Slicing through all that ham

Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview
Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview: Portraits by Dara Munnis.

Niamh Farrell, of Irish band Ham Sandwich tells Adam Shaw about how her band is more than a silly name

Lead vocalist Niamh Farrell admits, there really is only one place to start when it comes to finding out more about her band. Their unusual name, Ham Sandwich, started out as a bit of a joke before morphing into something that stuck.

It was a divisive choice – several loved it, others hated it, and some people told them they had to change it if they were to make it in the music business. In any case, it got people talking, while the naysayers evoked the band’s stubborn nature, motivating them to achieve success as nothing other than Ham Sandwich.

Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview
Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview: Portraits by Dara Munnis.

“It’s quite hard to pick a band name, actually,” Niamh said. “We wanted a silly name just to get us by for the time being. Someone said ‘Ham Sandwich’ and we thought it was funny because it was so ridiculous.

“Some people told us we had to change it but we were determined to make it work and show that you can have a successful band called Ham Sandwich.

Steady Growth

“We wanted to show that we were not a joke band and were totally serious about what we were doing.”

If the name is eye-catching, so too is how the band was formed back on Good Friday in 2003. Niamh explained how for those who have become disaffected with Christianity, the day is one of panic rather than sorrow.

The closure of off-licences and pubs means people are left wondering where they can get a drink, but one of the band’s friends had an inventive idea. By stocking up on alcohol the day before and inviting everyone over, the Crucifixion party was born – disrespectful, perhaps, but this is rock ‘n’ roll – and so it seems, was Ham Sandwich.

Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview
Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview: Portraits by Dara Munnis.

“It was at the so-called Crucifixion party where we first discussed putting a band together – a few of us had done things in the past and we were all interested in the same music and had similar styles,” Niamh said.

And they’ve come a long way since this chat at their friend’s house. Their most recent album, Stories from the Surface, reached number one in Ireland and they have performed in places such as Germany and Spain.

Niamh described the journey as “kind of mad” and said that it was the way that band had consistently developed that was most pleasing. “After White Fox [the band’s second album] we really kicked on and we started making some really good sounds and landed some great gigs,” she explained.

“It’s been a constant and steady growth, which has been amazing, and to get the number one in Ireland was unbelievable because we’re a fully independent band.

“I guess you could say we have a ‘bigger’ sound now, because we’ve added in more instruments – trumpets, violins and cellos.

Challenge

“We did it live and realised how well it works, so we had that in our heads going into the latest album.”

Niamh’s comment on independence is a telling one – their success is even more impressive given that they constantly have to balance their music with the rest of their lives. “It’s quite difficult to write, gig and do everything else all at once because we’ve all got our own lives outside of the band,” she said. “When we’re not busy with music, we’re all at home or at work doing our own things.

Ham Sandwich Niamh Farrell interview
Portraits by Dara Munnis.

“When it comes to writing, we need to sit down and focus on it – hopefully once we finish our next tour, we can get together and plan that.”

The tour the band has in mind will take in the big cities across the UK, as this is where they feel the next, most natural challenge awaits. They will have a taster when they perform at Islington’s O2 Academy 2 on June 29, before heading back to Ireland to play a couple of summer festivals, including this year’s Sea Sessions in Co. Donegal.

“We’ve had the opportunity to travel, but we’d love to get out more,” Niamh said. “We’ll look to start with the UK but we’ll also factor in Europe. That’s what you want to do at the end of the day; you want to get your music out to more and more people.

“After all, there are only so many times you can go around Ireland.”

The band members are all proud, and appreciative, of their homeland, however. The four lads, Podge M McNamee, Brian Darcy, David McEnroe and Ollie Murphy, hail from Co. Meath, while Niamh is from Dublin. They all now live and work in the capital, and have been very impressed with its music scene, acknowledging that, much like their own sound, it has altered over time.

“Since we’ve been together the music that has been around us has changed so much,” Niamh said. “When we started out, the singer-songwriter thing wasn’t massive in Dublin. You only really had people like Damien Rice, but that’s changed a bit.

“There’s so much variety in Dublin, which is nice to see, and so much talent as well. One minute you see someone playing a small gig in the city and the next thing you know, they’re on Jools Holland. There’s some fantastic stuff coming out of Ireland.”

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