By Joe Dermody
Ginger wigs, ginger beards, ginger beer, ginger trinkets, and Ginger Ed Men biscuits, Cork is on a high, caught up in the dizzy grip of incurable EdMania.
Even RedFM is rebranded as EdFM for the duration. Pubs are offering discounted pints for redheads, real and fake alike. Over the nine shows in Cork, Dublin, Galway, and Belfast, he’ll play to 400,000 fans; 120,000 of those at the three sold-out shows in Cork, Friday to Sunday. Last night was 44,000.
“I was told just before coming out that this is the biggest tour ever in Ireland, which I think is bonkers, but there you go,” says Ed.
“Well, my first ever release was this next one, and it was a hit first in the UK and Ireland. Please sing it with me.”
‘A Team’. A sea of phone lights blazing. He plays all the hits, ‘Thinking Out Loud’, ‘Shape Of You’. My favourite was ‘Bloodstream’.
Only a dozen or so miles from Crosshaven, you’d forgive the thousands of overseas fans landing here for thinking they’d stumbled upon an Irish Redhead Convention revival, just relocated to the city centre and pumped up with an army of Epic Ed style-alikes paying homage to the new King of Pop.
It seems apt that Sheeran should launch his nine-date Irish tour in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, where echoes of Michael Jackson’s two epic 1988 shows still linger a full 30 years later.
No offence to the visits here of rock stars such as Bruce, U2, and Oasis, but EdMania has created the biggest buzz the city has experienced since the then untainted Wacko gave Corkonians an up-close rare glimpse of how global idolatry can take over the collective consciousness.
Wacko jetted in, reportedly took over the entire Jurys Hotel, with tales of a suite painted black and a moonwalk-friendly dance floor installed and other like tales of monkey business.
Ed is a bit more modest, but he’s still said to be jetting in and out every night for the gigs. A multimillionaire, of course, but he still somehow comes across as real enough to be accepted as “one of our own”.
How does Ed straddle those polar opposites? At one level, he creates mystery with his cryptic album titles (+ X ÷), symbols from his game console.
The world’s biggest star, he tours with his chums, in this case with warm-up performances from Irish trad group Beoga (pure magic on ‘Galway Girl’, a co-write with Ed); plus Jamie Lawson, who is signed to Ed’s Gingerbread ManRecords label; and UK singer Ann Marie, who really connected with Ed’s crowd: “This next one is called 2002, you’ll never guess who I wrote this one with!” Starts with Ed. All three are amazing performers in their own right. Anne Marie, who already has a run of hits, clearly has fame on her event horizon.
Ed doesn’t need to share his stage with his mates; it’s not the norm on the touring circuit, but he seems to be free to do what he likes. And Ed somehow makes tens of thousands of people feel like we’re all his buddy.
“At concerts, I get very self-conscious about dancing weirdly,” says Ed. “I want you to sing weird and dance weird with me, Cork. Let’s get weird together.”
He rabbits away to himself throughout and it feels like he’s talking directly to each and every one of us.
He also explains his “loop station”, how everything is live, no backing tracks. “People said I wasn’t doing everything live at Glastonbury last year,” he says.
Well, this crowd believes his every word. He says sing, we sing. He claps, we clap. He sighs, we cheer. The word captivating doesn’t quite capture it.
Ed now sits on the throne of the world’s No 1 pop music star. Well deserved. Every song he releases tops global charts, every show sells out in seconds. And what an experience this show was; the brilliantly refurbished Páirc Uí Chaoimh is still shuddering this morning.
While all ages were at the gig, there’s nothing quite like teen pop audiences to elevate and reinvest words like ‘energy’ with the exuberance that only youth can bring, simultaneously raising the decibels and the shared emotions to a whole other pitch.
And, on this hallowed GAA pitch, on a weekend that will live long in memory, Ed Sheeran won Rebel County hearts like no one before him. What chance for future stars? Around these parts, for at least the next decade, the only way Ed could possibly be topped would be if someone gifted gives Jimmy Barry-Murphy world-class lessons in loop-pedal guitar heroics.
When memories of the colours, odours, and sounds of this magical weekend have faded, those lucky enough to have been there will be left struggling to explain to their friends how this one bloke and his baby-sized acoustic guitar could be so good.
Frankly, it’s a mystery. It’s like seeing a Billy Connolly show and then trying to recount one of his jokes. All we’ll be able to offer is: “You had to be there.”
Thankfully, we were.