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Proving the doubters wrong

Niamh Farrell of the band HamsandwicH told David Hennessy about the band’s new album, its tribute to their late manager Derek Nally and everyone including Bono telling them to change their name.

Meath band HamsandwicH were told from the very start they would never get anywhere with a name like that.

Bono himself was one who recommended they change the name if they wanted to get somewhere.

You can bet they were told by all and sundry they would never play massive stages like Slane, Glastonbury or the Olympia.

Well, Bono and everyone else has been proved wrong.

Known for their thrilling lives shows, they have played support to massive acts like Mumford and Sons, Jon Bon Jovi, Arcade Fire and The Pixies.

They have also played on the main stages at the Electric Picnic and Longitude Festival.

Their last album Stories from the Surface went straight to number one in the Irish album charts making them the first independent band to achieve it.

There have also been sad times along the way with the band losing their manager Derek Nally in 2010.

Now the band are back with their fourth album Magnify which sees them take a new direction with the introduction of some electropop flavours to their usual acoustic rock.

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Something of a nostalgic record at times, there is a tribute to Derek Nally on the song Good Friday.

Singer Niamh Farrell told The Irish World: “There’s definitely a new direction, it’s exciting and equal parts scary at the same time.

“I mean, it’s always a scary thing releasing an album because you tend to sit on it for so long that you almost lose yourself in it so once it’s coming up to the album being released and people actually being able to hear it, it’s scary.

“I just can’t wait to hear what people think about it really.”

It was in 2015 that HamsandwicH released their last album, why has it been so long? “It does feel like a long time.

“It’s mental to think that it was 2015.

“It does feel like a long time and there was a point where people were like, ‘Are you ever going to release new music?’”

“We released that album and then we went into touring and stuff like that and then life gets in the way so there was maybe one or two years where everybody had a bit of their own thing going on, the band maybe took a bit of a backseat.

“We knew we wanted to do another album and when we started writing it, that’s when COVID hit and lockdown started.”

Niamh explains the new direction came from a new way of working as, like everyone else, HamsandwicH were working from home.

“We had to adapt to a new way of writing, writing and recording separately in our own places and then sending things to one another, and building the songs like that, which was completely new to us.

“I’m lucky enough that my husband is a sound engineer, so I had my very own producer here which was great,” Niamh laughs.

“But it actually made us more prepared to go into the studio.

“I mean, generally before when we’ve written albums, we’ve been writing songs in the studio.

“But this time when we got to the studio, we had about 12 kind of really, really fully formed very well recorded demos because we had that time to do them essentially.

“And even some of the tracks that are on the album have little bits of those demos kind of in them because we kind of wanted to keep that kind of rawness to the recordings.

“We did a gig at Electric Picnic and somebody described us as ‘disco rock’, which I think is a really good way to describe it.

“We still do the acoustic stuff but the electronic thing has kind of snuck in.”

Unsurprisingly for something written in lockdown, the album deals with themes such as human connection but this was never intentional.

“It’s kind of looking at connections between friends or connections in a relationship or connections to your family and sort of magnifying these connections and looking into them.

“It’s almost like that kind of stuff sort of happened.

“It wasn’t a conscious thing that we kind of went in going, ‘We want to write an album about connections’, it was the way it happened.

“You look back and think, ‘Jesus, that was the one thing that we were lacking the whole time’: Connections with one another, and finding different ways to connect with one another because we couldn’t see each other.

“I guess that kind of thing kind of crept in over a while.”

The track Good Friday refers to the band’s beginnings and contains a nod to the band’s former manager Derek Nally, who sadly passed away in 2010.

“We have a little homage to Derek in there.

“There’s a small little recording in the middle of that song from a rehearsal- oh my God, I would say 18 years ago maybe- And it’s a little recording of Derek talking about albums and recommending music to us and stuff, which he always was great at.

“We just felt it was really fitting, a nice little tribute.

“We called the song Good Friday.”

Hamsandwich was formed by Podge McNamee and Niamh Farrell at a party on Good Friday in 2003.

Farrell had befriended McNamee upon her return to Ireland after spending several years in Scotland.

Originally from Rialto in Dublin, Farrell lived in Coatbridge from the ages of 11 to 19, doing all her secondary education there.

Brian Darcy, who McNamee had known from school, was recruited as a guitarist and Ollie Murphy joined soon after as the group’s drummer.

They would release their debut single, Sad Songs, in August 2005. Their debut album Carry the Meek would follow in 2008.

“Good Friday was kind of the day that we started HamsandwicH really.

“It was when we kind of decided like, ‘Let’s give this a go, let’s start a band’.

“It’s nice to pay tribute to the past and to where you’ve come from and to appreciate the bad times as well as the good times.

“It’s a powerful song for me when I listen to it and especially with the little clip of Derek in it for sure.

“We wouldn’t be where we are now without Derek, for sure.”

Derek Nally died after suffering a heart attack in 2010 as the band were preparing to record their second album, White Fox.

“It was quite sudden and we were just coming to the end of finishing writing the album, and the studio was booked and stuff like that.

“Derek was all excited for our new album and he was buzzing for us.

“It was a real shocker.

“It was just a very mad time, and the day of his funeral was the first day we had booked in the studio.

“And it took a lot of discussion in between us to decide whether to still go ahead with it or not.

And I think we just realized that Derek would have said, ‘Just get into that studio and record that’.

“He would have told us to do it.

“And it was a very intense few weeks: A lot of emotions, a lot of ups and downs and stuff for sure.

“But we were so proud. We did it for Derek really at the end of the day.

“That’s what kept us going.”

