IF you had told me a week ago that I would end up at an Ed Sheeran concert at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, I would not have believed you. But there I was, sitting in an Ard Comhairle cushioned seat right in front of the turntable-shaped stage, surrounded by giant pick-shaped screens that beamed close-ups of Ed’s performance from the stage, so to anyone he would appear more than a tiny red-haired stick figure each of the estimated 35,000 fans in the ground.
It wasn’t my first Páirc Uí Chaoimh concert, so I don’t mind events like this on GAA premises – it was more of a generational thing. The last concert I attended at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was U2 on the Achtung Baby tour almost 30 years ago when I actually got on stage to prelude the arrival of the amazing band.
That would have been when Ed Sheeran was three years old and I was a reporter for a now-defunct newspaper in Kerry. Now I’m a reporter again and in the comfortable seats at a stadium concert. Back then, after my fleeting game of fame, I would have jumped and jumped into the pit with the best of them.
That was then, this is now. Live in the moment. So here I am. To be enthusiastic about the music of this generation in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
And you know, it’s not bad. It might not have the same power as U2 at their best, or a memorable night at Croke Park when Simple Minds played in a thunder and lightning storm that we all thought was really brilliant lighting and special effects.
Lightning and thunder were not necessary here. The technical crew who put together the lighting, special effects, big screens and a stage that revolved like, as Ed explained, a hi-fi turntable – that and much more made this the most spectacular concert I’ve been to ever was. It’s live music on a whole new level.
And then the music. I’m in my fifties but I listen to radio and online platforms so Ed Sheeran’s music is inevitable. But who wants to avoid it? His hits are upbeat love songs like ‘Galway Girl’ or ‘Shivers’, the soulful and meaningful ‘The A Team’, a song he wrote after playing a gig at a homeless center when he was just 18′ drug users. The song became a worldwide hit when it appeared on Ed’s debut album.
After missing Denise Chaila, the Limerick-based rap artist I really wanted to hear, we were right on time with Maisie Peters, a talented singer-songwriter who’s signed to Ed Sheeran’s own record label. She proclaimed herself an “Ed Sheeran fan first and foremost and a support act” and having never heard of her before I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from her in the future. Her songs seemed to be nice tunes – I just couldn’t understand a word she was singing.
Ed appeared on stage at around 8:30pm followed by a 10 minute countdown. There was a runway from the stands to the stage that everyone looked to see the ginger-coated singer emerge, and there was a huge roar every time a security detail came into view. But Ed was already on stage, hidden behind a giant screen that rose to reveal the singer’s presence.
It went straight into the music. No formal introductions are required. Now I’m not going to pretend I know every song of his – hits like Shivers throwing in the ball – I was going to say kicked off but that would be a step too far – for the start of the concert others followed I couldn’t to name.
These early songs were played with Ed’s backing band, initially located at the side of the stage but then on platforms that rang the stag and later in concert. Not your traditional band structure, but as talented as they were as musicians, there’s no getting away from the fact that the star here is Ed.
Those early songs were of the rowdy sort – that’s not my description now but Ed’s own as he paused to start his conversation with us. He’s a speaker. He likes to share his methods and memories with people. For example how he was busking in Galway and making €100 but making nothing when he went to Grafton Street! Had he come to Cork, where he has relatives, he would have made a fortune, but it was too late to tell him. How he was taken to a gig by Damien Rice when he was just 11 and swore then and there that he too would become a singer-songwriter and pursue that dream that got him where he is now. Let’s be a lesson, do a stint with street musicians.
He told us there were times when he played to almost empty rooms where he was billed with five other singer-songwriters, each of whom had better songs than they thought. It occurred to him that he might not make it as a singer, and he thought that he could make a living writing songs for other artists. His first ‘cut’ was a co-writing credit for a song, Love Shine Down, on Olly Murs’ debut album.
Others would follow. And as they did, his own confidence in his own abilities grew. A pathetic lesson for the mostly youthful crowd – never give up on your dreams.
Aside from the band, there were the loop stations that Ed strategically positioned around the stage. He could be seen singing into a mic before most songs, but wasn’t heard – then, thanks to the magic of the pedals, he was able to conjure up his own backing group, which included himself and at times the 35,000 backing singers in the crowd. What he was able to achieve with these pedals was truly amazing.
There were numerous highlights – like Afterglow – and a few well-known songs, like a verse or two from “The Parting Glass” before moving on to another hit of his own. The early evening sun had set and darkness was falling, brightened by the fireworks.
The concert suddenly came to an end. An evening of singing and storytelling that showcased his Irish roots drew to a close – and an encore of three of his best-known songs, Shape of You, Bad Habits, You Need Me Man, I Don’t Need You.
Then it was slán abhaile and the crowd was spat out of the stadium with ruthless efficiency. The masks came on for some like big music nights are big, there’s still a pandemic right?
The crowd was in good spirits as we made our way to Monahan Road. Some boys sang, most teenagers wrapped up after a day of decidedly unpacking.
On the way home in the car I heard Ed Sheeran. I was finally able to hear most of the lyrics. You know, he’ll probably grow on me. He’s got a new Ed-head fan!
I’ll be happy to go back to the Páirc for a GAA match which hopefully Cork will be in a championship match later this year. Or maybe next year.
https://www.independent.ie/regionals/corkman/news/ed-sheeran-wins-cork-over-with-powerful-performance-in-pairc-ui-chaoimh-41599862.html Ed Sheeran convinces Cork with a strong performance in Páirc Uí Chaoimh