The Who, Paul McCartney, The Cure, Muse, Coldplay… and among this glittering array of monster names who have played the annual Teenage Cancer Trust shows at the Royal Albert Hall, the biggest is arguably a former busker from Suffolk, out to treat this venerable pile like “a scummy pub”. He dominated the week’s line-up as effortlessly as he dominates the average chart run-down, and here were the five big talking points from last night’s (March 29) gig.
Not the Beckhams, Pippa Middleton, Fifty Shades Of Gray author EL James, Michael McIntyre or James Blunt – who were all there too, apparently – but the array of teenage cancer patients and survivors who took to the stage with The Who’s Roger Daltrey to introduce Ed with a moving thank you for our contributions to the work of the TCT, and get a mass selfie from the stage.
Sheeran brought his entire stadium show to the Royal Albert Hall – all seven of his beloved acoustic guitars of it. Swapping between Lloyd, Felix, Nigel, er… Rumpelstiltskin, The Betamax Bandit, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and Peter O’Hanrahahanrahan (some of which I’ve almost certainly made up), Ed slapped, strummed and looped up a wild array of disparate styles. He conjured up the Springsteen canyon anthem of ‘Castle On The Hill’, boyband R&B-like please-stop-shagging-him-out-of-One-Direction favourite ‘Don’t’, the intense Afrobeat-ish pop of ‘Bloodstream’ and folk/country ballads galore, all the time looking as though he was in a deep, loving but faintly abusive BDSM relationship with his guitars.
Having hovered up the Pharrell dollars, the rock reddies, the grime greenbacks and the Blunt billions, presumably Ed looked around at music and wondered where there was room to expand. The answer? Mumford-rock. ‘Galway Girl’ and ‘Nancy Mulligan’ are essentially a Nashville pub singer’s idea of traditional Irish music and no doubt have the people of Eire wishing Brexit along quicker so they can slap massive import tariffs on this sort of thing. But the Albert Hall bloody loves them – people literally slap their thighs, swing-dance and jig themselves dizzy.
From the aforementioned ‘Galway Girl’ to ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and shallow horndog anthem ‘Shape Of You’, the entire night was one monumental sing-along, with Ed as chief cheerleader. As an intense cover of Rag’n’Bone Man’s ‘Human’ (a bit like The Pet Shop Boys covering Steps, to be frank) morphed into ‘I See Fire’ he encouraged the crowd: “if you don’t know the words, make them up – scream it out”. Which turned out a little embarrassing for this writer, who misheard the lyrics as “nasty fart”.
The big rap finale
The evening’s sporadic bursts of rapping culminated in a fiery blast of rhyming and beat-boxing on the final ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, a song that sounds like Justin Timberlake collaborating with a Suffolk-based Jay-Z intent on spitting out his sofa-surfing-to-superstardom story. Let’s face it, there’s not many rap artists with the guts to rhyme “Nationwide tour with Just Jack” with “still had to get the bus back”…