Review: Loyle Carner @ Exeter Great Hall

“Fuck Boris” – Loyle Carner

It was always going to feel weird at a gig in the same place I’ve been forced to do so many exams. I was just getting past that, and the ridiculous Freshers’ Ball flashbacks (hello Professor Green), when the first surprise came out: Arlo Parks. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough to find out beforehand, but who was supporting Loyle Carner on his epic European tour seemed to be the best kept secret and one I was grateful to finally hear.

Arlo Parks stunned with her mellow vocals and beautifully personal lyricism. The 19-year-old poet/singer from London commanded an impressive stage presence as she crooned her way through her set list which included songs like ‘Romantic Garbage’ and ‘Second Guessing’, tackling her experiences with love, mental health, and family pressures. With lyrics like “Eating Parma Violets on the way back from therapy, bleeding out on a velvet couch, they’re kinda worried about me,” it was hard to not stand quietly enthralled by her raw and honest talent, until her band closed the set with a triumphant guitar solo. Perfectly chosen for fans of Loyle Carner, it was clear that Parks garnered a whole load of her own new fans in that half hour.

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What the sold out and jam-packed audience was there for, of course, was Loyle himself, who didn’t disappoint. Opening with ‘Ice Water’, he set the tone for the rest of the night which would involve a surprising amount of music from his first album and a heavy emphasis on crowd pleasers. Carner’s natural charisma was undeniable as he flew through the first portion of his set, stopping only for a beat to perform his touching dedication to his mum – ‘Dear Jean’. With a living room set and a sofa to the side on which he recited it, this was one of sadly few moments in which the palpable intimacy of his recorded work felt apparent. ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ is an album that definitely leans into the more sentimental elements, of which we caught a glimpse in ‘Yesterday’s Gone’. This seems to be the reason it divides a lot of his fans. The emphasis on family and community from every angle of production, especially in the slower features, strikes many as ‘a bit much’, but I think it’s what makes it especially unique. The curation of the set list and scale of the show meant that losing a lot of these deeply personal elements was close to inevitable, but it was at least made up for by everything else.

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The production quality of the set was surprisingly great, despite a hiccup with some technical difficulties during ‘Ottolenghi’ that Loyle Carner handled like a true professional. Without blinking an eye, he stopped the song and announced “right, I’m going to read you a poem whilst we sort this out”, which he did before launching straight back into an otherwise seamless performance. In true form, Carner didn’t fail to get political after performing ‘Looking Back’ (which he explained was about the impact of discovering his true heritage) and ‘Still’, announcing that the two were dedicated to all of the immigrants, without whom we would be nowhere. A quick adlib of “fuck Boris” and a largely enthusiastic cheer from the crowd as well didn’t go amiss.

Loyle Carner ended his one hour set with the Jorja Smith hit ‘Loose Ends’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ before an energetic one-song encore of ‘NO CD’, leaving everyone on a high. For fans of his first album this really was the perfect set, and for fans of his second, maybe there was something missing. Nevertheless, as someone who thinks he can do little wrong, the night was a triumph and a perfect distraction from third year hell. But my main takeaway was this: discover Arlo Parks.

Sophie Chapman

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