A festival which began a decade ago in Lee Denny’s back garden from the simple notion of teenage rebellion has grown to accommodate around 5000 people – all dressed this year for the theme of Peter Pan’s Neverland. LeeFest, which has hosted acts including Clean Bandit, Public Service Broadcasting and Jack Garratt before they made it to bigger stages, this year played host to Loyle Carner, a South London rapper.

One of only four acts on the Thursday, Loyle Carner bounded onto the Tootle’s Circus Tent stage, introduced himself as Ben, and was greeted with warm applause by a glitter-faced, fancy dress clad crowd which ranged from toddlers to teenagers to over 50s.

“There was a genuine sense that the rapper found it truly humbling to be performing to such an eclectic audience”

Loyle Carner, a name which is on the BBC’s Sound of 2016 Longlist alongside those of Rat Boy and Blossoms, stood onstage alongside producer and fellow rapper Rebel Kleff and graciously thanked everyone for coming to watch him. There was a genuine sense that the rapper, who has performed at Glastonbury and supported on Kate Tempest’s UK tour, found it truly humbling to be performing to such an eclectic audience at such an intriguing festival.

Before starting ‘Tierney Terrace’, he briefly told the personal story behind it. The setup was similar for ‘Ain’t Nothin Changed’ with his experience clearly translated into lyrics: “I got into a fight once, the guy told me all songs sound the same, so I told him ain’t nothing changed”, causing a few in the crowd to chant “story, story”, humorously mimicking the rapper’s own almost apologetic desire to tell the stories behind his songs.

After sharing that the next track was written because he’d always wanted a sister, Loyle performed an acapella version of ‘Florence’, a song which the girl standing behind me self-deprecatingly admitted to recognising only from an iPhone advert. The soft toned rapper bashfully admitted to calling songs ‘acapella’ because the word ‘poetry’ seemed too timid at open mic nights, and his authenticity added to a performance which already benefited from the intimacy of being in a tent.

“By the end of his set, the crowd, which had started off mostly just nodding and swaying, was packed in tight and jumping”

Performing in a small tent – the barrier looked a mere five metres from the stage – and to such a diverse crowd, it was clear that Loyle Carner and his songs weren’t instantly recognised. He was aware of this fact and his humility enhanced his performance. Gripping a red handkerchief with one hand, the rapper encouraged the crowd to sing the lyrics to the as yet unreleased ‘Old CDs’ back to him, creating an engaging atmosphere. That was followed by ‘The Money’ from his 2014 EP ‘A Little Late’, with Loyle applauding his producer Rebel Kleff who also rapped on this track.

By the end of his set, the crowd, which had started off mostly just nodding and swaying, was packed in tight and jumping to the feisty beats produced by Rebel Kleff and the smooth flow of Loyle Carner’s lyrics. Loyle’s mix of off-the-cuff freestyling (he said he thought that not enough rappers freestyled anymore) combined well with his delicate expression of stirring subjects and his warm, genuine charisma; he thanked everyone for coming, saying “we really didn’t know if anyone would turn up”. Altogether it formed a truly impressive set.

To read part one of our LeeFest review, click here.

Nikou Asgari

Image: Nikou Asgari

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