Ed Sheeran is blessed – he seems to know exactly where he is going, and exactly how to get there. Where countless others fail to make an impression amid today’s information overload, Ed’s music and talent cut straight through.
He has a poise that is as welcome as it is unusual in someone so young. He’s both utterly self-assured but still charmingly open. He has a confidence that’s built not on being able to sing someone else’s song quite nicely on a teatime TV show, but on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of gigs where it’s just him, his guitar, a loop pedal and a crowd.
Above all Ed’s got this voice with buckets of soul and these incredibly affecting songs that despite being played on acoustic guitar are far removed from the standard singer-songwriter fare. In fact, Ed’s songs are as informed by Jay-Z as much as they are by Damien Rice. They talk about the city he loves and the people in it and of it. They talk about the people made by it, and those damaged by it. They are about love and loss, but are also joyful when you need them to be. He is a unique talent whose combination of skills is frankly quite startling.
Ed grew up in Suffolk where he learnt to play an old guitar given to him by an uncle. Spurred on by a chance meeting with the aforementioned Rice when he was 11, Ed started writing songs. Aged 16, he moved to London – into a flat above the T-Bird pub in Finsbury Park – with only one thing on his mind: playing gigs, as many as he could and as often as he could.
“I was playing every night,” he says, “sometimes three times a night. I played every open mic night going. At first the crowds weren’t interested, but I learnt how to make them interested!” A thousand audiences from acoustic shows to hip-hop nights, or, indeed, any other genre, will agree with that.
One night Ed played a tiny bar in North London whose website listed every young promoter in town. That night Ed Myspaced them all and a few days later he had nearly a hundred new gigs lined up. A pattern began to emerge – all day in the studio, all night playing gigs. From the early days Ed would sell CDs of his songs out of his backpack, putting cash in his pocket to get to the next gig, but also planting a flag in people’s minds that here was music that was worth paying for. Not satisfied by CDs alone, fans have flocked to his website to pick up everything from hoodies to jewellery.
When Ed was told by his then management that he would need to conform to succeed – including dying his hair, and giving up his unique delivery – Ed responded by writing the cult song, ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’. Over the next year he released five EPs, each one totally different, each one totally him. There was a singer-songwriter one, a live from The Bedford one, one written with singer Amy Wadge. Each sold better than the last.
In February last year, after two years of constant gigging and sofa surfing, Ed recorded a live version of ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ for leading urban YouTube channel, SBTV. The clip got 100K hits in two days and is now approaching 1.5M views. A few days later, he wrote what would become his first major label release, ‘The A Team’: a story about a girl he met whilst working at a homeless shelter. The video for that has just surpassed 1M views.
By the time Ed released the final EP – ‘No. 5 Collaborations’ in January, which featured the who’s who of UK hip hop and grime: Devlin, Wretch 32, Dot Rotten, P Money, JME and Wiley, the support was so strong it propelled Ed to Number 2 in the iTunes album chart after just 24 hours. The only artist selling more copies was Rihanna. When Elton John called his mobile to congratulate him, Ed realised quite how big things had got. Amid interest from numerous labels Ed shortly signed with Asylum – part of Atlantic Records.
“Collaborations was the peak of my independent career,” Ed says. “Now I am beginning my signed career. You have to pass the barriers, go to the next level. Some independent people do it well, but some never progress far enough. Signing to a label is the smart thing to do if you have the right deal. And I have the right deal.”
So now there is the album, entitled ‘+’. “I’d like to say it’s all about positivity,” Ed laughs, “but really it’s just a cool sign that I love. It is also one step on from all the independent releases I have done.”
Ed’s album is out in September and features a host of very special songs. Small Bump is a true story, with the most heart-wrenching twist, about a friend and her baby. Lego House is a love song that imagines a world where you can, (“pick up the pieces and build a lego house, and if things go wrong we can knock it down!”). Wake Me Up was written while sat, really drunk, under a tree by Jamie Foxx’s pool (that’s another story). Grade 8 (“your body is my ball-point pen/ and your mind is my new best friend…”) sees Ed as a worrier/warrior with bloodshot eyes, his heartstrings being twanged by a virtuoso guitarist. The truth is, there’s not a bad song on it, precisely because Ed wouldn’t dream of allowing there to be a bad song on it, he’s that type of guy. As you will soon see.
“I have slept on a different sofa every night for two and a half years so I can do this,” Ed says. “But the sofa thing can get lonely. I’m ready for my own place now; I’m ready for the next level.”
I don’t doubt it – or Ed – for a minute.