Renowned singer and songwriter, Ed Sheeran, performed in South Africa for the first time during the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in December last year. Thanks to Big Concerts, Sheeran and his technical team returned to the country with the Ed Sheeran Divide (÷) Tour in March, performing two shows in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town.
ETECH had the opportunity to attend the Johannesburg leg of the tour where we were treated to a full technical tour of the FNB Stadium ahead of the show.
AN UNDIVIDED SUCCESS
The Divide (÷) Tour is the third world concert tour by British singer and songwriter Ed Sheeran, which opened in Italy in March 2017 and is set to end in August this year. The tour has been an unmitigated global success, breaking several music tour records over its two-year run. According to Billboard, an American entertainment media brand owned by the Billboard-Hollywood Reporter Media Group, the Divide Tour was the eighth highest-grossing tour of 2017, selling 1,408,681 tickets and accumulating $122 million. It went on to become the highest-grossing tour of 2018, with total earnings amounting to $429 million, setting new records for the highest-grossing solo tour and highest year-end gross, ever.
Ed Sheeran enjoys a solid following in South Africa – as was evidenced by the enthusiastic response his performance received at the FNB Stadium during the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 late last year. When Big Concerts announced the tour late in 2018, tickets sold out almost immediately for both the Johannesburg and Cape Town dates – and South African fans were not disappointed, as Sheeran delivered a stellar show on all three occasions.
Most bands have the advantage of multiple performers on stage, as well as a backline or dancers to add to a tour performance. Despite the impressive rig that constitutes the Divide Tour, the heart of Sheeran’s performance remains his phenomenal vocals, acoustic guitars and a custom loop pedal – with sound, video and lighting being looked after by a highly skilled technical team.
While many touring artists rely on local rental companies to supply the bulk of their riders while on tour, Sheeran takes most of his rig around the world with him. The Pantec trucks that accompany Sheeran and his team around the world carry a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound LEO Family reinforcement system, lighting and sound consoles, lighting fixtures and a custom-designed stage designed by TAIT, in addition to Sheeran’s guitars and customised loop pedal.
Working in close collaboration with his production designer, together with stage design agencies, equipment suppliers, lighting and video directors and sound engineers, Sheeran has succeeded in elevating what is essentially a one-man show, rooted in the pubs where Sheeran found his first fans, into a grand arena-sized production.
Sheeran started working with Mark Cunniffe, an award-winning lighting and production designer, when he first started to perform as a solo artist in larger venues in 2011. Cunniffe has been instrumental in designing all of Sheeran’s tours, including the Plus (+) Tour, the Multiply (X) Tour, and the most recent Divide (÷) Tour, which is proving his most successful to date.
Cunniffe designed a dramatic set for the Divide Tour, centred upon a 63-foot-wide main stage where Ed Sheeran performed alone in front of a massive, 55-foot-tall goblet-shaped LED video structure, which displays Cunniffe’s custom-designed video content throughout the show. TAIT built the LED video goblet with a curved touring frame that houses numerous LED video screens, four lighting pods and scenic fascia. Cunniffe’s brief was to make the stage space really dynamic for the Divide Tour, so he developed a versatile and dramatic lighting rig that includes 142 moving lights and 17 LED strobes, together with two MDG theOne stadium hazers and 10km of DMX-controlled RGB LED tape.
“I worked with production manager Chris Marsh on this, along with Jeremy Lloyd of Wonder Works, who did all the technical drawings. Turning our concept into reality was Tait Towers, who fabricated it. We used several 5mm Roe Carbon tiles that go together with Tait touring standard and custom frames for the curved portions of the set,” Cunniffe explains in an article featured on PLSN.
In addition to the support that he has enjoyed from his production team, Sheeran has developed a close working relationship with his front of house manager, Chris Marsh, who together with a cracking crew from Major Tom, a leading audio supplier and solutions provider in the UK, manages all of his audio needs when performing live.
“Chris Marsh has been integral to everything that Ed does live. Even when he started out working with Ed in 2011, he was vastly experienced, so it’s great that we’ve all been able to grow together and achieve everything that we have so far,” says Sheeran’s agent, Jon Ollier, in a 2018 interview with IQ Magazine.
ED’S TEAM SHARE THEIR JOURNEY
In the days ahead of the Divide Tour in Johannesburg, the ETECH team had the opportunity to speak with Sheeran’s crew about their journey on the Divide Tour. David Cornwell spoke with Matt Jones about his role as the lighting director on the tour, as well as Phil Mead, who takes care of Cunniffe’s original video content. Charlie Albin, Sheeran’s audio systems engineer, spoke with Nicole Barnes about the demands of the tour and the technology that makes it possible.
ETECH would like to thank Ed Sheeran’s technical crew, Major Tom, the Meyer Sound team and Meyer local distributors, Prosound, for making this feature possible.