Turning Ham Sandwich into a musical banquet

Niamh Farrelll and her Ham Sandwich bandmates: superb live shows on the back of an excellent new album.

Standing firm on their name and rerecording a new album has paid off for a band ready to expand beyond Ireland, writes Ed Power

NIAMH FARRELL is still taking it in. “To have our album go to the top of the charts is surreal. We all thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’” says the Ham Sandwich singer, reflecting on the success of the band’s third LP, Stories From The Surface. “To see your name up there, above Taylor Swift and what have you... it’s just bizarre.”

The Co Meath indie outfit won’t become rich on the back of their success. Record sales in Ireland are notoriously puny and it is doubtful they had to shift more than several thousand units to claim number one. That said, a chart-topping album brings benefits beyond the merely financial.

“It opens things up for you — it mean you can go to England and Europe with a number one under your belt. They read ‘number one in Ireland’ and it carries a certain weight. So it is definitely significant.”

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Stories From The Surface breaks a five-year recording silence from Ham Sandwich. They had planned putting out a new LP in 2014. However, they weren’t 100% satisfied and went back to the studio to overhaul the recordings. Because they are not signed to a label and thus answerable only to themselves, they were free to do whatever they felt best for the music.

“It was hard to get into the correct mindset for some reason, Our previous album came together really quickly. This took far longer. We kept pushing the deadline back. We could have had it out last year. I’m glad we didn’t. There were things that needed to be fixed. The worst thing we could have done was rush it out.”

Early on, Ham Sandwich had to contend with the widely held view that their arguably clunky name was holding them back. Even Bono weighed in, advising the group to come up with an alternative backstage at an awards show. But they stuck it out and, after a while, their meat-based moniker was no longer an issue. Audiences grew to accept the name and focused on their music.

Ham Sandwich might be ‘independent’ but their sound is cheerfully accessible. Partnering Farrell’s sweet vocals with sometimes countryish arrangements, the band have built a considerable fanbase . They started off playing smaller Dublin venues such as Whelan’s. Now they are at a level where they can perform to bigger rooms such as the Olympia.

“Doing the Olympia for the first time was terrifying,” says Farrell. “It’s the place you always went to see a big gig. It was scary. Once you get out there it feels very intimate, due to the way it is laid out. Even the people upstairs feel close. As soon as we stepped on stage you felt the atmosphere and our nerves went away. We knew we were going to have a party.”

Ham Sandwich were a thoroughly cult affair until their 2011 single ‘Ants’ became a crossover hit. Nobody was more surprised than the band. The accompanying album, White Fox, was already out several months and ‘Ants’ was released more or less as an afterthought.

“We knew ‘Ants’ was the most radio friendly thing on it,” says Farrell. “We put it out and expected a few spins on radio. Then Ray D’Arcy started playing it and that was that. It took on a life of its own and changed everything for us.” They haven’t looked back since.

Stories From The Surface is out now. Ham Sandwich play the Olympia, Dublin, on Friday, May 29, and the Bandon Music Festival in West Cork on May 31

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