport can often divide our city, the red shirt-wearing, scarlet scarf-toting Carner gives a cheeky grin as he asks the room for “unity” tonight. His debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, opens with Isle Of Arran, a track infused with spine-tingling gospel vocals and ecclesiastic clapping, which also serves as his opener tonight. It’s a brave move; at once a well-known track, and yet jarringly introspective. The staging mirrors this invitation into Carner’s world, with a stripped back setup not dissimilar to a family living room, a comfy chair sat at centre stage.

The crowd is young, energetic and loyal to Loyle – more than half the room enthusiastically chant his lyrics back to him throughout the set, as he runs through candid tracks Florence (an ode to the sister he never had), and the double bill of BFG and Cantona, both written for Carner’s step-father, the man who raised him and passed away last year. Each song is preceded by a short introduction by Carner: “Do you mind if I tell you a quick story?” Endearing, open and ever-eloquent, each interlude makes us feel a little closer to the man on stage.

Loyle Carner Image 2

Mid-set, Carner introduces his producer and beat maker REBEL KLEFF, and asks the room if we’d like to hear him rap. We cheer, and Carner and Kleff explode into an improvised a capella mini-set, spitting beats over one another to rapturous appreciation.

Back to the catalogue of sensitively-written verses; Carner plays a couple of his more upbeat numbers Damselfly, Stars & Shards and the bluesy, brassy tones of Ain’t Nothing Changed. The pairing of chilled out jazz refrains and stripped-back hip hop drum beats works beautifully, providing a soft backdrop for Carner’s sharp-edged lyrics.

The set draws to a close far too soon, as Carner announces his final track of the evening the room is clearly hungry for more. Shrugging “why not?”, Kleff lines up the rocky bassline for what is perhaps Carner’s best-known track, NO CD. We weave our way to the front of the stage as Carner launches into the opening refrain: “Oh please, we ain’t got no Ps/Because we spent all our money on some old CDs/We got some old Jay-Zs, couple ODBs/Place ’em up in perfect order ’cause my OCD”. Carner’s heaviest, funkiest track launches straight in, the room goes wild, and offers another opportunity to share the mic with Kleff; a fitting end to a deeply personal set.

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