On the 11th of February hip-hop artist Loyle Carner (a spooner-pseudonym for Ben Coyle-Larner) played to a sold out Waterfront, graduating from his October headline at the Norwich Arts Centre. One of Livewire’s top picks for 2017, the South Londoner’s debut album, Yesterday’s Gone was released on the 20th of January. Entirely personal yet accessible it delivers Carner beautifully covering his tales with warmth and affection despite their often dire events. Steering clear of over-production the album is intercepted with skits and poems, such as ‘+44’, that fortunately make it to the live show.
The digital backdrop for the night’s storytelling is the family and friends portrait cover of his debut. With only two artists on stage, the man in question and producer (fellow MC) Rebel Kleff there was potential it may feel bare. Far from it however as Kleff was mostly based behind a pre-IKEA front room shelving unit filled with vinyl and homeware, to the left of the stage was a big armchair. Carner to’s and fro’s across the stage all night, evidently enjoying the attention he deserves as he keeps a grip on his passed step-father’s Cantona shirt. The crowd is tightly packed, seemingly mostly sixth-formers, arms are raised and bouncing but the action doesn’t extend much beyond this.
Image from album cover ‘Yesterday’s Gone’
Opener ‘Isle of Arran’ sees the choral sample take a more prominent role than on the record allowing the crowd to show their vocal support as bar one (identified by Carner himself) is able to keep up with his lyrical serving. Whilst the delivery is on point throughout the evening, the set itself is not dramatic. With Rebel Kleff leaving his station to back to back over their ‘Check the Rhime’ Tribe Called Quest cover and the albums ‘No Worries’. Their bond evident in the rallying support. Whilst the stationary backdrop worked for this tour as it pays respects and doesn’t distract from the talent, future longer sets would do well to include more visual stimulation.
Loyle Carner and Rebel Kleff on stage at Waterfront
Having found his smile as he puts it his performance was joyous and strong even with the raw ‘BFG’. You’d be hard pressed to imagine the material getting more intimate and emotional – Carner debunked that of course. Telling the crowd that Yesterday’s Gone is named after his step-father’s, found posthumously, self-produced album. Further stories act as introduction to songs with ‘Florence’, ‘No CD’ and Tom Misch collaboration ‘Damselfly’ proving popular.
The ad-libbed “‘except the size of the stage” for ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ can be considered duly noted. With the skill exercised providing evidence that the stages are only going to get bigger. However bigger venues can struggle to offer the same intimacy as their smaller counterparts so it will be interesting to see how the songs translate to wider crowds and any influence this may have on the content of future material.
Coming full circle, the set is closed with ‘Sun of Jean’ which sees his mother step forth within the digital backdrop to read a poem about the young Ben Coyle-Larner. Creating yet another touching moment to peacefully conclude a set of intense wordsmith before the man himself departs the stage.