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UD Low Down: LOYLE CARNER @ OVO Arena Wembley

I’ve been a huge Loyle Carner fan since 2015, after hearing his first release ‘Tierney Terrace’ whilst at Brighton University.

A year later I saw him perform in my favourite seaside club, Concorde 2 (and that night my now-boyfriend asked me out, so I remember the whole night very vividly). Back then getting into a Loyle Carner gig was a lot more casual, the queue wasn’t split into seated or standing and the venue held 600 not 12,500 like OVO Arena Wembley. Still to this day, that was one of my favourite gigs and I know seven years later, that this show will also be one to remember.

I arrive at OVO Arena Wembley and there are hundreds of fans queuing up to enter the venue, tickets in hands and excitement in the air. We get a quick drink at the bar and then head straight to our seats. Sadly, we’ve just missed Wesley Joseph the support act, although I know he will have been absolutely incredible. If you don’t know Wesley Joseph, he’s an award-winning songwriter, producer and director who’s collaborated with the likes of Joy Orbison, Jorja Smith and the main man himself, Loyle Carner. 

As we wait for Loyle Carner to come out, there is a buzz in the air. The crowd beneath us are packed tightly and the seats are almost all full. After a few moments of murmuring we suddenly hear the opening chords of ‘Hate’ blast out of the sound system and the crowd go wild. Loyle Carner appears bathed in the bright red lights from the stage and begins rapping. ‘Hate’ was the perfect opener as it’s the most popular song from Carner’s latest album ‘hugo’ and is filled with energy, powerful lyrics and punchy production to set the tone for the night. 

‘Hate’ ends and blends into ‘Plastic’, another stand out track from the album, known for its laid back jazzy beat and political lyrics.

The track ends and Loyle says; “My name is Loyle Carner. Thank you very much for having us, let’s keep going.” The songs keep rolling and Loyle keeps us on our toes, throwing in a few fan favourites including ‘You Don’t Know’ which moves into ‘Georgetown’ then ‘Desoliel (Brilliant Corners)’

The next track is the hugely popular ‘Let it Go’ that Carner created with Erick The Architect (primary producer of Flatbush Zombies) and FARR. As the song begins Erick The Architect comes out on stage to surprise the crowd and raps his part of the song. As you can imagine, the audience scream and it was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. I’d also had the pleasure of interviewing Erick for Voices Radio a couple of days before the show whilst he was in the UK (check out the interview here). 

The set list has been spot on so far, a perfect mix of old and new showcasing Loyle’s journey since he started releasing music almost a decade ago. “This next song goes out to Tom Misch” he says as ‘Angel’ begins to play. The crowd are absolutely loving it! If you’re a long-time Loyle fan it’s hard to forget his collaborations with his pal Tom Misch. When the dream team burst on the scene they became renowned for fusing together jazz & hip hop in such a refreshing way.

‘Damselfly’, another tune with Tom Misch, follows and the crowd sing along to every line. As I look around the room I’m in awe of what Loyle (real name Ben) has achieved – not many artists can sell out an arena but still make it feel very intimate and make every single song mean something to each person. 

Next up is ‘Yesterday’, another crowd pleaser before ‘Speed of Plight’. Then it’s ‘Homerton’, which is a particularly special one as Loyle gives a shout out to his whole family including his Mum, girlfriend & son. He says “A lot’s changed for me since my first time making music, the main thing is I’m a father now.” The song is dedicated to his son who’s in the audience. 

Carner moves into ‘Blood on my Nikes’ and young activist Athian Akec (who joined UD for Industry Takeover 2023) joins him for the outro. The song tells the real story of London’s knife crime epidemic, demanding politicians to act up. Athian ends the outro with the powerful line “Never has so much been lost by so many, because of the indecision of so few”. Loyle gives Athian a huge hug and you can tell he has so much love and respect for him. As Athian leaves the stage Loyle tells us Athian once said to him “Listen, you can either be relevant or you can be revolutionary. We chose revolutionary” and the crowd all applaud.

As we move into the last part of the show, Carner tells us ‘Lost’ was the song he was most scared to release. He encourages men to cry and speak about how they feel. He tells us he wished some of his friends could have opened up as they might still be here. After performing the moving ‘Lost’ he sticks with the downtempo vibe and performs ‘Loose Ends’ which features Jorja Smith. Then it’s my personal fave ‘Ice Water’ which leads into another favourite ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’.

‘HGU’ is the last track of the evening but before Loyle begins to perform he asks us; “Can I tell you a story before I play this next one?“. He says; “I found out I was going to be a father when I was 25 and one of the first things I did was I called my father.”  His father said “Wow, yeah, I can’t believe it.” and then hung up. Loyle tells us “A couple weeks later, he called me back and said I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to say. I had no words. I didn’t have the words to speak to you so I hung up.” His father apologised and offered to teach him how to drive. Loyle says “He pulled up to my house in his little red VW-Polo. At the beginning I hated him. In the car I was deep red inside. I was angry, I was asking him why he let me down. Why disappear? Where was he? Over the course of these driving lessons, he was able to tell me his side of the story. I guess, help me understand that… He grew up fifty years ago as a black man in South London. He grew up in a kids home with nothing, no parents. He had none of the tools to be the father to me that he needed to be. My mum raised me with the tools I had to be a father so I was able to be a father to my father. I was able to love my father.” Loyle ends his emotional speech by saying “The only reason I tell you this is, my father’s car, the license plate was S331-HGU. And everyone called my dad’s car ‘Hugo,’ so that’s why I called my album ‘hugo’.” 

Performing the title track from his album to a sold out arena including his family seems like the perfect way to end the show. Loyle thanks everyone and takes a bow with his incredible band then leaves the stage. However, the crowd begin to chant and after a few minutes of anticipation Carner comes back for one last song. For the encore he performs ‘Ottolenghi’ and Jordan Rakei who features on the track (and is a good friend of Loyle’s) comes out on stage to join him. The pair perform together and the track is a beautiful way to end an exceptional evening. Loyle leaves stage for good as the applause fills the entire arena, marking the end of his sold out tour. 

Words: Maria Hanlon @mariahanlon 
Listen to Maria Meets on the 2nd Friday of the month 3-5pm on voicesradio.co.uk.

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