On the 21st of October, Loyle Carner released his third album, 'Hugo', a 10-track project full of heavy-hitting hip hop, jazz ballads and self-reflective poetry. Throughout 'Hugo', Loyle Carner discusses themes of race, self-identity, gang violence and fatherhood. I was lucky enough to nab a ticket to see him perform this new album down at the prestigious Marble Factory in Bristol.
It’s a cold night in Bristol. I’ve just braved a 9-hour delayed coach journey down from Leeds (thankyou mega bus), and after a rapid uber and much shuffling, I'm standing waiting for the legend himself, Loyle Carner, to bless the stage. After impatiently waiting for 30 minutes, the lights go dark and the heavy drums of "Hate" begin to kick in, which is met with a racket from the crowd as Loyle takes to the stage. Hitting every word to perfection, Loyle fits with the live band as another instrument rather than just a rapper. Swiftly, after a few brief words, Loyle glides to "Plastic": an ode to the jazz hip-hop tones of his discography. When seeing such big artists live, there's always a small part of you that wishes it was in an intimate venue, and for me, "Plastic" made me yearn for this as I feel the intricate jazz melodies were lost to a big crowd. I feel this is more of a song for a jazz café or underground basement venue. However, along with the live band, Loyle continued to be nothing but immaculate.
Loyle then introduced my personal favorite on the new album, "Georgetown", which brought a true sense of charisma and energy to his show, something which hip-hop often misses. He then brought it back to the 'Yesterday’s Gone' era with a Tom Misch and Loyle classic, "Damsel Fly". A crowd pleaser, Loyle barely needed to say anything as the words were being screamed to him by the bellowing audience.
Loyle then took time to explain what this 'Hugo' is all about. He told us how 'Hugo' was the name of his father's car and that his dad had been teaching him to drive over lockdown. As Loyle reflected upon reconnecting with his father, he introduced the next song, "Homerton". The Jazz-heavy ballad was a good halfway point to the evening. The intense drums of "Blood on my Nikes", a poignant song about the impact of knife crime and growing up surrounded by violence, then replaced the jazz melodies. This is a true reflection on Loyle's message throughout the album, where he longs for change so his children and the next generation experience a better place than he grew up in. As "Blood on my Nikes" drew to an end, 16-year-old youth MP, Athian Akec took to the stage with his famous speech from the UK Youth Parliament. By bringing Athian on stage, Loyle brought the debate over knife crime in our country to the forefront of what he’s striving to change. Everything about this inspired confidence for the future of the world... except for the fact I was watching the moment through the camera screens of the crowd in front of me. Maybe this is just how people take in live music these days, but it's a shame to see people engaging with their phones more than the artist performing their hearts out in front of them.
Loyle then took a second to please the crowd by playing two immaculate songs from his previous album: "Loose Ends" and "Ottolenghi". The crowd bellowed each line as if Loyle was speaking with an out-of-tune echo. The orchestral-sounding "Nobody Knows" was Loyle's final track, and as it drew to a close, Loyle thanked the crowd, and to their astonishment, he slipped from view. Chants started to grow and were soon in full force with hundreds calling out for "one more song" from the man of the hour. Of course, Loyle pulled through and ran back on stage with a cheeky grin.
As he took to the stage for the second time, Loyle began to perform a poem, an excerpt from the final song on the album, "HGU". An ode to the spoken word, Loyle held the patient crowd to every word taking them through a personal reflection of his worries and his battle for forgiveness. I would have been happy for the night to end there but, as the Saxophone of "Ain't Nothing Changed" kicked in, the Boom Bap answered and Loyle charged into the track as if he’d been waiting the whole night to perform it. Although I was left reminiscing about the times of 'Yesterday's Gone', I have begun to appreciate the way that Loyle has refined his sound and grown into the artist he is today. I'm not trying to say every song on the new album is my cup of tea but what I saw that night restored my faith, which I somewhat lost after his previous album, that Loyle is and will remain my favourite artist.