Out in the real world, a red top is being consigned to the recycling bin of history. Inside a packed Scala, another red top is on the rise. This is the second of two sold out shows for Ed Sheeran, and his biggest so far. On tonight’s evidence, and with his single in the Top 10 four weeks running, it’ll soon just be another step on the way up.
His finely crafted R&B ballads and deft social networking have clearly struck a chord with the capital’s sixth formers, who have turned out in force. He asks “who here’s been to university?” and receives a moderate cheer. When he tries “who here’s going to go to university?” the resulting roar is deafening. (They also cheer the support band when they come on to tune up. They cheer a roadie called Nigel. It’s one of those nights.)
It’s a purely solo show – just Ed with an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal at his feet, building up rhythms the way half the population thinks KT Tunstall invented. The man has talent in abundance, owning a voice with real range and emotional resonance, and while his rapid-fire raps are a little lost beneath whoops of drunken appreciation, his verbal skills shine through on chorus lines like “it’s not a homeless life for me, it’s just I’m home less than I’d like to be”.
The songs are a beguiling mix of sensitivity, humour, and rabble rousing, and he asks the crowd’s indulgence to sing along with the raucous upbeat numbers but allow him a little quiet for the tender end of his repertoire. The former works a charm; when the audience join in on The A Team or The City, he becomes a Frank Turner for LDN pop kids, the communal choir uplifting and united. Sadly the young and excitable audience’s collective attention span can’t quite stretch to the onerous task of listening to gentle tunes such as Small Bump – a song about miscarriage – in anything approaching silence.
After such a set, his encore is an act of extraordinary courage. He leaves the stage and makes his way through the crowd to stand on a chair in the middle of the floor, sans guitar lead, sans mic. After an aeon of shouting and shushing, silence eventually descends and the traditional Irish drinking tune The Parting Glass floats quietly to the Scala’s walls. It’s followed in similar fashion by Give Me Love, then as the crowd takes over the chorus, Sheeran discreetly takes his leave.
It’s a stunning end to a solid show. But then Ed Sheeran hails from Halifax. You’d feel short changed if he didn’t give you extra.