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Interview with Ed Sheeran, August 2011!

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Interview with Ed Sheeran, August 2011!

UPROCK, Nov 6, 2010: Ed treats fans to an impromptu gig outside The Swan, Ipswich, just weeks before news of his six-album deal with Atlantic Records surfaces

Ed Sheeran is blowing up across both the digital and physical world like some kind of pop cultural landmine. His debut single charted at number three, he’s clocking up millions of YouTube hits and he’s all over mainstream radio. Not bad for a lad from Fram. But has he been caught up in a debauched rock lifestyle? And has he become a major label pop puppet? Andrew Tipp chatted to the Suffolk superstar to find out…

It’s a muggy Friday morning and I’m on the phone with ubiquitous singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. Well, eventually I am. First I have to make it past the gatekeepers at Atlantic Records. Ed is now a big deal, you see, and they don’t want him speaking to any old rag. Luckily, I am able to assure them of IP1’s awesomeness and the interview is on. We have 20 minutes.

“I’m probably the least rock and roll person in the rock and roll industry. I gave up drinking and smoking, I’ve got a long-term girlfriend and I usually go to sleep after shows, so I’m a bit boring…”

I am both disappointed and impressed that Ed has not succumbed to a hedonistic, non-stop daily routine of narcotics and nubile fans. It sounds like it’s more a case of a cup of tea post-gig and an early night?

“Yeah, pretty much.”

The guy I’m speaking to sounds a lot different to the 17-year-old we met at McGinty’s pub in Ipswich when IP1 featured him in 2009. We had showcased Ed in one of those ones to watch pieces where the ones to watch usually end up slogging away for a few years before giving up their dream to work in Dixons.

But after seeing him up on stage two years ago, enthralling an already fanatical crowd with his own brilliantly mashed-up blend of loop-pedalling, folk-twiddling, rap-summoning pop with conscience and attitude, it was pretty obvious that Ed’s future lay elsewhere.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2011 and Ed sounds confident, assured and relaxed. As he should; he’s a bona fide pop star. He’s appeared on Jamie Foxx’s radio show in LA. Zane Lowe proclaimed his debut single, The A Team, the ‘Hottest Record in The World.’ The song crashed into the UK singles chart top three and the video has been viewed over seven million times online. Elton John even gave him a call to say he was a fan. Yes, really. Did Ed ever imagine this success? And does he care?

“Of course I care,” he says. “I’ve thought about being successful for years, but I never expected to have a top three single, ever. I always pictured myself as being more of an album act. So this is really, really cool. Really nice.”

After signing to major label Atlantic Records things started to take off in a big way for Ed. Was that down to him or them? “I kind of proved before signing to Atlantic that I didn’t need to be on a label,” he says. Ed is pretty adamant that throwing money at promotion doesn’t equal success. “A label can’t build you a fanbase,” he says, “you have to do that yourself. They can only give you the tools to do so.”

But while a label can’t build the wheels of success, Ed admits the behemoth record label certainly helps to oil the clogs. “The connections and experience of pluggers and press people, it’s important,” he says. “As a 20-year-old unsigned guy you can’t have a relationship with the guy at Radio 1, or the number of the girl that books Jools Holland or whatever it is.”

So label influence helps, but it’s no good just having their power behind you. Or even just being talented. You have to be prepared to grind out a following. You have to be prepared to play every night. Or potentially more often than that.

“I put on a free show at Barfly in Camden for the fans as a kind of thank you,” Ed says. “I didn’t expect that many kids to turn up, but in the end a thousand turned up so I played three 45-minute shows indoors and then another show outside after the place closed.”

Seriously, how cool is that?

But what is he doing that’s unique? What’s been crucial to his success? “Taking risks is important,” Ed says. “I haven’t compromised anywhere. I’ve just done what I wanted to do, which is pretty cool. But I don’t think I’m doing anything particularly different, my approach is part of what people are doing now; putting stuff on iTunes and promoting it with Twitter.”

Ah, yes. Twitter. Ed has over 200,000 followers reading his tweets, most of whom are genuinely proper fans. It’s like having the power of a whole magazine circulation in his pocket, and he’s used it to killer effect by essentially advertising gigs for free.

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Latitude, July 17, 2011: Ed opens the Obelisk Arena on day two at Latitude. Despite torrential rain, he delivers one of the festival’s standout performances to a huge gathering of fans

Outside of his own sold-out UK tour, Ed has been tearing up the festival scene this year. He put in a total of eight performances at Glastonbury and he played the Obelisk Arena at Latitude. That’s the really big one.

“Playing at Latitude is so weird,” says Ed. “I’ve been there loads just as someone in the crowd.” Playing to a live crowd of 10,000 – maybe more – must be pretty mental?

“It is strange, but it shows you’re doing something right.”

And just like that, our time is properly up. Time itself will tell if Ed can be more than a one-hit wonder. He’s signed a six-album deal, and I hope in five years we’re talking about how amazing his third record is and how bored of headlining festivals he’s become. Something tells me we just might.

So the interview is over. Ed is rolling into another town, to play another show. He’s going to belt out a hit single. He’s going to play music he’s never compromised on. If enough people turn up he might play the gig all over again. Outside. And then he’ll drink some tea.

That’s rock and roll enough for me.

Photography: Jen O’Neill

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