4th October | O2 Academy

In August 2016, Loyle Carner supported Nas at the O2 Academy. After his set, he sat with his mother and brother and daydreamed about selling the venue out one day. 14 months and one Mercury-nominated debut album later, that ‘one day’ transpired. If Bristol had a bigger venue, he’d have sold that out too.

Much more ‘angsta’ than gangsta, Carner’s introspective rap has led many of us to claim him as the honorary ideal son/brother/wingman we wish we had. It’s always refreshing to hear rap that feels grounded, be that in social awareness, vulnerability or personal humility, as you get from the likes of Kate Tempest, B Dolan or Ghostpoet, but his is an especially cockle-warming brew. Drinks weren’t free, but in so many ways, he turned the O2 Academy into Club Tropicarner.

With the visual backdrop of a giant red no.7 shirt and the aural backdrop of the SCI Youth Choir’s, 1969, ‘The Lord Will Make A Way,’ he and Rebel Kleff made their entrance. As on Yesterday’s Gone, ‘The Isle of Arran’ led proceedings off, a sample-rich favourite, backed up later with Piero Umiliani’s smooth jazz saxophone opening of ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed.’ The originals may be vintage, but Carner’s biggest tunes already feel like old friends after little more than a year of radio play and two tours. Those who saw him at Motion in February would have seen all of the joy and excitement of that set, with a little more self-assurance in handling the crowd. There’s more of a sense now that he feels what we know – that he more than warrants his place in the spotlight.

In so many ways his mother, brother and late stepdad were the invisible third, fourth and fifth members of the stage act. Much as he treats the crowd like family, his actual family is his foundation and his force. ‘Florence’ was the tribute to the daughter his mum would have liked to add to the family dynamic. That a rap song should give us the same mushy reaction to cute pictures of dogs on the internet shows how far the genre has come. His A Little Late EP of 2014 gave us ‘BFG’ and ‘Cantona.’ The latter was a song that he could not sing live for a long time, being about his late stepdad. An ardent Liverpool fan, he now performs clutching his stepdad’s Manchester United shirt – somewhat akin to Superman saving the world in a Kryptonite mankini. But as he said, “There’s nothing bigger than family.”

Unlike many rutting young stags, he let his mother have the last word on ‘Sun of Jean.’ He even left the stage so that all we focused on was her. She summed his set up for us. Long-limbed and live-wired, like a human fidget spinner, he had been “a cartwheeling chatterbox of tricks,/ Completely fearless.” Once we’d had the full force of Jean Coyle-Larner’s verse, her “scribble of a boy” came back on to finish with the pristine, cleaner than clean, ‘No CD.’ Anyone with p’s left would have surely hit the merch stand thereafter to address any Carner CD shortage. Seeing as she created such a cracker, I’ll give his mum the last word on the evening too: “He was and is a complete joy; the world is his.”

Watch the video for ‘No CD’ below.