Playing a sold out show at Concorde 2 on your 21st birthday might intimidate lesser mortals, but hotly tipped south London rapper, Benjamin Coyle-Larner doesn’t seem remotely phased, while fully appreciating the significance of the occasion, having played at the venue before to lesser crowds.
Over the past year, Carner has released a stream of insightful and erudite tracks to critical acclaim, including his debut EP ‘A Little Late’ and single ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’, which was added to the BBC Radio 1 ‘In New Music We Trust’ playlist. Carner also made the esteemed BBC Music Sound of 2016 long list, as well as collaborating on tracks with his friend and talented musician/producer Tom Misch, and with fellow MC Kate Tempest.
Local hip hop duo Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn are the perfect support act with their melodic beats and laidback lyrics about everyday life in Portslade. They appear to have brought along half the under 20s population of the local area and receive an incredible level of support from their loyal following. Already on their second album ‘The Flowers In Your Room’, after debut ‘This Morning’, their popularity is set to expand beyond the shores of the South East.
With an oversized football t-shirt as a backdrop, Carner comes out clutching his stepdad’s Eric Cantona shirt, later explaining that before he sadly passed away, they had plans to tour together, so it’s his way of ensuring his stepdad is always with him on stage. His bars are strewn with references to the father figures in his life, as well as a deep and loving respect for his mum and other family members.
It’s this ability to paint vivid portraits of family life with such painful honesty that makes his music resonate with people, especially a younger audience. Launching into ‘BFG’, a heartrending tribute to his late stepfather, his easy flow imbibed with raw emotion as he spits the line “Everybody says I’m fuckin’ sad / of course I’m fuckin’ sad / I miss my fuckin’ dad”. It strikes a chord with everyone in the room.
Bouncing from one side of the stage to the other, the youthful energy of ‘Stars And Shards’ has his young admirers rapping along to the lyrics with arms in the air. This concept track centres around a lost soul, who goes chasing the end of the proverbial rainbow but finds hollow happiness when he gets there. His DJ Rebel Cleff then comes out from behind the decks to join him on ‘The Money’ and it’s obvious the two have a special bond, Cleff announcing at the end of the track that today is Carner’s birthday, to rapturous applause.
Despite apologising for telling too many stories, he tells us the story of how his mum (who is present) always wanted a daughter, but ended up with two sons instead, so he wrote the track ‘Florence’ to give her the next best thing. With the crowd singing along to the chorus by underrated singer/songwriter Kwes; “I see you perching on the corner of the weeping window pane / You’re growing up fast just like the flora / The world is yours, come shine or rain”, Carner then reveals his mum’s plans to adopt a baby girl. Life imitating art.
In between tracks, he also tells us a guy had a seizure at his gig in London the previous night and implores the young audience to take care of themselves and stop squashing those at the front against the barrier. This plea unfortunately comes too late, as earlier a girl had collapsed in the heaving throngs and was escorted outside by security. Lay off the drugs on a school night kids.
There’s a short interlude while Carner asks if he can do a poem – or “a capella” as he used to call it at gigs in order to “sound cool” – called ‘Isle of Arran’, before playing ‘Tierney Terrace’ “for anybody who’s got a deadbeat dad,” another poke at his absent biological father and the place where he spent quality time with his grandparents. Alluding to a fight he had with someone over his family-orientated content, Carner and Cleff then burst into a jubilant rendition of ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’, culminating in the audience singing happy birthday to a clearly overwhelmed Carner; the cameraman and his friends storm the stage, spraying him with silly string and chuck party poppers and balloons into the crowd. This is definitely a birthday he won’t forget.
Putting his stepdad’s t-shirt on over his wiry frame, which he describes as looking like “a big twiglet with a head” for the poignant ‘Cantona’ – his stepdad’s hero – it’s obvious why this confessional vulnerability has the audience hanging on every word, each one delivered with clarity and intensity. He finishes up with latest release ‘NO CD’, a more upbeat track, which demonstrates he can do light, as well as dark.
The whole room is jumping in a celebratory mood as he cheekily tweaks the lyrics from “Oh Please, we ain’t got no p’s / Because we spent all our money on some old CDs” to “spend all your money on my new CD”, referring to his completed album. Due out early next year, it will feature a great new track with Tom Misch that he previewed earlier for us. And rather abruptly it’s all over. No encore. But you can’t blame him on his birthday.
Loyle Carner is a rare talent who isn’t afraid to let his guts spill out all over the floor. His striking candour and eloquence translates effortlessly to his adoring fans. Together with J Dilla-inspired production and a smooth, skillful flow, he is such a genuine, likeable character, you can only wish him the best. He has a bright future ahead of him and his late stepfather would surely be proud.