Ed Sheeran joins James Blunt on Brighton stage

James Blunt - Once Upon A Mind Tour,  Brighton Centre

James Blunt - Gavin Bond Photography

Just when you thought James Blunt's concert couldn't get any better, Ed Sheeran stepped unbilled on stage and dueted with him before singing a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday.

For James came to Brighton on his 46th birthday and celebrated by playing not just his latest tracks from Once Upon A Mind but a host of his classics too.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Not that he didn't tease the audience a little first with his legendary good Hampshire humour.

He told them he wanted them out of their seats and singing along before he would even consider playing their favourites.

Then he admitted to some 'really good advice' from a man who helped him at the start of his career - Sir Elton John. "He said, 'James, when you're playing to any audience just remember you play your hits'."

Which was great mentoring - except at that time James only had one to his credit. "I thought, what are you supposed to do, play You're Beautiful 22 times?!"

In 2020 there were enough hits to fill the full hour and three quarter gig - with plenty to spare. And yes, You're Beautiful was on the session along, of course, with Bonfire Heart

and his self-confessed favourite Same Mistake.

But this concert was special not just because of the birthday.

His new album is rich with personal family resonance. When he was writing it, his father was ill with stage four Chronic Kidney Disease. That catalysed “thoughts I needed to get out, and is the driving force of this album. If I was to dedicate the album to anyone, it would be him. And that’s given me a focus. When you realise the mortality of a parent, and it coincides with having children, you see the circle of life more clearly."

The cornerstone song about his father is Monsters. "I’m not your son, you’re not my father, we’re just two grown men saying goodbye. No need to forgive, no need to forget, I know your mistakes, you know mine."

Beautifully, his father has since undergone a kidney transplant - thanks to another member of the family of the same name - and James had invited the team from the renal unit at QA in Portsmouth to the concert in Brighton.

The audience gave a whoop of appreciation when they heard. Nearly but not quite as loud as when Mr Sheeran strolled on in baseball cap.

But then this whole concert was a melodic joy.

James Blunt might claim to only write miserable songs - but the audience lapped every last word up with giant smiles on their faces. A triumph.

Gary Shipton