THE last time Ryan McMullan visited Australia nine years ago he was like any other teenage Irish backpacker.
Wide-eyed and looking for adventure, he slept in hostels, maybe spent an occasional night on a friend’s couch. All in all, it was far from glamorous.
“I was just doing the travelling thing up the east coast, but I wasn’t there too long as I ran out of money too quick,” McMullan tells Weekender in his northern Irish brogue from a chilly Belfast.
“So I was only there five or six months.”
It’ll be a completely different experience for McMullan when he arrives in Australia again next week.
McMullan has been personally chosen by Ed Sheeran to support the global pop superstar at his three Sydney shows at ANZ Stadium next Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The 27-year-old’s Australian debut will be at one of the country’s largest stadiums and the enormity of the occasion isn’t lost on him.
“It’s crazy isn’t it? Doing my first Australian show in front of 70,000 people,” he says. “That’s going to be pretty amazing.
“It also falls on St Patrick’s Day, the last of the three gigs.”
Receiving the personal endorsement of Sheeran is probably more valuable for an emerging musician than any multi-million record label campaign.
The flame-haired troubadour is arguably the hottest entertainer on the planet. Sheeran’s songs Shape Of You (No.1), Castle On The Hill (No.3), Perfect (No.4) and Galway Girl (No.7) all featured in ARIA’s top-seven selling singles of last year, while his album Divide has gone six times platinum to be Australia’s favourite record of 2017.
Shape Of You is also Spotify’s most played track ever, having received an incredible 1.6 billion streams.
McMullan’s association with Sheeran began last year when he was supporting fellow Northern Ireland singer-songwriter Foy Vance in London.
Sheeran was so impressed by McMullan’s warm rich vocals and pop-folk songwriting that he instantly invited him to join his two-month tour through Europe.
Understandably, the opportunity opened McMullan’s music to a wider audience.
“The beauty of the Ed Sheeran shows was I had nothing to lose and everything to gain every night,” he says. “That’s the attitude I took to the stage.
“If I win over one person tonight then it’s still a success, but let’s aim for a few more.”
It won’t be all stadium shows while he’s in Australia. McMullan is taking every opportunity to perform. He’ll play Byron Bay’s Bluesfest and his own show at Lizotte’s.
“That’s probably a truer representation of where I am at the minute,” McMullan says of the Lizotte’s show. “It’s also great because I get to play more songs and just show the people of Newcastle what I’m about and what my craft is about.”
McMullan will also return to the Lambton theatre four nights later to support classic rockers Dragon. It’s hardly Ed Sheeran at ANZ Stadium, but the quietly-spoken Northern Irishman doesn’t mind.
“The organisers asked me would I be up for it and I just said yes as it would just be another opportunity to play more songs to more people and get the truck going,” he says.
“The more people who hear me the better.”
McMullan’s journey in music began as a teenager playing in a covers band around pubs in his seaside hometown of Portaferry.
“I started like most Irish people,” he says. “There’s guitars in so many houses, there’s always music around in Irish homes.”
Following his backpacking trip to Australia McMullan began a civil engineering university degree, but his passion for music only increased.
“Now it’s just everything I can think of, it’s my entire being to perform and record,” he says.
In 2015 McMullan released his debut EP, the bluesy Listen. That was followed by the pop-folk EP A Winter’s Coat last year, which delivered the popular single You Don’t Dance.
McMullan’s next single Bowie On The Radio will be released in April and a debut album is expected later this year.
Ryan McMullan performs at Lizotte’s on Tuesday, March 20 and he will support Dragon on March 24.