White Fox would be released and make it to 25 in the Irish charts.

Their single Ants became a viral video hit and won the Best Concept award at the 2011 IMTV Awards.

“Ants came out and stuff and then it just took on a life of its own.

“It really felt like Derek was behind us.

“He’d always really, really believed in us.”

Derek came to the band early on having spotted them at a Whelan’s showcase.

“It would be like a new bands kind of thing.

“I think Podge maybe slagged him or something.

“He was watching us side of stage and Podge was just messing with the audience.

“And he was slagging Derek, and then he just came to chat to us after the gig and was like, ‘I really like what you have going on’.

“And we were just gobsmacked going, ‘Really?’

“And he just kind of took us under his wing and he started getting us some really good support slots in Whelan’s because he looked after the bookings in Whelan’s at the time.

“He would get us some really good support slots, and that just kind of kicked off our beginning really on the scene.”

Niamh has to laugh remembering one support slot Derek got them, opening for hard rockers Whitesnake.

“I remember one of them in particular, he managed to get us the support slot for Whitesnake in the Olympia.

“I remember him ringing me in the morning time and he was like, ‘Hi Niamh, I’ve got you the support slot for Whitesnake at the Olympia’, and I started laughing. I thought he was messing.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, Derek. Sure you did’.

“He was like, ‘Niamh, I’m being serious. They need a band for two nights in the Olympia’.

“And sure enough, we went and supported Whitesnake, and it was probably one of the most bizarre, bizarre gigs we’ve ever done.

“But he was always on the lookout for opportunities for us, no matter how bizarre they were.

“It was a chance for us to play on the Olympia stage at that point very early in our career, it was unbelievable.”

How did those Whitesnake fans react to hearing HamsandwicH were going to be the support? “Confused, I would say.”

On that topic, how did the name come about? “We were just looking for a name.

“We had a gig in a place called The Voodoo Lounge and we didn’t have a name so we put The Famous Five on the poster and I think we kind of thought, ‘They would put anything on a poster’.

“So we were like, ‘Let’s come up with the stupidest name we can’.

“And we were just kind of riffing off names and can’t remember who suggested it initially but somebody said ‘HamsandwicH’ and we all laughed, and it just kind of stuck then.

“It was very Irish, a ham sandwich.

“And it kind of fit who we were really at the time because we were like, ‘It’s a kind of silly, stupid name’.

“And we were silly, we were messers, so it stuck.

“It stuck for the first while and then we got a lot of stick for it, and people telling us to change our name, and like, ‘You’re never gonna make it with a name like that’.

“We were young, we were naive, and very, very stubborn.

“In our early 20s, we were like, ‘No, we’re gonna fight against this. No, we’re keeping the name, we’re not changing the name for anybody, are you joking?’”

Was Bono one of those saying it? “He was, yeah.

“He was chatting to one of our band members- this is a long time ago now- backstage at a festival.

“He introduced himself and he says, ‘I’m in a band called HamsandwicH and supposedly Bono started to laugh and was like, ‘Oh, no, I would think about changing that name if I was you’.

“So that made us that made us say even more, ‘We’re definitely not changing the name. We’re not doing what Bono says’.”

“So we kept it then.

“And then it kind of flipped, I think, at some point.

“I don’t know when it was but it just kind of flipped and people started kind of saying, ‘Oh, actually, you know what? Your name really suits who you are.

“And at the end of the day, the name doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about the music.

“I think it was kind of around the time maybe when Ants gained popularity and more people got to know us and stuff and people didn’t really care about the name anymore, which was really nice.

“Now people think it’s funny and they remember it as well which is the most important thing.”

The band played Slane supporting Jon Bon Jovi in 2013.

They were also personally invited by Mumford & Sons to support them in Phoenix Park.

But is there always one person missing for these big events that have happened, the man who first believed, Derek? “Yeah, for sure. Definitely.

“There’s been gigs, like Slane, the big gigs that we’ve done over the years that you definitely feel he would have been very proud of where we got to.

“I don’t know how he saw what he saw in us, because when he would have seen us, we would have been an absolute mess of a band,” she laughs.

“We were just a bunch of messers.

“We loved playing music, we were wild.

“Our gigs were messy but he obviously seen something in us, so I’m sure he 100% would have been proud of where we have made it to and where we came from essentially.”

Slane meant a lot to them as they are a Meath band and the only local band to get to the play the revered castle.

“Slane was an experience and a half, it was just amazing.

“It was just the craziest day ever.

“I think there was about nine of us on stage.

“Because we were just like, ‘We’re playing Slane. We’re getting a few of our friends up’.

“So we had the comedian, Freddie Cooke. He would be one of Podge’s best friends and he had always said to Podge, ‘If you ever get to play Slane, I’m getting on stage whether I’m playing a triangle or a shaker, it doesn’t matter. I’m getting on stage with ya’.

“So we had Freddie playing the glockenspiel with us up on the stage and it was just so funny.

“I just remember looking out.

“There’s just a big hill in front of you and everybody spilling down the hill coming towards the stage.

“It was an amazing experience altogether.

“We’ve had amazing gigs, we’ve played support to the Pixies.

“We got to meet Frank Black from the Pixies.

“I mean, that’s out of this world kind of stuff, you know?

“And Mumford and Sons.

“Mumford and Sons was incredible because we actually all got up on stage with Mumford and Sons at the end of their show.

“I mean to stand on a stage and see, I don’t know what it was, 40 or 50,000 people in front of ya is the craziest thing.”

Magnify by HamsandwicH is out now.

HamsandwicH play The 100 Club on Oxford Street in London on 7 April.

For more information, click here.


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