Ed Sheeran: Add, Multiply and Divide


There aren't many acts considered big enough to close Glastonbury's world famous music festival – especially when 2018 is a rest year – but Ed Sheeran certainly is one of those artists. Everyone's favourite ginger singer-songwriter had the crowds cheering, applauding and singing along in a way that every musician dreams of, yet Ed Sheeran's appeal is – how can we put this politely? - still hard for many to fathom. Still, it can't be denied that the nerdish ginger singer and his obsession with mathematical symbols has taken the British music scene by storm.

Born Edward Christopher Sheeran in Halifax, West Yorkshire on February the 7th 1991, young Ed moved to Framlingham, Suffolk with his family when very young and considers this his home town, Framlingham Castle providing the inspiration for his hit, 'Castle on the Hill'. Ed's upbringing was of the comfortable, middle class variety, his father John being an art curator and his mother, Imogen, a culture publicist turned jewellery designer although, during the early part of Ed's life they spent much of their time running Sheeran Lock, an art consultancy. Playing to their professional strengths ensured an income sufficiently steady to keep Ed and his older brother, Matthew (now a composer) in comfort, as both boys soon displayed a love of music.

According to Sheeran, Van Morrison's collaboration with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat was his gateway drug to a serious addiction to music, folk in particular. A choirboy at the age of four, Sheeran Minor soon added the guitar to his list of musical skills and, by the age of 15, was regularly performing on the Cambridge folk music circuit, where he befriended fellow singer-songwriter, Passenger (real name Michael David Rosenberg) who would go on to have a massive international hit in 2013 with 'Let Her Go'. By this time Sheeran had already begun recording his songs, his first collection, Spinning Man, independently.

Realising that he needed a more extensive platform he made the decision in 2008 to move to London and, very sensibly, started his campaign by playing small venues and getting himself noticed by auditioning for the ITV series, Britannia High. A fan of the folk outfit, Nizlopi (most famous for their sentimental 2005 hit, 'JCB'), Sheeran found work as the band's guitar technician before being promoted to opening act. In 2009 he released another EP, You Need Me, just ahead of being asked to tour with 'Starz in Their Eyes' singer, Just Jack. In the autumn Sheeran enrolled as an undergraduate at Guildford's prestigious Academy of Contemporary Music, although it is thought that he failed to complete his course and left within months.

Fortunately for aspirant musicians YouTube had launched to almost instant success in 2005, meaning that it was cheap and easy to manage a burgeoning music career from the comfort of home and Ed Sheeran quickly became adept at publicising himself, building up an admittedly small but dedicated following of fans. This resulted in a very successful 2010 after he posted a video to SB.TV, a platform specialising in urban music and not necessarily a first choice for a folkie like Sheeran. This move paid off, as he was invited to tour with Example, reaching an even wider audience. Just before he departed on tour, Sheeran released Loose Change, his most successful EP to date which contained his game changing song 'The A Team', which would become his first big hit. That same year also marked the release of his Songs I Wrote With Amy EP, a record of his professional relationship with Wales based musician and songwriter, Amy Wadge.

Having cut his teeth on small venues, he moved on to support larger acts and continued to hone his songwriting skills, Sheeran was building a career fit to stand the test of time and 2011 would prove to be his breakthrough year. On January the 8th he released yet another EP, No. 5 Collaborations Project, featuring grime artists such as Jme, Wiley, Devlin, Sway and Ghetts and followed that up in April with an appearance on Later...with Jools Holland where he debuted 'The A Team', which was to be the first single from his forthcoming album + (or Plus). On its release it went straight to Number Three in the charts, selling 58,000 copies in the first week. Sheeran used his stint in the BBC Introducing tent at the Glastonbury Festival in June to premiere the second single, 'You Need Me, I Don't Need You' which almost equalled the success of 'The A Team' by reaching Number Four in the UK Singles Chart. 'Lego House' was the third release and received enthusiastic airplay on radio stations not only in the UK but also in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Belgium. By the time + was released, its success was practically guaranteed and, in 2012, Sheeran walked off with the BRIT Awards for Best British Male Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Act.

Many of the more mature music critics confessed themselves baffled by Sheeran's success, considering him a more likely candidate for a small folk venue than an O2 headline act. His appearance, too, was considered unlikely to ignite teenage hormones; if the semi-feral whippet-thinness of a young Mick Jagger or Steve Tyler was the ultimate pattern for a god of popular music, then Sheeran fell somewhat short of perfection, with his ginger hair and (it cannot be denied) rather plain face. However, this lack of traditional rock star appeal held him back precisely not at all.

Whether it was part of an original masterplan or merely a superstitious belief that continuing the mathematical theme would pay dividends, Sheeran's subsequent albums have continued his early success, x (pronounced Multiply) being the point at which his career became truly global, as one of its hits 'Thinking Out Loud' (which he co-wrote with Amy Wadge) bagged him Grammy Awards for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year. If 'Sing', the first release from x was a departure from what most fans thought of as a Sheeran song, then 'Thinking Out Loud' was far more typical, a deceptively simple romantic ballad that played to his strengths.

After a rigorous schedule undertaken to publicise and support his second album, Sheeran disappeared from view for a year, partly to recharge his batteries and partly to write new material. This public hiatus was officially declared over when, on December the 13th 2016, Sheeran indicated the imminent release of a new album on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, following this up on the 1st of January 2017 with a video of him holding up a piece of paper inscribed with the words “New Music Coming Friday”. As promised, January the 6th marked the release of two new songs, 'Castle on the Hill' and 'Shape of You', which broke Spotify's first day streaming record. Following this opening salvo, he hinted at an appearance at Glastonbury during an appearance on the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show.

Like its mathematical predecessors, ÷ (pronounced Divide) quickly established itself as one of the fastest and best selling albums of the decade. When, to nobody's surprise, Sheeran was later revealed to have been chosen to close Glastonbury, he effectively topped a few extraordinary years. Apart from his musical ventures, a small role in the cult TV 'swords and sorcery' drama, Game of Thrones added to his small acting portfolio, something in which he has confessed an interest since his Britannia High audition.

If all remains well on Planet Sheeran we can expect the release of his fourth album (he has yet to employ Minus and, of course, the Pi symbol would look rather fetching on an album cover too) within the next year or two.

Ed Sheeran is quite possibly the canniest music star in the world today, having served an apprenticeship in modest venues, supporting more famous acts, working with established songwriters and then branching out by himself to huge acclaim. He is also not afraid to take time out to recharge his batteries and reconnect with his creative energy. If he continues to pace himself like a pro then we can expect him to continue to multiply.

Ed Sheeran Quotes:

“The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile.”

“I think I've been around for a while. But I still have to pay my dues.”

“I want to have a career that evolves as I go on.”

“I personally don't think ginger men have a habit of being attractive. We have to make ourselves seem attractive by doing stuff.”

“The more you write tunes, the better they will become. The more you do gigs, the better you will become.”

“I find the whole concept of women screaming at me so odd. It's very flattering, but I don't think I will ever consider myself to be a sex symbol.”

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