Sheeran's picture-portrait songs strike an Irish chord


“Jaysus, he’s goorrrgeous!” There speaketh an Ed Sheeran fan (female) outside Dublin’s O2 last night.

The increasing international success of Ed Sheeran, a red-haired 21-year-old who has the look of a teenager who has just woken up, is due to several factors. These include being the writer of authentic, heartfelt songs about dysfunctional waifs and strays, and knowing how these people are as much a part of bedsit land as those polar opposites who are socially, financially and personally content.

With a bona fide Irish background (both of his grandparents on his father’s side are from Ireland, and he has family in Cork, Wexford and Galway), it was while visiting family in Ireland 10 years ago that a cousin – the highly regarded up-and-coming singer Laura Sheeran – took him to see singer-songwriter Damien Rice perform in a small pub venue.

“It might sound a bit cliched to say it,” Sheeran told The Irish Times late last year, “but that was a pivotal moment for me, and was certainly the gig that started me off.” Since then, and particularly as his mid-teens stretched to his very early 20s, Sheeran has gained a large, predominantly female, fan base as much by word of mouth as by social media. What is remarkable about him, however, is the way in which his clever, intimate picture-portrait songs – the likes of The A Team, Drunk, The City, U.N.I., Small Bump, Lego House and Kiss Me – have connected with an audience reared on beats-driven music.

From the start of last night’s show – the first of three sold-out gigs – Sheeran had the capacity crowd in a right old lather. In many ways, his performance undermined the perceived archetypes of the one man/one guitar format, notably through his use of what is known as a “loop station”, via which he instantly records guitar riffs and voice samples and uses them, effortlessly, as harmonic counterpoints to his live vocals and music.

Add to this one of the smartest, empathetic and interactive light shows around, as well as a partisan audience that knew all the words of every song – Wayfaring Stranger being the exception – and you have a show as impressive as it was surprising.

Should we just adopt him now as an Irishman and worry about the complications later? Here’s another female voice from inside the venue: “He can be on my A Team any day of the week.” Feck it, problem solved.

Ed Sheeran performs at Dublin’s O2 tonight and tomorrow.