Ed Sheeran performing his ‘X’ Tour at The Capital FM Arena Nottingham on Wednesday 22nd October 2014

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Can one man with no band, no back-up singers, no dancers and no stage mates whatsoever, entertain a crowd of nearly 10,000. That question was answered last night when Ed Sheeran hit the stage at The Capital FM Arena for the first of his two sell out nights, with just a guitar and a loop pedal, and the answer was a 10,000 fan strong scream of “yes”.

Ed Sheeran’s rise to fame could be the subject of a rags to riches Hollywood movie script. A former busker, who once slept in a ceremonial arch near Buckingham Palace because it had a heating vent, is now one of Britain’s biggest musical stars. In fact if he weren’t such an all-round good egg and self-effacing chap, he would be perfectly entitled to adapt that famous Brian Clough quote into something like, “I’m not saying I’m the best pop star in Britain, but I’m definitely in the top one!”

Sheeran may have come a very long way in a short time but already he is very much the epitome of the modern consummate pop star, and this visit to Nottingham clearly showed that he is also about as unmanufactured a pop star as one could wish for; something truly refreshing in an X Factor age.

In keeping with the internet generation’s capacity for mixing and matching, his music spans genres that might not ordinarily overlap in the shape of pop, soul, folk and hip-hop, but somehow the resultant fusion works wonderfully and at times verges on the magical.

There are no gimmicks, though he is a gifted guitar player with a deft touch. He cleverly augments his sound with a pedal board that loops his voice and guitar and triggers samples to provide added variety and inject texture. He even used the body of his guitar to great percussive effect. This one man band approach is almost a show in itself.

Opening his set with I’m A Mess, the arena erupted as the audience immediately stood up to receive this tousle-haired, angelic singer and nibble wordsmith. Numbers from this year’s phenomenally successful album X (it’s pronounced multiply) included Take It Back, Bloodstream and Don’t which had an intense guitar climax.

He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to add depth to the stripped down songs, like layering his own vocal harmonies, banging on his guitar and the easiest part, getting the crowd to sing. But the best trick of all was his powerful voice that resounded around this huge arena. Even on songs where he gave the loop pedal a rest, as with Lego House and The A team; his quieter hits from his debut album, his vocals reached all the way to the rafters.

When he wanted a little bit of extra help, Sheeran enlisted the crowd. On the show ending Sing, he asked the fans to keep the song going even after he had left the stage for good. But he also knew how to quieten the crowd down when he wanted, as he did on Give Me Love and Afire Love, getting the audience members to quieten down those unruly fans who dared make a noise during the emotional track written about his late grandfather’s battle with Alzheimers.

Sheeran kept even his die-hard fans on their toes by tucking multiple pop music references into his songs. There was also a taste of Backstreet Boys, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) tucked into Runaway and some Layla chords for good measure in the marathon rap song, You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. Sheeran has to be the first artist to reference songs from Eric Clapton, Chris Brown and a boy band all in one night.

He had the crowd wrapped around his little finger as he delivered all of his songs with passion and verve. Still a busker at heart, Sheeran just happens to be one who plays arenas now rather than street corners and subways.