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“Relevant? Or revolutionary?” – Loyle Carner is the latter at Birmingham’s O2 Academy

O2 Academy Birmingham, 8 March 2022

Mesmerised. It’s the word that best describes the audience as they watch Loyle Carner flawlessly deliver his poetic rhymes at the Birmingham O2 Academy. The possibility of any rowdiness in the crowd is far-removed as he exerts a presence that is met with awe.

Before South London hip-hop/rap artist Benjamin Gerard Coyle-Larner takes to the stage, the venue feels too small. It is packed to the back of the room for this sold-out show. Tickets sold out in a matter of minutes for this tour. Being here feels like striking gold.

He wears a simple hoodie with few distractions in the backdrop

After a curated pre-show playlist, it’s time for the support act Wesley Joseph, an R&B singer and rapper who brings energy to the anticipating room. He also features on Loyle Carner’s ‘Blood on My Nikes’, from his new album Hugo. Wesley Joseph is a great support act for Loyle Carner, his songs upbeat before the mellower main event. He plays new material as well as some tracks that crowd members know, a highlight being his impressive quick-tempo rapping contending with Loyle Carner. He’s also from Birmingham, so playing the venue clearly means a lot, as he repeatedly shouts out the city and takes a photo at the end.

After a brief pause that feels long because of anticipation, finally the lights dim and a roar emerges from the crowd. Loyle Carner’s band enter the stage, followed by the man himself. Always down-to-earth, putting the focus on his words, he wears a simple hoodie with few distractions in the backdrop. 

The set launches into ‘Hate’, the opener of his latest album Hugo, an impassioned tirade-testimony about his experiences growing up as a mixed-race male in the UK. From here, the music transitions to ‘Plastic’, another new song. It is a funkier, slower track that has the crowd bopping along and highlights the versatility and range of his music.

Loyle Carner is able to both invigorate the crowd and demand a peaceful onlooking

The recognisable backing beat to ‘You Don’t Know’ leaks out at the end of this track, with an eruption from the crowd, as the first older song of the night appears. The crowd is unsure whether to try to rap along or relish his perfect performance, as he encourages audience members to move around “from the front to the back”. Not only does he deliver the lyrics with the same precision as on his records, but he also interjects little adlibs and changes in intonation that create a freshness and animate the crowd.

Throughout the night the set fluctuates from fast-paced, sunny tracks like ‘Yesterday’ to slower crowd favourites that exemplify his chilled style, the epitome being the peaceful ‘Desoleil’ featuring Sampha. Loyle Carner is able to both invigorate the crowd and demand a peaceful onlooking. He doesn’t need the grounding of his background music either, as at points throughout the show he raps with nothing in the background – a standout being the immediate transition from ‘Loose Ends’ into ‘Ice Water’ without flinching, as he blends the lines into each other.  

The set is not just a celebration of his musicality, but also an opportunity to raise awareness of some issues, as he does in his songs. He prefaces ‘Blood on my Nikes’ with a discussion of the lack of attention on knife crime in London and other UK cities. In the song he raps “I grew up, scared of the night bus / Scared of the boys that look like us”. The track also features a speech from Athian Akec, who is there to perform it, who spoke in parliament aged 16, preaching “Compassion over indifference, equality over austerity”. Reflecting on this, Loyle Carner says, “You can either be relevant, or you can be revolutionary – we chose revolutionary”. 

Loyle Carner seems the spokesperson of a generation as in almost an hour and a half he addresses gang violence, his experiences as a mixed-race individual, depression, and toxic masculinity. He describes feeling lost and alone before his song ‘Still’, which features the lyrics “I’m lost/ Still / Wondering my cost / Still”, before encouraging everyone to speak to a friend rather than leave things too late. 

As well as political, the set is deeply personal. The performance is peppered with anecdotes that go beyond the brief as he unpacks his father’s reaction to him becoming a father and praises the women in his life, particularly his mother’s care in his upbringing. The audience is let into these conversations, rather than him rushing through the songs to get the show done. 

To a transfixed audience, he ends his show with a poem, the words he speaks almost indistinguishable from the poetic nature of his songs. The night ends with a message of peace and love, as we’re told to “take these words and go forwards”. The concert finishes there, but the memory of the night lingers on as the audience ponders his lucid lyricism and delivery. 



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