The thrilling, vibrant talent of the solo artist
There are very few solo artists who can totally captivate an audience for one and a half hours in front of a capacity house and that is what Ed Sheeran did at Glastonbury in June. I was fascinated to see the final part of Glastonbury on BBC 2 for which Ed Sheeran was the headline solo act on the Pyramid stage. This is an artist who is used to holding the attention of capacity audiences of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium for a sell-out run on several nights!
A couple of years ago I was running a charity event in the Royal Albert Hall and we were struggling to sell the remaining 1,000 of the 5,000 tickets and this was with a concert featuring artists such as Brian May (lead guitarist of Queen) and Lily Allen. The RAH event manager at the time told me that the previous week Ed Sheeran had sold out for his solo concert and having seen the performance I now know why!
I am writing this from the perspective of a classically trained musician and know what it feels like to stand alone in the middle of the stage and hold the audience, but most of the time that was for one solo item, probably no longer than 10 minutes in a programme otherwise supported by a pianist, string quartet or orchestral ensemble.
What is it that makes Ed Sheeran so special? Well, to me it is the confidence he has in his music combined with a performance talent where he is able to build the music live on stage, layer by layer. At first I could not quite grasp what was happening but I found out that he uses a loop station or a floor-based looper pedal with which he is able to layer up different musical elements to create a full-sounding track in order to play alone without the aid of an actual backing track or band. At one point he was also using the audience singing the melody to create an additional layer.
The pressure that the artist is under to create the music live with all the details it includes and keep the audience engaged at the same time must surely be immense, but the results are truly impressive by both skill and artistry.
This was a fascinating live performance experience, outside my normal classical music comfort zone and great to expand the idea of what live solo performance can be all about!