“He turned the world upside down and we’re richer for it
He was and is a complete joy
The world is his, that scribble of a boy”
Exeter Phoenix was instantly filled with a buzz as soon as the doors opened for their event of the evening. The excitement was pretty much tangible as mostly youth, but also various other ages, queued up to enter the studio and wait patiently for Loyle Carner’s hip-hop beats and poignant words. It was clear that we were all incredibly giddy that his tour had decided to make it down here to Exe, as often artists who are so up and coming in his genre may not venture as far out as we are.
Loyle Carner, a spoonerism for his real name, Benjamin Coyle-Larner, had picked a talented and upbeat support act of Srig & Eliza to focus the bubbling energy of the audience on the music. Soon after, the grand lyricist himself came onstage, to a cacophony of welcome and cheer.
Watching Ben onstage feels more like watching an old friend share stories with the crowd, rather than just a stranger who creates amazing, heartfelt music. He interacts with the audience in such a friendly way that it’s easy to feel like you know him. This is enhanced by the stage set up, which is made to look like a snug living room where Loyle regularly sat and involved the audience in the origin stories of his songs. Personally, I found this to be a really inclusive way to have a gig, and is part of why I appreciate them at smaller venues because it creates a more intimate environment; the gig here was sold out and the venue was packed, yet it felt like he was speaking to every single one of us individually.
Starting with the opening song of his debut album, the pleasant tones of the S.C.I Youth Choir sample play out before the beat of Isle of Arran kicks in and Loyle can get to doing what he does best, rapping and singing ingenious lyrics. This song, like many of the others on his album Yesterday’s Gone, references his family and in this case his grandfather.
It also becomes very clear that Loyle’s step-dad had an important impact on his life; having passed away recently, the grief and myriad of feelings one must go through at a time like that has been poured into his music, particularly in the EP A Little Late where the single Cantona tracks their time together as father and son, the things they would do together and their mutual love of football. This song was particularly striking to see live alongside the massive football shirt backdrop, and a shirt with Cantona’s number on that Loyle wore around his neck throughout.
The song BFG also tracks the heartbreaking grief that a beareavment causes, “I had an arrogant view ‘til it happened to you…I need to keep it even ‘til you re-appear” which is partly sung, partly spoken word. I think it’s really a testament to the fans that Loyle Carner draws in, as we were all equally appreciative whether he was pouring his heart out in spoken stanzas, debuting new songs, or raising the energy with the upbeat and lively tunes such as No Worries.
It was good to see producer and good-friend Rebel Kleff on stage too, who helped Loyle launch his EP in the beginning. He is on a few of the songs in the album and accompanies Loyle on this tour, regularly engaging with the audience too. A particularly special moment was during the song Sun of Jean where Loyle attempts to bring his father and his mother together on the same record, with the former’s music and the latter’s words. It’s a beautiful and meaningful gesture that left the audience warm inside, and Loyle leaves the stage during his mother’s recorded monologue which details how Loyle was as a child.
The rest of the gig was electric throughout. Everyone knew the words and beats while the atmosphere felt like one big party. Loyle isn’t afraid to call people out either; if he sees pushing or perhaps distasteful shouting he’ll mention it on stage right away. This only adds to his already cultivated reputation of being a genuinely good person, and cements the gig as being one big family event. Closing the event with No CD was a brilliant move, with everyone jumping and singing along, leaving us all on a high as he said goodbye.
Ultimately, I can safely say that Loyle Carner will always be an artist worth seeing live. The success of his first album is immense and that can be seen on this tour. I cannot wait for what he has coming up next.
– Sasha Macaulay