Ham Sandwich’s Niamh Farrell is a busy woman. She spent the afternoon helping produce a friend’s radio show. Then it was home to put her six-year-old son, Oscar, to bed.
Now she’s squeezing in an interview to promote an upcoming performance by her band, an alternative guitar quintet from County Meath. Laughing, she explains she likes the unpredictability of her life.
“We never had any big plans with Ham Sandwich, ” she says. “We’ve always taken it as it comes. We didn’t pin our hopes on it happening overnight for us. It has always been very spontaneous.”
Low expectations have served the group well. From humble origins, they became one of Ireland’s favourite indie outfits with their 2011 single, ‘Ants’. Released as an afterthought — the accompanying album, White Fox, was already out the best part of a year — it was a big airplay hit. Overnight, the group’s profile soared.
The moment was bittersweet. Twelve months previously, shortly before they were due to go to the studio to start on White Fox, their manager, Derek Nally, passed away suddenly. They were, of course, in shock. But they could summon enough clarity to remind themselves that getting back to work as quickly as possible is what he would have wanted.
“White Fox was such a slow burner,” recalls Farrell. “‘Ants’ burst onto the radio – and then, so did the album. Everything received a new lease of life. We got a song on a Discover Island campaign — were offered Slane and a support with Mumford and Sons in Phoenix Park. It all began with White Fox.”
“We went on stage and our reaction was ‘Wow’ – it was a far bigger crowd than anything we were used to. Then we joined Mumford and Sons at the end [for a Live Aid style sing-along of ‘Galway Girl’] and the audience was even bigger still. There were people as far as the eye could see. Definitely not something we were used to. You cherish those moments.”
Still, success had a downside. In constant demand for live performances, they struggled to write new material. There simply was no time. While they appreciated the attention, there was frustration too.
“We were gigging constantly. Obviously we tried writing at rehearsals — swapped demos and all of that. You need some head space, a little quiet in which to be creative.”
At the end of last year, promoter MCD approached them to do a one-off gig at the Olympia, one of Dublin’s preeminent mid-tier venues. Ham Sandwich were conflicted: they’d already sold out the smaller Academy. Logically, the Olympia was the next step. Could they pull it off? They had doubts.
They resolved to finish and release their third album. This put the group under enormous pressure. They were holed up for weeks on end in the studio. It became clear the LP would not be finished on time. So they took an additional half year.
“The Olympia was incredible. It’s a venue we’ve always wanted to do. It was almost sold out too, which amazed us. We are playing Electric Picnic this year which is such an honour.
“If someone had told us a few years ago we’d be doing that, I doubt we’d have believed them.”