Interview: Ed Sheeran, musician

Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran
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JAMIE Foxx likes him so much he invited him to his Hollywood home to spend the day; Elton John, Tinie Tempah and Wylie are all vocal supporters and his album + currently sits atop the UK album chart.

Not bad for a 20-year-old who was still playing at open-mic nights less than two years ago.

And the Halifax-born Ed Sheeran, who had huge charts hits with The A Team, You Need Me, I Don’t Need You and Lego House is not afraid to say that he’s hugely ambitious. “I’m not afraid of hard work,” he says. “I dream of Coldplay-sized fame. Their music has grown to fill the venues they’re playing - from rooms to arenas to stadiums, and that’s where I want to be one day.

“I know it’s all about the songs, though, and the amount of work you’re prepared to put in. And I’m fully prepared to put the effort in.”

To the casual observer, Sheeran must look something like an overnight sensation - but he actually started planning his rise to stardom four years ago, when he was just 16.

“I first picked up a guitar when I was 10 or 11,” he says ahead of his visit to the Capital next week, when he will play two consecutive nights at the 1500-capacity HMV Picture House.

“I picked up a few chords and quite quickly started writing my own songs using other people’s chord structures.

“By the time I was 14 or so I thought music was something I’d like to do, and then by 16 I started to think it was something I could do. That’s when I took all the big risks.”

In 2005, Sheeran released his first EP, The Orange Room. This was followed by four more independently-released EPs, two albums (2006’s Ed Sheeran and Want Some? in 2007) and, in 2008, a move to London to concentrate on playing live shows.

Then, after reading an interview with James Morrison, in which the gravel-voiced crooner claimed to have played more than 200 shows in a year, Sheeran set himself the target of bettering that number in order to get his name known.

“I played 312 shows in 2009,” he says. “Sometimes to no-one, or five people, often to more...”

The hard graft clearly paid off, but Sheeran admits that he almost left the music industry to pursue an acting career.

It was while auditioning for a TV show in 2008 that he gave himself a personal ultimatum.

“I wanted to be an actor at one point,” he says. “I auditioned for a programme called Britannia High back in the day as an actor. At that point I was like, ‘if I get this I’ll stop music and be an actor and if I don’t get this I’ll stop acting and be a musician’.”

At that time he admits that he wasn’t as focused on music as he could have been, and once he failed the audition for the ITV1 series decided to take it more seriously.

“I wasn’t really serious doing music at the time, and then when I didn’t get in I was just kinda like ‘screw it’ I’ll start singing properly,” he says.

He’ll be glad he did fail that audition. Britannia High was widely rubbished, while Sheeran is currently one of the biggest pop stars in the UK, having amassed legions of supporters who followed his gradual rise and feel especially loyal as a result.

Their support is not wasted on him. “Everything I do is for my fans,” he says. And in response to negative criticism of his chart-topping album in some sections of the music press, he adds, “I don’t make music for the critics.

“They didn’t spend a tenner on my album, they haven’t come to my shows for the past few years,” he goes on.

“A lot of those guys probably listened to my album once or twice and that was that, and it shows when they make assumptions about the meaning of some my lyrics.

“Well, I don’t care what they think. If a fan came up to me and said they didn’t like what I’d done, then it would hit me and I’d take it in and think about it.

“Obviously not everyone is going to like what I do,” he adds, “but things seem to be going pretty well so far.”

He’s not wrong there. And having taken the pop world by storm in 2011, Sheeran’s new year got off to the best possible start when his album shot back to the top of the charts, knocking popular Canadian crooner Michael Buble’s fifth studio album Christmas from the No1 spot.

“I couldn’t ask for a better start to a new year,” he beams.

And what did Sheeran do to celebrate getting to No1? He treated himself to a Lego Millennium Falcon Star Wars toy. “I’m not very materialistic,” he laughs. “But I enjoyed making that.”

Ed Sheeran, HMV Picture House, Lothian Road, Tuesday and Wednesday, 6.30pm doors, £15, 0844-847 1740