After announcing he’d signed a record deal with Asylum Records in early 2011, singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was finally poised to introduce himself to the masses. Despite being just 20 years old, he’d already accrued an enormous social-media following, largely thanks to performing hundreds of live gigs across London and exponentially growing his fanbase with his folk-based songwriting and rap-inspired lyricism. By the time he came to release his debut album, +, the world was his for the taking.
Listen to ‘+’ here.
“I wanted to keep that organic, lo-fi feel”
Sheeran’s game plan had been remarkably effective. By issuing five self-released EPs as an independent artist, he had finally caught the attention of record-label bosses, and he was keen not to let this life-changing opportunity slip through his fingers. From the moment he first picked up a guitar, at age 11, after seeing Eric Clapton play Layla at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, making a record was everything Sheeran had been aiming for.
Settling in garden shed in Suffolk, in the East of England, Sheeran started work on + in January 2011, before graduating to the more advanced facilities of Sticky Studios in Surrey. The fledgling songwriter retained the services of producer Jake Gosling, who had masterminded his past EPs. “I wanted to keep that organic, lo-fi feel,” he told Q magazine. “I went in with pretty much all the songs written.” One of these songs, The A Team, written after he met a homeless prostitute called Angel at a crisis shelter, would eventually become Sheeran’s first UK Top 10 hit.
As a harrowing portrayal of Angel’s struggles with heroin addiction, The A Team was a heart-rending folk ballad that reflected the singer’s own personal distress at hearing the girl’s story first-hand (“She’s in the Class A Team/Stuck in her daydream”). In late April, Sheeran was invited to perform the song on BBC Two’s Later… With Jools Holland. “It was quite a weird thing, because it all happened at the last minute,” he said. “It was all live and it’s a big show to do.”