Sharply contrasting male and female vocals are the defining feature of Kells indie rock five-piece Ham Sandwich, with Podge McNamee's booming bass the perfect foil for lead singer Niamh Farrell's sweeter pitches. The band's unusual title astutely reflects its left-field pop sensibilities, which stretch from the sludgy alternative rock of Pixies and the Smashing Pumpkins and the noisy shoegaze stylings of My Bloody Valentine and Whipping Boy to the altogether more pleasant pure pop sounds of the Flaming Lips.
Ham Sandwich began to take form on Good Friday 2003 at the instigation of Podge McNamee, Johnny Moore, and Niamh Farrell. Moore and McNamee had become friends while at school in the historic town of Kells, County Meath, once a monastery site that had given birth to the famous Book of Kells, but by then had become a satellite town of Dublin. Niamh Farrell is a Dublin native who had spent the bulk of her adolescence in Glasgow, Scotland, and had met Moore through work upon her return in her early twenties. The three hatched the idea to form a band at a "crucifixion party," and began rehearsals in earnest. McNamee switched from guitar to vocals to guitar and vocals. Moore picked up the bass guitar, while Farrell took on the role of lead vocalist. Lead guitarist Brian Darcy (known simply as "Darcy") and drummer Ollie Murphy were quickly drafted as the best Kells had to offer, completing the band's permanent lineup.
In an effort to avoid being typecast as another "the..." indie rock band, the five adopted the least suggestive moniker they could muster, eventually settling upon the name Ham Sandwich. Quite to the contrary, the title has become something of a sticking point -- sections of the Irish media and U2 mainman Bono have all advocated a name change -- and is if anything an apt indicator of their left-field pop sensibilities. A year of behind-the-scenes jamming and writing passed before Ham Sandwich were moved to perform their first gig in Kells, a reflection of the patient and thoughtful approach that would see them form their own independent label, Route 109 Records, named for the bus route between Kells and Dublin, and release five singles before unveiling their debut record in 2008.
Route 109 released its first Ham Sandwich single, "Sad Songs," in August of 2005 and followed it with "St. Christopher" in January of the following year. Though neither single charted, Ham Sandwich's popularity was already such that they could sell out popular Dublin venue Whelan's for the launch of the latter. "Words" became the third single in September of 2006; a performance at the coveted underground music festival Hard Working Class Heroes followed in October; and the group celebrated Valentine's week 2007 with single number four, "Click...Click...Boom!" The remainder of the year was spent piecing together debut album Carry the Meek with producer Karl Odlum (founding member of Kila) in between opening slots with My Morning Jacket, Electric Six, and, oddly enough, Whitesnake. Fifth single "Keepsaker" was released in January of 2008 and the group was shortly afterward presented with the Hope for 2008 award at the Meteor Irish Music Awards, an honor that had previously been bestowed upon Royseven and Republic of Loose. Carry the Meek was released in February and debuted at number 23 in the Irish album charts, remaining in the Top 40 for four weeks. The album was subsequently issued in the United Kingdom in May. ~ Dave Donnelly