Why family matters to Ed

April 2nd, 2019 7:05 AM

By Aisling Meath

Ed Sheeran

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West Cork brothers, Murray and Billy Cummings tell Aisling Meath what it's like having superstar Ed Sheeran as their first cousin.

When you are one of the biggest pop stars in the world with the most successful live music tour of 2018 selling 4.86 million tickets, and the tour grossing m, then you need to have people around you that you can trust; and who better than family?

So it is with Ed Sheeran, whose 2017 album ‘Divide’ sold 6.1 copies worldwide excluding streaming;  making it the fastest selling album by a male artist ever. 

Despite the fame and fortune Ed continues to remain close to his friends and family and particularly to his first cousins Murray and Billy Cummings who are both past pupils of Schull Community College. Ed’s dad and the lads’ mum are brother and sister.  

Now in May the brothers will be returning to Schull to screen ‘Songwriter’ at The Fastnet Film Festival. This ‘fly on the wall’ documentary, captured over many years was directed by Murray and provides a unique insight into the creative and writing process of his cousin Ed; one of the world’s most prolific songwriters. Billy also worked as a cameraman on the film.

Creativity certainly runs in the family; Murray has a Masters in Screenwriting from Royal Holloway University and also co- wrote the song ‘Nancy Mulligan’ with Ed based on the love story between their grandparents which features on Ed’s incredibly successful album ‘Divide’. 

Billy is co-founder of Dog Day Media, a film and animation company based in Cork whose client portfolio includes Google, SuperValu, UCC and Paddy Power.

The brothers will be joined at the festival by their childhood friend William Bean, another past pupil of Schull Community College. William is co-founder and director of animation at Dog Day Media and worked on the post- production of the film and was responsible for all its animation. 

Speaking from his base in LA where he is currently writing another film, Murray said: ‘I’m really looking forward to bringing ‘Songwriter’ to Schull. I looked at the list of festivals where we were considering showing and there among Tribeca and Cannes was the Fastnet Film festival and I decided that is one festival where I absolutely wanted to show the film for sure.

‘I cannot wait to see my friends and family in West Cork and meet up with teachers from school. I’m also hugely excited that Roddy Doyle will be at the festival, as I’m a big fan and love the comedic elements of his work,’ he said.

There are many challenges for any filmmaker shooting a documentary such as ‘Songwriter’ when you have no idea of how the story will unfold or where it will end, but Murray managed to overcome these. 

‘Originally I was going to end it on Ed’s appearance at Glastonbury festival but the footage didn’t work out the way I wanted it to so I had to come up with another plan, approaching the ending in a different way,’ he said. 

The whole editing process, sifting through 10 years of footage from a young Ed right through the point where he had achieved global fame took an entire year and the film has now been released on Apple. 

But before the rest of the world could view it, there was one person who had to give it the seal of approval.

‘When I showed the rough cut of the film to Ed he sent me back text message size notes with one or two suggestions such as a camera angle that he didn’t like and- that was it! I was really lucky. My producer couldn’t believe it!’ laughs Murray. 

The brothers recall early signs of Ed’s talent and his determination to make it in the music business.

‘I remember when Ed was only around eight years old rapping perfectly to an Eminem song. I’m older than him and remember being really impressed that this kid had such an amazing memory for lyrics and such great rhythm,’ said Murray.

‘He’s been writing songs every day since he was 14-years-old. He is now 28. He constantly writes and records the songs until he has playlists to choose from of which songs to include on his next album.

‘Sometimes he writes two or three songs a day. I have even witnessed him writing songs at 5am when he was jetlagged. It’s quite incredible,’ he said.

Ed never minded Murray filming him as he was so used to him being around with a camera in his hand. He was also relaxed in the knowledge that his cousin would never do anything that would compromise him.

Billy also continues to work closely with his famous cousin and recently directed a video for him about Ed’s signature guitars ‘Lowden’, which are made in Northern Ireland. 

Billy said: ‘Ed’s great to work with because he knows he can trust you. He gave me just one line of the brief for the video and then he trusted me to do my thing and shoot it the way I wanted. In the end he absolutely loved it and it’s probably one of my favourite pieces of work.’

‘It’s weird how your cousins are all best mates and then you hit your teenage years and don’t see much family for a while,’ continued Billy. 

‘I remember a family event when I was 18 and Ed was 16, having not seen each other for ages.

‘He played a couple of songs and told me he was quitting school to become a musician. I was blown away at the confidence but also the trust his dad had in him to give it a real go.

‘Once I saw the “You Need Me” YouTube video – that was it! You could tell that was the moment his career started!

‘I first heard of the “Songwriter” project while Murray was still filming Ed on tour. He sent me a rough edit of Ed writing “Love Yourself” and it was amazing!’ he said.

Justin Bieber went on to record that song  though Ed had originally penned it with Rhianna in mind.

‘Murray knew Ed was about to stop touring and start writing and recording his album,’ continued Billy, ‘and after capturing the “Love Yourself” footage he could see that he had to follow Ed through this process and make a film.’ 

Billy became the second camera man and joined his brother, Ed and all the other talent involved in England. 

They spent three weeks there filming a huge chunk of the album writing and recording.

‘After that Murray returned to LA but there were still processes in the album we needed to get captured. So I started to fly over from Cork to the UK, to pick up all the last details while Murray was beginning the huge task of editing. 

‘Everyone was working together towards the same goal and it was such an exciting few weeks full of energy and creativity. I’ll never forget it,’ he said

Ed, who reportedly tied the knot with school friend Cherry Seaborn at Christmas, is currently on a world tour but Billy and Murray keep in close contact with him.

And Ed has been known to surprise people in West Cork by popping up unexpectedly in various places when he is over for family occasions.

‘Once he was on the way down and stopped in the most random isolated shop in the Dunmanway area completely surprising the owner,’ said Billy who has enjoyed some great times with his cousin over the years.

He remembers an event when he heard Ed behind him say: ‘Hey Billy – meet David’ and how he found himself star struck as he turned around to see none other than David Beckham standing there; he had always been a huge fan. 

It’s just all part of the fun when your cousin is one of the biggest pop stars in the world!

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