Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is out on his world tour in support of his latest album ÷ (Divide), a title which follows in the footsteps of his previous releases, 2014’s x (Multiply) and 2011’s + (Plus). The albums were released, respectively, in March 2017, June 2014 and Sept. 2011.
Sheeran, who performs alone on stage, is a talent to behold. Unaccompanied by bands, backup singers, dancers or orchestras, he relies on just his acoustic guitar and a custom loop pedal to keep arena-sized audiences in thrall, selling out A-level venues months in advance.
We got a chance to speak to production and lighting designer Mark Cunniffe, lighting director Matt Jones and video director Phil Mead, who talked about the tour’s design and its unique visuals that extend the creative reach of one artist so that it fills huge venues with a show to remember.
Production and Lighting Designer
“The arena show concept we came up with is phase one of Ed Sheeran’s design. When we play stadiums in 2018 that will be phase two, so that will be at least a 180° design for the show — for the LED tiles and lighting of the goblet like set which is currently 42’ wide. I worked with production manager Chris Marsh on this along with Jeremy Lloyd of Wonder Works (London based), who did all the technical drawings. Turning our concept into reality was Tait Towers, who fabricated it. Colonel Tom Touring provided the 5mm Roe Carbon tiles which go together with Tait touring standard and custom frames for the curved portions of the set.”
Area Four Industries (located in the U.K. and U.S.) is the distributor for the Litec factory truss for the tour. It’s a joint effort between them and the Sheeran production team, in fabricating a custom engineered mother grid.
“I decided to automate the four triangular pods that are in the underside of the LED structure. These pods are on three variable speed motors, which are controlled by a Kinesys Vector system. Then I have inside each triangular pod, 10 Claypaky Mythos 2 fixtures, 118 in total — which are in the crown, the base and in front of Ed’s riser. We have 24 Clay-paky Scenius Unicos, which are very bright units, twice the size of the Mythos, with full shuttering, and have great impact. Behind the set with the Unicos we have 17 TMB Solaris Flares as well.
“The video content was created by both Canada’s Moment Factory and Shop, a company located in the U.K. Video director Phil Mead handled the d3 media server programming, while Matt Swoboda was the programmer on the Notch portion of the project.
“This has been yet another challenging, enjoyable and very rewarding experience working with Ed these past seven years of tour designing, and I look forward to many more.”
Lighting director Matt Jones first met Cunniffe and the production team on Sheeran’s London Wembley Stadium shows back in 2015, where he was offered the role of LD for the Australian and New Zealand shows later that year.
“Mark and I have a great working relationship, and we can both speak very honestly, which is good in any working relationship. I’m really honored with the trust he shows in my ability to look after his shows. Alex Passmore did the bulk of the programming for the show. I had a few additional songs to program while on the road, songs got added into the show as the new album gained traction.
“The show is a very cued show in its structure, but the timing of the cues is dependent on the flow of the show and the timing of Ed himself. We could not run this show as a timecode, as a simple curve ball or impromptu [change] from Ed can have an effect for the rest of the song. There are, however, plenty of “Stab and Hit” buttons that I use throughout the show that trigger lighting cues or video cues that add to the dynamic and live nature of each show.”
During the pre-production, video director Phil Mead worked with Aude Guivarc’h from Moment Factory and Tom Readdy from Shop to make sure they were all on the same page with pixel space and 3D meshes.
“In rehearsals we had a team from Moment Factory and Shop onsite with their render farms. I worked closely with lighting programmer Alex Passmore programming my d3 cue points into the lighting cue stacks.
“The show is powered by two active d3 4×2 Pro servers, and the timeline is controlled from the lighting network. I have a small MIDI controller in video village for fine controls over the dry/wet for some of the Notch effects. My switcher is a Blackmagic ATEM 2ME and feeds two ME’s and two Auxiliaries to the servers.
“Since the Multiply album campaign (2014-2015), we have been working with Notch (previously DFX) to apply and warp live treatments. This year, we went one step further with Notch and treated some of the content as well as using occlusion layers and live UV’s for the live inputs.”
The ÷ (Divide) Tour: A Solo Artist’s Marathon
Ed Sheeran’s ÷ (Divide) tour, the artist’s third major tour, is now traveling through North America, and it’s just part of a marathon, multi-year global trek.
The tour began with a leg in Europe and the U.K., starting in Turin, Italy on March 16, with 34 shows capped by three consecutive nights at the O2 Arena in London. The Latin American leg followed, with 14 shows South American, Mexico and the Caribbean. Then after a couple of shows back in the U.K. in late June, the ÷ (Divide) tour hit the U.S., starting with Kansas City’s Sprint Center on June 29.
By the time the current North American leg is completed with a show in Nashville on Oct. 7, Sheeran will have filled arenas for 60 dates. From there, he’ll be off to Asia (Oct. 22-Nov.23).
The tour then continues into 2018 with shows set for Australia and New Zealand (March 2-April 1) and the U.K./Europe (May 4-Aug. 12).
Ed Sheeran 2017 ÷ (Divide) World Tour
More 2017 Ed Sheeran ÷ (Divide) tour photos by Steve Jennings: