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Roving Eye: Ham Sandwich in London


Tara Thomas captures night two of Ham Sandwich’s recent sold out stint at The Islington, London.

It’s unlikely I can impart anything new to you about the London music scene such is our affinity with this city. A magnet for musicians worldwide we are fortunate to have this cultural hotspot on our doorstep. London town, with its myriad of venues, grandiose or intimate, is for many Irish artists their first taste of international exposure. It was only a matter of time before Roving Eye was cast in the direction of Islington, North Greater London.

A short walk from Angel tube station, The Islington showcases a diverse range of musical talent, including some home grown artists. Recent performances by Declan O’Rourke, Booka Brass Band, The Lost Brothers and Wyvern Lingo highlight the management’s dedication to promoting Irish acts. This weekend they welcome Ham Sandwich who haven’t played in the city since 2008. I joined them on the second night of their two sold out shows.

I find the band behind heavy red velvet curtains which is all that separates the idiosyncratic open aired lounge and bar from the stage area. A few people are milling about but it’s all very subdued and intense. Ollie tells me that the night before had a celebratory feel, everyone was excited to be back in London. They are suffering the consequences which explains their solemn faces. “Nothing a bit of Buckfast won’t cure,” he confides. Regardless of their tender state this soundcheck isn’t scaled down. While on tour with bands I’ve observed there is always one member who is an analyser, reviewing each performance with minute scrutiny. Darcy is it for Ham Sandwich – he is meticulous. Darcy and engineer Darren run through revised song arrangements in detail, tweaking any complications they had during the first show.

HamSandwicH - The Islington - London

Meanwhile a stage hand is taping carpet to the platform providing Niamh (Farrell, vocals) with additional traction for her infamous energetic exploits. It’s very much business at hand. Podge (McNamee, vocals and guitar), is late to arrive but the energy level goes up a notch when he does. His good humour is infectious. Niamh is giddy, her mother is travelling from Scotland to see the show and she plans to get some quality time with her over dinner. As soundcheck wraps up Lisa Hannigan and Conor O’Brien pop in to say hello and show support.

With only two hours before doors open everyone heads out for some much needed rest and recuperation. While they go their own way to grab food or power naps I chat with promoter Finn. There’s a real buzz about Irish acts at the moment he explains. With upcoming sell out shows scheduled for King Kong Company, the Raglans and Cry Monster Cry he doesn’t envision that demand abating anytime soon.

HamSandwicH - The Islington - London

On return to the green room it’s time to put on showbiz faces, literally for Niamh as she applies her trademark glitter eyes. Getting in the mood involves a hilarious rendition of ‘Put ‘Em Under Pressure’ and plenty of “Ooh Aah Paul McGraths”. Some downtime seems to have restored the spirits and the obligatory Buckfast has made its timely appearance. I’m told stories of prank calling Louis Walsh, Podge’s pre show disappearing acts and “that time” Ollie (Murphy, drums) delayed an Etihad flight waiting on a Burger King take out. Pat hangs out in the hallway tuning his violin while friends are offering best wishes and broken legs. As they prepare to go upstairs to perform there’s a few last minute checks, the set list, a quick discussion on the appropriate amount of on stage banter and most importantly, deciding on who is on “nipple watch” tonight. Niamh’s stage outfit has “Judy Finnegan” pop out potential, this gives a whole new understanding as to why she frequently turns her back on the audience for a boogie with the drummer.

HamSandwicH - The Islington - London

The venue is jammed as I worm my way out towards the stage. It is sweltering, a few electric fans are whirring air up towards Niamh, Podge and Darcy giving them little relief. One song in and Niamh is already removing her shoes, her vivacity is boundless. The chemistry between her and Podge as they circumvent the small stage is extraordinary, they feed off each other’s zeal. The appeal of a Ham Sandwich show isn’t just in their dynamic music but their good-humoured audience interaction. At one point Niamh instructs the audience to sit down then jump up on cue during the chorus Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. Dave catches kisses blown to him from an admirer in the crowd and a misfired confetti canon only adds to the euphoric atmosphere. When they admit they can’t whistle an intro they make avid fan Nick Barr’s night by inviting him on stage to do the honours. Later Podge encourages two hundred odd people to shout out in unison “Fuck you Carty” a friendly greeting to his buddy visiting from New York, a perfect segue to the massive announcement they are heading to New York in October for the CMJ Music Marathon.

As the set winds down I slip out the side door into a street party, folk who couldn’t fit into The Islington are dancing in the alleyway. It’s a super good vibe. The confetti canons may have misfired but Ham Sandwich certainly did not. Tara Thomas