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Brit singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran on The A Team, opening for Taylor Swift

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"HE’S A NATURAL."

"She was born to do this."

"He really had no choice."

They're show-business platitudes that have been used to describe pretty much any professional entertainer who ever stepped onto a stage to sing, dance, play an instrument, tell jokes, spin plates or, to their parents' unending chagrin, juggle chainsaws.

But when it comes to Ed Sheeran, the immensely talented ginger-haired Brit who'll open for Taylor Swift on June 22 at Investors Group Field, those clich©d descriptions actually might be understating the sense of inevitability that has driven his career as a writer and singer of unique and immediately infectious songs.

"I suppose there are many paths I could have gone down," Sheeran says in a telephone interview just before starting the Canadian leg of Swift's around-the-world Red Tour, "but this is the only one I really should have done. I mean, I could have worked in a bar or an office, but those things weren't my passion.

"This is what I've always wanted to do."

And by "always," the native of Halifax, England really does mean pretty much the entirety of his 22 years on Earth. Born to an art-curator father and a jewelry-designer mother who were both huge music fans, Sheeran was exposed to rock, folk and pop from birth (his dad had a particular fondness for Van Morrison and Bob Dylan), began singing in church choirs at age four and started noodling on guitar shortly after that.

By the time he reached high school, he was writing his own songs, and in 2005, at age 14, he recorded the beginnings of his first independent EP, The Orange Room. At age 17, his determination to pursue a music career was such that he moved to London, alone, and started playing gigs wherever and whenever he could find them.

"It definitely was terrifying," he recalls. "It's a very big city, and it's filled with a lot of talent and a lot of competition. But the move there was a kind of obvious one, because that's where the music industry is situated, and that's where most of the concerts can be got. All I wanted to do was play every single night; I didn't want to play just on Thursdays or whatever. Moving to London was an easy move, actually."

In the year that followed, Sheeran played more than 300 shows, sometimes in front of only a handful of people. But every gig was another accumulated bit of stage experience, and another incremental advance in the process of introducing Ed Sheeran to the world.

"You definitely have moments (of doubt)," he says of the early, sparsely populated gigs, "but I wasn't at a stage where I could demand anything else. I had to prove myself before anything else happened. Turning up at age 17 and playing to five people -- I couldn't exactly ask for anything more than that at that age."

The turning point, he says, came in 2010 when he released the EP Loose Change, which included the song that would be his big debut single, The A Team.

"My fan base started growing, and I was playing 200- to 300-capacity venues and selling them out," he says. "I guess that was the moment I knew (the career was taking off)."

After recording another indie EP, Sheeran signed with Asylum/Atlantic Records; his first major-label CD, the symbolically titled +, was released late in 2011 and included a reissue of The A Team. It debuted at No. 1 on the British album charts.

By last year, Sheeran's fan base grew to include Swift, who invited him to collaborate on her latest project. The now-on-tour duo co-wrote Swift's hit Everything Has Changed (Sheeran also contributed vocals to the track), and soon afterward, Swift asked the Brit to join the Red Tour roadshow.

"It all happened very naturally," he recalls. "I was playing in her hometown of Nashville (which also became Sheeran's hometown when he made an across-the-pond migration last February), and her manager turned up to the gig. We had a chat, and I expressed an interest in writing a song with her; it turns out she had expressed an interest in writing a song with me.

"We did that; we hung out, we got on very well, and the next thing I knew, I was on the tour."

For Sheeran, making inroads into the North American market is as big a challenge as seeking that first big break in London.

"The whole of North America is so huge, and coming here is a big risk to take," he says. "You're basically going from hero to zero, pretty much instantly. There's no point in coming over here unless you're going to do it properly. It's been fun, and it's been an interesting 18 months. It seems to be on the upswing at the moment."

As for life on the road with Swift, Sheeran says it has been a rewarding and educational tour, made better by the fact the superstar headliner has also become one of his very close friends.

"We get on, and we hang out together outside of work, as well, which I think is a good thing.... It's a great friendship; we don't really focus on work too much when we're not working."

Success and friendship, both at the same time? Naturally.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 C1

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Updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:59 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds fact box, adds sidebar, changes headline

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