Ed Sheeran is the perfect headline act for Glastonbury – here’s why

Zak Thomas played gigs with the singer-songwriter when, even then, he showed off his star power. Here he argues why Sheeran could pull off one of the most memorable headline shows in Glastonbury history

Zak Thomas
Saturday 24 June 2017 16:38
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We need him, he doesn’t need us? The singer knows how to win over a sceptical crowd
We need him, he doesn’t need us? The singer knows how to win over a sceptical crowd

The first time I stumbled across Ed Sheeran, he was a scrawny, impeccably polite teenager with a handful of half-decent songs.

He’d been booked to play a show in a small Ipswich pub with the band I was fronting at the time. While there was little in his repertoire to suggest that he would go on to be the stadium-filling artist he is now, there were certainly signs of the resilience that would eventually propel him to stardom.

Sheeran fans will be familiar with anecdotes of him sleeping rough, his couch-surfing and the relentless gigging before he became famous. In hindsight, the first night I watched him perform also feeds into this narrative of the determined musician that was always going to hit the big time.

I’d organised the gig with another local band, and we’d booked the smaller of the venue’s two rooms.

However, the landlady insisted that we perform in the larger space and that we pay the higher price for it. We refused to pay the higher price, and the landlady continued to make things awkward for the rest of the evening.

One of the bands had to perform with a cookery programme on the big television behind them, and the house lights remained on. None of this deterred Sheeran, who simply got on with the job of entertaining and charming the audience with little anecdotes in between songs.

However, the next time I performed with the singer-songwriter it was just months before the release of his debut album, and he was a completely different beast. His humble charisma was still there, but he performed with a confidence that oozed superstar-in-waiting.

In front of a room of no more than 100 he rifled through some of his soon-to-be hits, including “The A Team” and “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”, and had the crowd completely captivated. The audience demanded an encore and because the venue needed to get the next artist on quickly, he simply jumped into the crowd and performed another song amongst them.

That’s why I have no doubt that Ed Sheeran is the perfect fit to headline Glastonbury on Sunday and will dispel the groans that came with his booking. The festival draws in all walks of life; a coalition of chaos one might say, to borrow a popular political phrase of our time, and the singer-songwriter has all the tricks he needs to engage a sceptical crowd with a myriad of musical tastes.

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He has that rare quality of making each audience member feel like he’s performing a personal concert just for them. He’s also said himself that he enjoys the challenge of trying to win people over that aren’t his fans – which is a brilliant attitude to have for something like this.

Glastonbury: Sunset timelapse after the hottest day in the festival's history

What’s more, Glastonbury has a successful history of taking a gamble on mainstream acts that go on to deliver some of the most memorable sets to grace the Pyramid Stage.

The furore around Jay-Z’s headline slot in 2008 turned out to be baseless, and critics were falling over themselves to praise the rapper’s explosive set. The Independent said at the time: “His performance will go down in Glastonbury history.” It did.

Sure, Sheeran has some terrible songs (don’t get me started on “Galway Girl”), but he won’t just stand on stage and expect to be adored – he’ll work hard for it, as he has done for years.

He’ll work hard to earn the audience’s affection and I have no doubt he’ll get it tomorrow. Even if many in the crowd will never admit to their mates that they enjoyed the show.

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