Ed Sheeran now knows how to tell an audience to shut up.

Ed Sheeran now knows how to tell an audience to shut up. Photo: Ashley Mar

Midway through Ed Sheeran's set, an amazing thing happened.

With a lopsided smile and a charming accent, he somehow managed to get the 10,000-plus people crammed into Gwinnett Arena, Georgia, to silence their chatter and random squealing of his name and even, for a few minutes, to disregard their smartphones.

Then, something even more incredible happened at the Jingle Jam concert Sheeran headlined last month.

Sheeran wasn't shushing the crowd to sing his hit ballad, The A Team, or even to do Little Things (the swoony tune he gave to his pals in One Direction) or Everything Has Changed (the song he wrote and sang with Taylor Swift for her current album, Red). No, the ginger-headed Brit wanted to work his magic by creating loops of his voice and percussion sounds with his mouth as the backdrop to a traditional folk song, The Wayfaring Stranger. And the audience was rapt.

''I've only just perfected being able to tell an audience to shut up,'' Sheeran says with a laugh. ''I never had the right before. When you're opening for other acts, as I did for so long, your job is to entertain. But since I'm going to do more headlining shows and people are spending $28 to see me, I know they're there to listen to music.''

When it is mentioned how impressive it was that the audience obeyed, Sheeran softly chuckles again.

''It isn't always. I once had someone in the front row plug in their iPod while I was performing.''

As usual, it was just him onstage with his guitar and a looping pedal and microphone - an on-the-spot layering technique he learned seven years ago, at age 14, from Irish musician Gary Dunne.

Sheeran was calling from Ireland, where he was set to perform that evening with plenty of his family in attendance. Though he was raised in Framlingham, England, Sheeran's paternal grandparents were Irish.

No surprise, then, that his debut album, +, has done tremendous business in the UK, going five-times platinum and spawning a quartet of top 10 hits. Sheeran also performed at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert last year and at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics, offering a striking rendition of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here with Nick Mason and Mike Rutherford.

The unlikely heartthrob has been honing his musical skills in pubs and pockets of Nowheresville since 2005, releasing 11 digital EPs before his 2011 album debut.

The ballad that launched Sheeran in the US, The A Team, is up for a song of the year Grammy next month, an honor the young singer-songwriter accepts with humility.

''It's huge,'' he said. ''There was only one thing left on my check list and it was a nomination. But I never expected to get song of the year. I feel like I've established myself in the UK and Australia, but to sit among truly great artists in America …''

Sheeran plans to spend most of this year in Tennessee while touring with Swift and working on his second album on days off from the road.

''I want to make sure the caliber of the songs is such a high quality that even if I don't get the right radio support, the album can stand on its own,'' he said.

MCT