Loyle Carner has performed at Glastonbury and supported MF Doom and Joey Bada$$, so one would expect him to carry the air of an emerging but relatively experienced artist – yet he retains the nervous excitement of an individual performing live for the first time.
The venue is small, he’s maybe 10 metres from the back of the room and he frequently comments on how “ridiculous” it is we’re all here, with a wide smile. There’s a genuine feeling that he actually finds this all quite ridiculous, it’s not the cliched artistic self-depreciation: he’s genuinely in awe that he’s doing this for real. This floods his performance with authenticity, and when your music is as deeply personal as his, it works.
He expresses difficult subjects with poetic eloquence, and performing an acapella version of ‘Florence’ he veers even further toward spoken word. Just as on record his delivery is smooth, effortlessly blended with Rebel Kleef’s J Dilla-esque beats. The set-list is crafted well out his small catalogue of songs, crowd-pleasing ‘Ain’t Nothin Changed’ is dropped in surprisingly early but it works and the crowd responds well.
“It’s not the cliched artistic self-depreciation: he’s genuinely in awe that he’s doing this for real”
There’s a simplicity in Carner’s music and it translates perfectly to the small gig environment. In interviews, Carner frequently cites 2000’s grime like Skepta, Kano and Lethal Bizzle as influences but his sound is effortlessly subtle. His flow is spot-on and he takes a moment to freestyle, showing his more light-hearted side as he laughs with the small crowd. Carner is one of those musicians that appears shy before and after, but performing is laid back and charismatic, it’s a brilliantly raw blend.
Before each song there’s time for the story behind it. Some are short, like the slightly but probably quite deliberately cringeworthy lead into ‘Ain’t Nothin Changed’: “I got into a fight once, the guy told me all songs sound the same, so I told him ain’t nothing changed”. But others are more touching; before ‘Cantona’ he explains it’s written about his late Stepfather and gets a rousing “ooh, ah Cantona” from the crowd. He shares the stage with Rebel Kleef a few times, his producer whose rapping isn’t quite on par with his counterpart but the performance takes on a clearly different dimension when he’s on, performing a new song ‘Old CD’s’. The pair give a harder energy more closely aligned with Carner’s aforementioned grime influences, but whilst it sheds the delicateness of Carner’s solo rapping, it’s well done and the crowd shouts the chorus back.
Image: Stéphane GUEGUEN via Flickr