Roundhay had not seen nights like these in years. Not since Robbie Williams, in his stadium-filling pomp, drew 100,000 people to the park’s famous bowl for two shows in 2006, had such crowds congregated in the leafy surroundings of LS8.
Ed Sheeran’s two concerts on Friday and Saturday pulled a combined total of 150,000 people to Rounday Park. In Friday’s heavy rain public transport had been overwhelmed by the huge numbers trying to make their way to north west Leeds during rush hour.
Many had complained on social media of 90-minute waits for shuttle buses from the city centre and of long queues to exit the site. In truth, such issues need ironing out if the park is to once again consistently attract artists of the ilk of the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and U2, who all performed there in the 1980s.
Thankfully Saturday’s clement weather brought out the best of Leeds. The sunshine and some judicious use of straw helped dry out some of the thick mud pummelled by boots the night before. Once inside the venue it was hard not to be struck by the sheer scale of the operation behind the modern king of British pop. The stage and lighting rig was enormous and boasted video screens and a sound system of pinpoint clarity.
Lewis Capaldi proved a shrewd choice of opening act. This year’s biggest breakthrough artist is rapidly becoming accustomed to big stages and, flanked by a band sporting bright red tracksuits, he made light work of getting the crowd on his side, peppering his half-hour set with some very funny between-song banter. “Do you like rock ’n’ roll?” he enquired at one point, to which the audience cheered loudly. “Well, that’s not me then. Do you like sad songs sung by chubby little boys from Scotland?”
Later, noting the enormity of the crowd, he observed wryly: “There’s too many people here. This is mental. [Ed Sheeran is] too successful.” The crowd duly sung along heartily to his chart-topping ballad Someone You Loved.
The Darkness, on the other hand, seemed a curious choice of entrée before the night’s main act. Singer Justin Hawkins’ concession that “it’s very difficult to follow Lewis Capaldi” seemed apt as they laboured to win over the audience with a 45-minute set that contained hard rock songs such as Get Your Hands Off My Woman and One Way Ticket To Hell and Back. Hawkins did a handstand on the drum riser that ended with him accidentally standing on his sunglasses, but the crowd did at least join in their closing number, I Believe in a Thing Called Love.
Ed Sheeran was a different matter altogether. Armed with just a semi-acoustic guitar and a loop station, he carried an air of serene self-assurance. Such confidence might be bolstered by having a setlist crammed with instantly recognisable songs, but the 28-year-old has the calmness and natural charm of a born entertainer. And entertain the masses he certainly did.
Castle on the Hill was followed by a half-rapped Eraser, the kind of blend of melodic-folk-meets-contemporary-R&B that he does so effectively. The A Team was greeted with a sea of camera phones as dusk gathered. Bloodstream, with its swirling visuals, was particularly impressive.
Before Tenerife Sea he asked for hush and the crowd obliged for a wistful ballad that Sheeran described as “one of my favourite songs to play live”. Switching things up from the previous night, he slipped in Love Yourself, a song he wrote “on a tour bus in 2015” and gifted to Justin Bieber.
“Let’s have a dance,” Sheeran said introducing Galway Girl. I See Fire was punchier, accompanied by big screen scenes of billowing smoke and flames to heighten the drama, then he wrapped up with a run of singalong songs that included Thinking Out Loud, Perfect and Sing. Shape of You and You Need Me, I Don’t Need You were saved for the encore, by which time Ed Sheeran had thoroughly conquered Leeds.
The singer, who had earlier pointed out his Yorkshire roots, saying he lived here until he was four years old before moving to Suffolk, signed off with a pledge to “see you in two years’ time”, and you suspected this audience was counting down the days.