This charity warm-up for tomorrow’s BRIT Awards was Ed Sheeran’s first gig in around three months. He’s been off the stage but he’s still been busy: turning 27, getting engaged to his girlfriend Cherry Seaborn, picking up an MBE and a ninth platinum disc for his ÷ album.
His third album has been so popular across the world that the chances of catching him in a venue this small these days are generally non-existent. The last time he was here, he revealed, was in 2009, supporting naff rap-pop crew N-Dubz. Tomorrow he’ll be back in more familiar territory at the O2 Arena, where he could win four BRIT Awards.
He still gave his all here, tapdancing across his loop pedals to construct a one-man show with scale and volume. It still feels strange that someone could rise to the top of pop and not indulge in string sections, a gospel choir, eight costume changes and a percussionist. Sheeran had his small acoustic guitar, two microphones and his eight pedals. Plus a keyboard, which he only used once, during Shape of You.
Even if you’ve seen him do it a hundred times, it still feels like witchcraft when he plucks his guitar, spins it behind his back and it carries on playing. He built Bloodstream from calm beginnings to a huge climax of layered voices, strumming and guitar thumping. The lack of band made him flexible, too. He threw in the sunny silliness of Barcelona after a fan shouted for it.
However, a man so fond of mathematical symbols on his albums must know that popularity doesn’t equal perfection. His boy band voice didn’t suit a cover of Feeling Good. It’s hard to hear the opening chords of Shape of You, a song that forced the Official Charts Company to change its rules so it wouldn’t be number one any more, without sighing, “Not this again.” Even he admitted that his dreadful Irish tribute, Galway Girl, was “ridiculous”.
No matter – more than enough people are on his team, even in this small venue. Break over, 2018 looks like another big one.
War Child BRITs Week together with O2, until Feb 24, various venues (britsweekwarchild.co.uk)
Ed Sheeran plays June 14-17, Wembley Stadium, HA9 (0844 844 0444, livenation.co.uk)