- 20 Jan 15
It was late 2012 and, as we prepared for the Mayan-predicted end of the world, we figured a good way to go out would be chatting to everyone's favourite flame-haired pop star. Celina Murphy caught up with a post-Olympics Ed Sheeran...
Red hair? Check. Freckles? Check. Familiarity with the entire Planxty back catalogue? Check.
It has to be said that pop wunderkind Ed Sheeran does a pretty good job of representing our fair isle, with or without us slapping him with the title of ‘Honorary Irishman Of The Year’ (a title which I must stress does not come with a cash prize, or an all-expenses paid trip for four to Disneyland, Florida.)
But wait, there’s more; a parent of Irish extraction, a song about getting drunk, a tendency to turn up in Whelan’s, a deep-rooted love of Damien Rice and a musically-inclined cousin who’s currently taking the Irish underground scene by storm (the frankly fabulous Laura Sheeran – Ed). He’s even got a cover of ‘The Parting Glass’ on his album, for crying out loud.
Morrissey, Barack Obama, Terry Wogan and apparently Robert De Niro; the bar has been raised.
Of course, representing the auld sod isn’t all Sheeran’s been getting up to this year; as well as having his debut album reach the two million-plus sales mark, the young songwriter is also partly responsible for two of the top-selling LPs of the last 12 months. The current Irish number one, Take Me Home by One Direction, includes two Sheeran-penned tracks, while Taylor Swift’s Red features a tear-jerkingly tender collaboration.
Somehow, this self-styled troubadour has managed to go from buskers’ favourite to a fully-blown, chart-dominating global phenomenon, which makes it pretty easy for me to pick my first question; how has life changed in 2012?
“Surprisingly, not a huge amount,” Sheeran tells me. “My professional life has, I’m away a lot more and having bright ginger hair kind of makes me stand out a bit in a crowd, but as my personal life goes, I’ve still got the same friends, I wear the same clothes, eat the same food, hang out in the same places. It hasn’t really changed that drastically, I was expecting to have camera people outside my house at some point and that hasn’t happened. We’ve had some girls camp in my parents’ back garden though, that was quite interesting, but I haven’t lived there for about five years!”
I imagine Ed’s Mum, a maker of sweet-inspired jewellery, was none too pleased.
“I’m not sure what happened,” he laughs. “I’d like to think she made them tea.”
Elsewhere under the 2012 heading on Sheeran’s CV, there’s an Ivor Novello award, a couple of Brit Awards and a performance at the Queen’s Jubilee Concert. Still, nothing can quite top being invited by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason to perform ‘Wish You Were Here’ at the baffling entertainment circus that was the Closing Ceremony of the London Olympics.
“It was quite a precious thing,” Sheeran acknowledges. “I think with a song like that, it’s like someone covering that Gotye song in 20 years time. There’ll be hardcore Gotye fans who won’t want to hear them cover it. I think having Nick Mason on stage helped a little bit. It was kind of like he was saying, ‘Yeah, I’m cool with this’.”
I’m guessing it’s tough enough trying to enjoy a performance of that magnitude, without thousands of irate Pink Floyd fans watching and foaming unnecessarily at the mouth.
“We didn’t get many rehearsals,” Sheeran explains. “We did a proper rehearsal in Abbey Road studios and then we did a rehearsal in some big car park in Dagenham, and then on the day there wasn’t a rehearsal, so there wasn’t much time to get nervous. It was kind of a shove-you-on-stage-and-let-you-go-for-it kind of thing. For the jubilee, when I went on stage it was a bit kind of like, ‘Oh, this is actually really nervewracking!’ and I spent the whole time looking at the microphone. But the thing with the Olympics was that before we went on stage Nick Mason and Mike Rutherford were like, ‘This is huge, we’re never going to experience anything like this again…’ and that kind of made it click in my mind like, ‘Maybe I should take this in!’ So I spent the whole time just looking out at these lights. It was mental.”
Personally, my favourite part of the whole shebang was seeing Ed follow a Kate Moss-led procession of superstar models in gilded Alexander McQueen, Burberry and Christopher Kane gowns in his little red hoodie.
“I usually dress up smart for events like that and then I was told that the audience would be like a billion people and I was like, ‘Do I want to come across as a bit odd, wearing a shirt and stuff like that when I don’t really wear shirts?’ I wanted the first time that most people see me to see me as the scruffy ginger kid that I actually am!”
For obvious reasons, Sheeran’s songs have become a seriously hot commodity in the pop universe, but how do they come about?
“They all come from personal experiences,” he says. “‘Drunk’ for instance was written after I went on tour with Example. In Glasgow, I disappeared for a bit and woke up and I’d missed the bus and it was all down to a bottle of Smirnoff, so yeah, I wrote a song about that on the train the next day.
“‘A Team’ came from a woman that I met in a shelter. ‘Lego House’ came from my ex-girlfriend giving me a box of Lego for my birthday and I didn’t make it until she broke up with me. I made it and I was like ‘Wicked!’ and then I dropped it and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of like a relationship isn’t it’?”
At the age of 21, Sheeran can already boast the kind of career that every singer-songwriter dreams about, so it seems apt that he’s got some pretty solid advice up his sleeve for budding musicians.
“I’d say I view songs as a dirty tap. When you put on a dirty tap, it shoots out mud for the first few minutes and then it starts flowing, still with a bit of mud in it but once it gets into full flow, it’s just clean water. The first songs that I wrote were really bad, they were the mud.”
The accolades certainly flowed in at an alarming pace in 2012, but Sheeran is keen to point out that his success only came after a whole lot of ass-bustingly hard work.
“It’s been five years,” he says. “Five years of actually thinking about it. I’ve been playing music for quite a long time. When I was 16, I was like, ‘Right, I really need to knuckle down and do nothing but gigging and writing songs.’ There were quite a lot of setbacks.
“Trying to get into an industry that’s very image-driven as a chubby ginger kid who sings songs about homeless prostitutes isn’t the easiest thing,” he adds, with a smirk, “but I did it.”