Record bosses’ shocking verdict after meeting young Ed Sheeran
It was a dream come true for 17-year-old Ed Sheeran .
He had finally persuaded the boys from Nizlopi, his favourite band, to let him open for them when they played the Norwich Arts Centre.
He had been nagging his heroes to give him a chance to perform on the same bill ever since they had given him some work experience as a guitar technician the previous summer.
He had also sent the group a copy of a song he had written about them called ‘ Two Blokes and a Double Bass ’.
For the Norwich gig in April 2008, lead singer Luke Concannon stood next to Ed’s father, John Sheeran, to watch the performance.
He recalls, ‘He was looping, he had strong songs and his voice was good. It did seem he already had a package. I turned to his dad and said “Wow. He’s good!”’
Using a loop station to build layers of sound had become a staple of Ed’s live shows since he had been shown the craft at his fifteenth birthday party by the Irish singer-songwriter, Gary Dunne.
Looping is the skill that enables him today to fill stadiums with sound, standing alone on stage.
After Nizlopi had finished their set that included their poignant number one hit ‘JCB Song’ , they all went back to the Sheeran home in Framlingham and enjoyed the family’s wonderful hospitality that included one of his mum Imogen’s full English breakfasts complete with Ed’s favourite sausages.
He was elated at how well the show had gone and chuffed that more than one hundred people from Framlingham had made the thirty-six mile journey to Norwich just to support him.
Ed would never be slow in giving Nizlopi the credit they deserved for helping to shape his career: "Without realising it, I learned how to perform live and sing, project my voice and write songs just by being around them."
After the elation of the concert, Ed had no desire to go back to school for another year of A Levels.
He struggled to maintain any interest in studying Bach and Beethoven when he was making such good progress with his own ambitions.
He was never much bothered with the theory of music.
His guitar teacher, Keith Krykant , would roll up to Ed’s home each week with a careful plan for the lesson but after five minutes that would be abandoned when Edward, as he called him, would declare, ‘Oh Keith, do you want to hear a song that I wrote last night at 1 o’clock in the morning?’
And so they would spend the rest of the session working on the new song. Ed always favoured strong melodies – in his own song-writing and in the music he enjoyed playing.
He once spent an entire lesson learning how to play the famous Simon and Garfunkel hit ‘Sound of Silence.’ Ed possessed an ability to work out how to play a song just by listening to it a few times.
His own song-writing was improving and he was particularly proud of a song called ‘We Are’ which he wrote as a tribute to a school friend who had tragically died in a coach crash in Germany.
He had moved on from recording in his bedroom to using local studios to make his early high school albums, including one called The Orange Room, named after the colour of his bedroom.
He made his first video using an agency based in the nearby town of Woodbridge. Looking very clean cut with neatly brushed hair, he performed his song, ‘Open Your Ears’ against a spinning backdrop.
Supported by his parents, who always took his ambitions very seriously, he began to play more gigs locally in Framlingham as well as travelling to Norwich, Ipswich and Cambridge.
Often, his girlfriend, Alice Hibbert, one of the prettiest girls in school, would come along too.
Thanks to their experience representing artists, Ed’s mum and dad were able to encourage him to have proper merchandising, producing very professionally produced CDs to sell at his gigs and to friends around Framlingham.
They also appreciated the importance of social media and through MySpace , Ed’s songs reached the ears of a young talent scout in London, Jono Ball.
He loved a song called ‘You Break Me’ and persuaded his management company to take Ed on informally to see what developed.
Ed was impatient to move to London but even after his success with Nizlopi, his mother Imogen was worried.
While his father backed him, she wanted him to secure some qualifications so that he would have something to fall back on if his musical ambitions were unfulfilled.
A compromise was reached when Ed obtained a place at the Access to Music College in East London .
He could go to classes two days a week and spend the rest of his time gigging around the capital’s thriving pub circuit. Jono promised to place him with song writers to work on new material.
He also entered his first big competition. He was desperate to be named ‘The Next Big Thing’ in Norwich and made it through the heats and the semi final in a local pub before taking to the stage at UEA (University of East Anglia). It was so nearly a disaster.
Watched by 500 people, Ed drew the short straw. He was first on. During his second song, two of his guitar strings broke. He battled on.
Even worse, another two broke in the middle of his third and final number. He literally had to think on his feet as he set about reharmonising.
Inside he was panicking but the audience never knew. Ian Johnson, of Access to Music, recalls, ‘Everything broke but he did it.
And of course he won. All the judges thought he was worthy of winning. They could see the potential.’
Ed won prizes totalling nearly £1,000 as well as the chance to support R&B star Jay Sean when he performed at UEA two weeks later in November 2008.
Back in London, Ed settled into a routine of college, song writing during the day and gigging at night.
Where to sleep became a preoccupation when he decided to stop paying rent in London and hop between generous friends, songwriters or people he hardly knew, just to find a place for the night.
He discovered he could sleep anywhere which was invaluable after he took a few trips around the Circle Line after a heavy night.
He was never homeless, although he did spend two nights next to a heating duct with a view of Buckingham Palace.
He was inspired to write a song for Alice entitled ‘Homeless’: ‘It’s not a homeless life for me; I’m just home less than I’d like to be.’
He made it a rule never to drink before a gig following a poor performance at the Ivy House in Holborn one night.
Afterwards a member of the audience came up to him and told him how bad it was. Ed was mortified and vowed never to let it happen again.
He never turned down a chance to perform. In 2009 alone, he managed an estimated 312 gigs.
Often these would be evenings where he played just a couple of songs before moving on to the next.
But despite his growing reputation in London, Ed was increasingly unhappy at his lack of progress and no nearer to signing with a major label.
Jono was equally exasperated that nobody seemed to recognise Ed’s potential: ‘The feedback I was getting was that Ed was a ginger haired white kid who wanted to be a rapper – and who’s going to sign that.’
Ed’s frustration boiled over after he played his heart out at a gig at the Ginglik club in West London, only to discover that no senior management or record executives had turned up.
Afterwards they sat smoking a cigarette on Shepherds Bush Green and Ed let Jono know in no uncertain terms just how upset he was.
It was particularly shocking because Ed was normally so easygoing.
Reluctantly Ed enrolled in a music academy in Guildford to continue an education he didn’t really need.
On his first day, he was told off for bringing the wrong guitar along for his opening lectures.
Fortunately help was at hand and he was offered an opening slot on Just Jack’s upcoming UK tour.
It would mean losing his place at college and he had already signed the lease on a student flat, but Ed didn’t hesitate.
Jack had heard about Ed on the London circuit and, significantly, had rung his manager Stuart Camp, who worked for Elton John’s company, Rocket, and told him, ‘I’ve found this kid from Suffolk, he’s only got his guitar and a crap pedal and he says he’ll do it for free.’
Ed was booked.
The highlight of the short tour was playing the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in November 2009.
The first time he’d seen Nizlopi four years earlier, he had turned to his dad and told him he was going to perform there one day, and now he had.
Ed, still just eighteen, was so excited that after his set he ran down the front row high-fiving everyone.
Ed Sheeran by Sean Smith is published by HarperCollins, £16.99
Tomorrow: Ed Sheeran on top of the world. Part one is available here .
Celebrity biographies from Sean Smith
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