Review of Loyle Carner at the Belgrave Music Hall: The UK's slickest rapper plays sublime set at Leeds venue
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In the first of two night’s at the Belgrave Music Hall to mark its 10th anniversary, Loyle Carner delivered the crowd of a lucky few hundred a righteous, life-affirming show that balanced his sprawling, soulful tunes with rallying takes on fatherhood, race relations and knife crime.
Over three albums of impeccable standard, the South London sensation has carved out a style that mixes cruising beats, jazz, soul and gospel stylings and his languid lyrical delivery, offering a smoother and more laidback alternative to the visceral likes of Stormzy and Slowthai. You can almost picture him concocting his rhymes while playing Fifa.
That’s not to suggest he doesn’t have anything of value to say though. His latest record, ‘Hugo’ delves into more expansive musical territory and is centred around the rebuilding of the relationship with his largely absent biological father through driving lessons they undertook together. The matter of generational trauma and responsibility taking on a wider significance after Carner became a dad himself three years ago.
The set starts with ‘Hate’, the bruising and pulsating opener of ‘Hugo’, before the refrain-heavy, BS-bashing ‘Plastic’ – dedicated to Gary Lineker – sets a lofty standard of flawless delivery and crowd appeasement that is stuck to for the next hour.
Carner gees the room up with chants of ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’ and is a reassuring host throughout, describing the excitement in the air of the city when he landed at 4pm and reflecting on his nervousness upon playing the venue for the first time as a 20-year-old. The star has joined fellow current favourite Arlo Parks this week in returning to the Belgrave to pay homage.
Backed by a brilliant band that brings the infectious grooves to life, the plethora of head-spinningly great tracks is gripping. The Sampha-assisted Desoleil is one of the night’s first big singalongs and the duo of Damselfly and Speed Of Plight get the crowd in full swing.
One of the loudest cheers comes at the end of ‘Blood on my Nikes’ – a track about Carner witnessing a shooting as a teenager – when former youth MP Athian Akec makes a guest appearance to lambast the government’s inaction at tackling the root causes of violent crime, stating: “Never has so much been lost by so many because of the indecision of so few.”
After Carner lays into the government in his own understated way – saying that Athian had spoke in Parliament about crime “better than any Tory every could, ever would and ever will” – there’s a joyous, celebratory feel to finish the set, with Jorja Smith’s sumptuous vocals on ‘Loose Ends’ enveloping the room before ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ and ‘Ottelenghi’ sends the room into bopping abandon.
Always one to bring levity to his craft, Carner also gives an impassioned speech about how he strives to break the cycle of toxic masculinity in his lineage as he learns to be a parent and even squeezes in a Cristiano Ronaldo ‘Siuuu’.
Carner’s glowing sincerity is what makes him stand apart and it’s this that has fuelled one of the most organic growths of an artist in memory. A true gent fast becoming a true great.
The Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen will be hosting a number of shows and events through 2023 to celebrate their 10th anniversary in Leeds.