Belfast Telegraph

Gary Lightbody's already a fan and now Ed Sheeran is taking Down man Ryan McMullan on tour

By Claire McNeilly

It's not every day one of the world's biggest pop stars asks you to be part of his forthcoming tour.

But that's exactly what happened to Ryan McMullan when Ed Sheeran came calling - and the talented Portaferry singer-songwriter didn't need a second invitation.

The 27-year-old has received rave reviews over the last couple of years but was still gobsmacked when he was personally approached by the multi-platinum selling Sheeran after a concert in London last year.

Ironically, Sheeran was at the Shepherd's Bush gig primarily to see his friend and Ryan's compatriot Foy Vance perform - but he was bowled over by the support act's mesmeric turn.

"Ed came over afterwards and asked me what I was doing in March and April of 2017. I said 'nothing'... and that's how it all started," Ryan told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I met him a couple of times prior to that, and we got on well ... but I never expected this."

A past pupil of St Patrick's Grammar, Downpatrick, Ryan will join Sheeran on his Divide tour which kicks off in Italy on March 16 and concludes at London's O2 Arena on May 3.

Along the way there will be stops in major cities such as Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris, prior to sell-out gigs in Dublin's 3Arena on April 12 and 13.

Sadly, Northern Ireland is not on the list this time.

Sheeran took to Twitter to announce the two acts - Ryan and English singer Anne-Marie Nicholson - who would be joining him for a tour to promote his third album Divide.

He posted: "They are both fantastic, check them out... you won't regret it."

Ryan is, of course, determined that Sheeran will have no regrets about giving him the biggest opportunity of his career.

Speaking to this newspaper from London, where he is "with people who keep telling me how great I am", a rather bashful Ryan said he was humbled to have the chance to perform on some of the biggest stages throughout Europe.

"In my eyes, this is going to be the music event of the year, and to be part of it is simply amazing," the Ulster University graduate said.

"Ed Sheeran is a genuine superstar, but he behaves like a regular guy and we get on great. He's an absolute gentleman. I can't praise him enough."

Ryan, who studied civil engineering while at university, added: "Hopefully this tour will help me go as far as I can in the music business. I want to do this for the rest of my life."

It's a far cry from where he started out, playing in a band with friends in pubs, although his 54-year-old dad John still regularly performs in their Portaferry local, Fiddler's Green.

"When I was 14 or 15, I said I wanted to learn to play the guitar so my dad actually learned first - so he could help me," revealed Ryan.

They started playing in bars, but Ryan went to university because it was important to his dad, a labourer, and classroom assistant mum Nuala (54), that he and older brother Paul (29) embraced further education.

"We didn't have a lot of money growing up and my parents really wanted me to get a degree so I did that for them," he said.

But after he finished his course, he took a year out to work on his music and, courtesy of self-penned songs such as A Winter's Coat, Oh Susanna and Ghosts, his stock began to rise in the latter part of 2015.

Inspiration isn't hard to come by for Ryan, who plays guitar and piano and admits he writes about "everything and nothing. Love, hate, lust."

He credits Foy Vance as being his "biggest inspiration" and loves other home-grown acts such as Van Morrison and Snow Patrol, who he says defines his life growing up.

It must be flattering then, to hear Show Patrol's lead singer Gary Lightbody describing him as having "a voice like an angel".

"Snow Patrol was my favourite band growing up so getting Gary's recognition means everything," said Ryan.

So how does he see the future panning out for himself and his particular musical genre, which he calls "I rish soul/pop"?

"The game plan is to go as far as possible, and that's one of the reasons I'm so grateful for getting this opportunity with Ed Sheeran," he said.

"Happiness is the key to everything for me and doing this is what really makes me happy.

"I honestly want to be able to do this for the rest of my life."

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