Alan Attwood, Ed#480, March 2015
Confession time. A few years ago I was leaned on (very politely) to put an English musician named Ed Sheeran on the cover. My response, essentially, was “Ed Who?” I was told that Ed was a young man who’d known tough times himself, had done some things for The Big Issue in the UK, and looked set to become very popular. Let’s wait and see, I said.
Then, every so often, I’d get Ed updates. He’d been involved in an online campaign, building a virtual Lego house brick by brick, and helped The Big Issue in Australia build its Facebook audience. He’d invited vendors to come along to a show he’d done in Sydney’s Martin Place, and so helped boost awareness of what we do. Ed, it seemed, wasn’t a bad guy. Once in a while, I’d hear something on radio, or if someone at home was watching music videos, and when I’d ask “Who’s that?” the answer would be: Ed Sheeran. The guy had clearly kicked on. So much so that I then started noticing news stories: Ed playing for the Queen; Ed planning concerts for huge venues such as Wembley Stadium in London and New York’s Madison Square Garden; Ed winning awards… Then I saw the video for his song ‘Lego House’ and thought: Hmm. Funny. He looks just like actor Rupert Grint… And discovered it was Rupert Grint – the in-joke being they’re both redheads and uncannily alike. So… Ed clearly has a sense of humour.*
He should also have a sense that things are going his way. He’s on texting-terms with Taylor Swift, whom he supported on a US tour, is embarking on an Australian concert tour and has now cracked a Big Issue cover here. His time has come. Further proof of that is a discernible Ed backlash. Exhibit A is a comment attributed to the manager of an American star, about Sheeran’s plans to perform solo in big venues: “It won’t work. Not in those big spaces. You can’t stand up there on your own with just an acoustic guitar. Fans want more than that.” Exhibit B, more snarkily, comes from a columnist in (shock!) the British Big Issue: “It terrifies me that this tame warbler of conveyor-belt pop has become the superstar of his generation… Sheeran might just be the most boring pop star Britain has ever produced.” There’s a lot more like this, but you get the idea. I’d never heard of this columnist, incidentally, and I suspect he’d struggle to attract anyone to a free sausage sizzle, let alone sell tickets to Wembley. But you know you’ve gone up in the world when grumblebums try to pull you down.
Sheeran is well aware of his critics. He also seems relaxed about them. As he says in our interview: “I don’t care who gets it and who doesn’t get it. People are there. In this market it’s tough to sell records. I’m doing something right.” Indeed he is. His success has been achieved against the odds: “I was a weird little ginger kid with a stutter. My view on it is God looked down one day and was like… You need some help, mate. Here’s a guitar!’” I’m not saying you’ll ever catch me humming one of his songs, but at least now he’s progressed well past Ed Who? Many of those who bag him, meanwhile, can continue to toss stones from the haven of comfortable obscurity.
» Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.
This article appeared in Ed#480 of The Big Issue magazine.