Ed Sheeran & Foy Vance: ‘We both love a drink, so there’s never been a time hanging out when I’ve gone to bed before 5am’


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The Independent Culture

Foy Vance, 38

The Northern Irish musician (right in picture), released his first single in 2006 and has since seen his tracks appear on US TV shows including ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Vampire Diaries’. He has also toured with Ed Sheeran  in the UK and the US. He lives in Scotland

I heard about this great wee guy who was just getting a record deal together in early 2011, and he was looking for songs. He sent me  some of his stuff, sort of half-rap, half-indie, and he asked me to write some songs for him.  I could see there was truth in his songs, but  they were a different style to mine, and I didn’t think there was anything I could have added.

We met in person at the Arthur’s Day festival in Dublin. After the performances we had a few drinks and handed a guitar back and forth, playing our songs; I knew instantly that he was a special guy with real heart.

Afterwards, he invited me on his UK tour, which was where I really got to know him. I’ve never played to that kind of audience before. But seeing Ed with them, 21 years old with the world at his feet, knowing what to do – it was impressive. He’d always finish his set with my song “Guiding Light”; it’s a nice tip of the hat when someone else plays your song – and if he hadn’t, no one would ever have heard of me.

With the type of shows he sings, and with the song lyrics being so sensitive, he does  seem like an unlikely sex symbol. The media rarely picks a guy-next-door type such as Ed.

Musically, we have a lot of common ground with regards to Irish music [Sheeran’s paternal grandparents were Irish], but on the road he played loads of hip-hop and gangsta-rap stuff and I thought, “Wow, I didn’t expect that; he knows it all inside out!” And from what I’ve heard from his new album, it sounds like he’s moved his own music on in that direction, too.

I still can’t get my head around how he gets away with being this ginger-haired white English kid that raps, but it works – maybe as he’s not trying to be England’s Eminem.

After the UK tour I went with him on his  US tour. The poor fella moves around so  much now that he hardly knows where he lives. But he’s a caring guy and when I had  a difficult time earlier on this year, we’d sit  and chat till late in the night – he’s a wise  fellow and he’s been very supportive, which  is a beautiful quality.

We’ve duetted on “Guiding Light” on  some shows [in America], but I also sang it at the funeral of [Derry community leader] John McDaid, as Ed and I are close to his son, [Snow Patrol musician] Johnny. It became a family anthem, with the lyrics written in Old Irish on the gravestone. Ed said we should each get  this “Guiding Light” tattoo, written in Gaelic. So one afternoon in Pittsburgh, we took the afternoon off and found a tattooist: I wrote  out Ed’s and he wrote out mine. That’s when  I realised, it’s become a bit of a bromance.

Ed Sheeran, 22

Sheeran’s first album, ‘+’ in 2011, sold more than 1 million copies and netted him two Brit awards, for Best British Male and British Breakthrough , with his single ‘The A Team’ winning him an Ivor Novello award for songwriting. He is currently touring America as the opening act of Taylor Swift’s ‘Red’ tour

I first saw Foy performing at Hay about six years ago. I was the guitar technician for the band Nizlopi, and I was hanging around with them in a tent where this dude was on stage;  I was transfixed by his voice. I asked his crew who he was. Because of their Irish accents, initially I thought they’d said “Five Ants” so  I spent a long time Googling that. Eventually  I figured it out and bought his album.

The day we first met was 2007, at the Norwich Arts Centre, where he’d performed  a gig. He probably remembers first meeting me in 2011 in Dublin, on Arthur’s Day. But I’d gone to 30 of his shows by that point and was well versed in his music. He was very polite, but as a singer-songwriter to a fan, all you’re going to say is, “Hey man, how are you, here’s a picture, thanks for coming, see you later.” But I wanted to say, “I write tunes! Let’s sit down and talk.” I didn’t want to meet him again till he had heard of me.

So when I was doing a series of shows at [Dublin music venue] Whelans’ in 2011 and heard Foy was there too, I grabbed him. We had whisky and drunken talk and we passed  a guitar back and forth, sharing songs.

Every time I see him play I get annoyed that more people don’t know about him. You just need the right opportunities and I think it’s going to happen now for Foy.

The UK tour brought us closer together.  I’d make Lego kits with his 10-year-old daughter [who accompanied Vance for the tour], and we wrote six tunes for my new album together. His daughter’s great, too;  I’ve never seen a 10-year-old care less about how famous, say, Niall [Horan] from One Direction is. Niall noticed her in one corner before a gig we were all doing. He thought  she was being shy and went up to her and  said, “Hey, how you doing?” and being nice  he was like, “Would you like a picture?” And she replied, “Naaah!”

We both have Irish blood in us – and a love of drink, so there’s never been a time hanging out with Foy when I’ve gone to bed before 5am. We had this thing the other night round my apartment [in the US] and it turned into  a special night of drinks and food with Foy  and some other friends. Before long we were all sat in a circle with a guitar and everyone played one song: me, Foy, Johnny [McDaid] from Snow Patrol, Ellie Goulding and Taylor [Swift], everyone jamming out.

We may have musical differences – I’ve got more into hip-hop and Eminem; he’s into soul and Ray Charles – but now inspiration comes just being in a room with him and guitar-jamming; with him, songs just come out.

Foy Vance’s latest album, ‘Joy of Nothing’,  is out now