The high point of Ben Coyle-Larner’s performance at Liverpool’s Arts Club comes during his penultimate song, ‘Sun of Jean’. Dedicated to his mother, it is one of several songs prefaced with a sentimental story from his past: Carner mirrors the themes of Mercury Prize nominated debut album Yesterday’s Gone by punctuating his set with a running narrative of the meaning behind his lyrics. Loyle Carner’s favourite motifs are his mother Jean, whom he professes to “miss most” when on tour, his late father, a “fantastic musician”, and recollections of childhood in his native south London. The result is a collection of songs which are deeply nostalgic and far more sentimental in tone than your standard grime or hip-hop set, a theme which reaches its pinnacle on ‘Sun of Jean’, a song which samples Carner’s mother reciting poetry over a recording of his father playing piano. Carner exits the stage as his mother’s voice recalls the musician as a young boy: “his eyes shone with wonder…he was and is a complete joy.” It is a surprisingly poignant moment, made more so by the reflection of that young “cartwheeling chatterbox of tricks’’ in the twenty-one year old man who springs across the Arts Club stage with boundless energy throughout his hour long set. It is clear that sentimentality and an attachment to the past is central to Carner’s music, a trait which he is able to laugh at. “Everyone must think I’m f*****g miserable” he laughs during one of his spoken interludes. “I’m actually a pretty happy guy…”
The beginning to Carner’s set is far more lighthearted than its conclusion. The familiar opening bars of ‘Isle of Arran’ see the audience divided immediately; not as a result of the music, but because Carner is clad in a Liverpool FC home shirt, with matching red scarf draped around his head. This is met with raucous cheers and a volley of boos in more or less equal measure, and at the song’s conclusion Carner laughs, “I knew this would happen.” He presents the Liverpool scarf proudly to the audience much like a new signing might to the crowd before an Anfield kick-off, before suggesting that he and the football fans in attendance “put this aside for the next hour or so.” The Evertonians in attendance seem quite happy to acquiesce- although less so those of a red persuasion, and Carner’s songs throughout the night are bookmarked by choruses of ‘Liverpool, Liverpool.’
‘Isle of Arran’ is followed by a rendition of ‘Damselfly’, introduced with a tribute to indie collaborator Tom Misch, who will be including a feature from Carner on his forthcoming album. Carner then introduces ‘Florence’, a song dedicated to his mother, named after a fictitious daughter which the Coyle-Larner family never had. Both songs are low tempo and fairly emotional in subject matter, but Carner maintains energy through a perfectly worded a cappella freestyle (“no one’s freestyling these days!”) which is greeted by a roar of admiration from the audience. Some new material is then equally as well received, before the crowd are invited to provide the chorus to ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’, perhaps the only hip hop song to begin with a nostalgic recollection of having a student loan.
Carner’s set is not a long one and seems to go by in the blink of an eye; the reaction upon announcing ‘Sun of Jean’ as his final song suggests the Arts Club crowd could happily stay and listen for considerably longer. The finale is introduced in typical fashion, describing how proud he is to combine his deceased father’s music with his own, and then combining that with his mother’s words; how happy he is that this unites them forever, and how he sees this as the meaning behind his album title Yesterday’s Gone. Carner performs his two verses and then exits stage right, leaving the audience with an empty stage to look at, save for the backdrop of an oversized football shirt bearing Carner’s stage name in capital letters, as his mother’s words ring out. The poem begins and ends with the same line- “the world is his, that scribble of a boy.” It is left to sit for a moment in silence before the ‘scribble of a boy’ bursts back into view for an encore rendition of his best song, ‘NO CD’. It is a perfect example of the balance between heart-rending pathos and sheer exhilaration that Loyle Carner has perfected. Liverpool has been his tonight, and on this showing, the world may be yet to follow.