The gospel according to Ed
One man prepares to take on Croke Park with his trusty guitar
There is never just one moment in any successful music career when everyone realises that things are coming sharply into focus for the better. Malcom Gladwell may have got great traction out of The Tipping Point but, in reality, it’s often more a series of such occurences rather than one blinding flash of inspiration and awe.
Back in May 2011, you couldn’t avoid Ed Sheeran at The Great Escape in Brighton. He was one of the acts on the bill, but it seemed as if it was obligatory for every single panelist on every single discussion panel to mention his name. In 2011, Sheeran was the artist you mentioned as an example of how an artist and his team could build an audience by releasing tunes and touring under their own steam. Though he’d just signed to Atlantic Records, Sheeran’s DIY success in gaining a growing audience and a ticket-selling reputation was something everyone in the industry had things to say about at that stage.
Fast-forward four years, hundreds of gigs, thousands of t-shirt sales, millions of downloads and zillions of streams and everyone seems to have an opinion on this lad with his guitar. Even the chap standing in front of me in the shop at lunchtime waiting to pay for his sandwich and singing along with Sheeran on the radio has an opinion on him.
The fact that it’s literally one lad and his guitar for a start is well worth commenting on, especially as he moves from small, comfortable venues to arenas and stadiums. Anyone else would have added a band, backing singers and a bunch of dancers to take the dirty look off the stage but Sheeran is happy enough to keep it simple. Not much complaints either from the stalls. Indeed, the only complaint seems to come from Noel Gallagher, pop’s arch conservative with form in the giving-out-about-successful-artists game thanks to his previous broadside about Jay-Z playing Glastonbury. Sheeran’s response to this outbreak of the grumps was perfectly judged.
Sheeran’s Irish story has been told many times already, such as in interviews like this. There are big family connections to this country, while a Damien Rice show at Whelan’s in Dublin which he attended as a youngster was one of those tipping points in the Sheeran backstory. As his career has progressed, it has been underlined and punctuated by bigger Irish shows. That said, it was the hysteria around the ticket scamble for his return to Wexford Street last month which demonstrated the new extent of Sheeran’s Irish pulling power. A Croker date was probably inevitable given that sort of trajectory and momentum and the fact that the promoter knows it’s a relative safe bet in a year when even The Script can sell out Jones Road.
What’s fascinating is the massive cross-generational aspect of Sheeran’s pulling power. Sure, he pulls in the younger audiences in huge numbers, but it’s clearly evident that their parents are also buying into the gospel according to Ed. For many, his songs probably remind them of the singer-songwriters who lit up their lives 10 or 15 years ago when they were going to gigs week in and week out. The key difference is that acts like Damien Rice, David Gray, Mundy and Paddy Casey never had the pulling power to headline Croke Park – and certainly, would never have done so solo. Sheeran is the one who has taken that genre and given it one hell of a shake-up. Croker may well be just the start of the next chapter.