WHEN it came to filming a documentary about his songwriting, Ed Sheeran kept it in the family.
The multi-award winning singer/songwriter is the subject of his cousin, Murray Cummings’ documentary, Songwriter, which will be screened at the Fastnet Film Festival in Schull in May.
Murray’s brother, Billy, was also involved as director of photography and Murray’s step brother, William Bean, has produced animated content for the documentary.
Murray, Billy and William are all past pupils of Schull Community College and will take part in a post-screening Q&A session at the festival. Murray, who was born in London and mostly brought up in West Cork, says Ed is too busy to attend the festival, but the documentary has his blessing.
Living in Los Angeles for the past three years, 34-year-old Murray isn’t involved in a hyper competitive film industry life. “I live a fairly relaxed and normal life. The documentary is an independent film. I was just putting it together on my own in my house.”
The documentary was well received at the Berlin Film Festival last year. It was also screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. After a number of screenings there, it was announced that the documentary had been sold to Apple Music. “That was really exciting,” said Murray.
The friendship between cousins Murray and Ed, whose paternal grandparents are Irish, started on holidays at their grandmother’s house in Ireland “when we were kids — our parents made sure that all of the cousins would hang out together”.
Murray added: We would go on holidays together. I was hanging out with Ed when he was four and I was a bit older (six years older.) Then we kind of grew apart a little and when I was a teenager, he wasn’t. But we got back in touch when Ed was 13. We were both listening to the same music and we sent each other stuff, back and forth.
“We really became close when Ed moved to London. I had moved there to work for a company called Lightning Productions which makes music videos.
“Ed was doing the open mic circuit in London because he wanted to become a musician. So he stayed on my couch in London.”
The cousins became “really close. Ed asked me to do videos for him. When he signed a record deal a year later, he asked me to come on the road with him and film everything.”
A seemingly affable guy, Murray says his famous cousin is “sound and well-raised. If you meet his parents, you’ll understand why. They’re so nice and easy-going.”
When it comes to his music career, Ed is described by Murray as “a determined lad. He loves music, he loves writing and he loves performing. He used to be shy as a kid. I think music helped him to get over that. He’d write something then realise that he’d rather play it for people than just leave it sitting on his computer.
“He would go out and get as many people as possible to hear it. That kind of drive is why he has ended up where he is.”
Murray says Ed is always planning ahead. While writing an album, he’ll also be talking about his ideas for the music videos to go with the songs. One of the reasons his record company was so impressed with him was because he was always three albums ahead.
“He was seen, not as a flash in the pan, but as someone you could have a career with.”
The documentary is about the making of Ed’s third studio album, Divide. It includes never-before-seen home videos.
“Luckily, I was able to go through our childhood videos and find bits to use. It was kind of nice to be able to do that.”
Murray wasn’t interested in exploring Ed’s fame.
“I decided to make something different. I wasn’t going to show fame. I didn’t want paparazzi, screaming fans or big stadiums. I didn’t want to have sit down interviews because I didn’t want to tell the audience how something came to be. I just wanted to show them. I feel the fame thing has been done before. His fans know so much about him. There’s a story that I felt only I could tell because I was the only person that was there. I thought it would be better for me to make a film about Ed writing songs because that’s the one part of his life that his fans don’t get to see.”
The main thing Murray noticed about Ed’s writing process is that he doesn’t judge his songs at the beginning. He writes and writes.
“The critical part of his brain isn’t on at that point. That comes much later in the process. He’s very prolific. He wrote around 200 songs for his third album, 12 of which made it, with 16 of them on a deluxe version of the album.”
For the documentary, Murray spent six years of his life with Ed, on a touring bus.
“I basically toured the world with Ed. We were always together.”
Ed was so busy touring that he worried he’d never get back to writing. But his producer, the legendary Benny Blanco, suggested he should come on the road.
“He brought his own tour bus and had a studio in it. So we went on Benny’s bus and Ed first wrote the song he ended up giving to Justin Bieber, called Love Yourself. I think Ed will work like this again. He enjoyed the process.”
The documentary is like a road movie, says Murray: “Because Ed’s lifestyle is all over the place, it’s hard to track him down and get him to stay any place longer than a few days. So you have to go to him.”
Murray ended up on a luxury cruise liner from New York to Southampton.
“That was because Ed wanted to work with Benny Blanco in the UK. But Benny doesn’t like to fly as he was almost in an accident on a plane. Ed was saying he’d get him a boat. A studio was built in the cruise liner, down in the hull. We left New York and got to England.”
Ed Sheeran has spoken about drinking, sometimes to excess, in the past.
“I’m not sure what he’s up to now but we’ve given it up a few times. We used to give it up all the time on tour. By giving ourselves a break, we would sort ourselves out. I remember the first time Ed gave up drink that I know of. It was before his first album came out. He was worried that if he was drinking, he might get a few things wrong and not be on top of it.
“He stopped drinking to make sure he was on the ball and that the album came out the way he wanted. So it’s not strange for him to do that.”
From the young fella couch-surfing in his cousin’s home while he created a career for himself, Ed Sheeran has certainly come a long way. His album Divide was the best selling album worldwide in 2017.
Murray is proud of his first film. It reveals Ed to be a vulnerable and massively talented songwriter.
Songwriter will be screened on May 25 at the Fastnet Film Festival in Schull (May 22-26.) www.fastnetfilmfestival.com.