“So, what’s it like being the only woman in band with all guys?”
This question is one that I have been asked time and time again, over the many years I have sang in HamsandwicH. It’s a question that always confuses me. Whenever I am asked, the answer is always “No different I’m sure, to a band with all guys or all girls. We are just a bunch of friends having a laugh and making music.” And yet I have often felt that wasn’t the answer they were looking for. They want something maybe more along the lines of: “Oh, it’s incredibly difficult – we just can’t understand how to be in a band together, what with me being a woman and all.”
It’s a question that seeks to create a divide where no divide needs to be. Anyway, lets get on with HamsandwicH a bit and my experience in a band over the (many) years we have been together.
My name is Niamh and I’m the singer in a band called HamsandwicH and I have been for around 15 years – a long time I know. Over the past 15 years I have had an opportunity to watch the music industry change in all sorts of ways. From the introduction of Spotify, to the downfall of some of the big labels, and more recently, the push for equality for all, in music and industry alike all over the world; and specifically, the rise of women in music. When HamsandwicH started out I can remember just a handful of bands or solo female musicians doing the rounds on the music scene around Dublin. There were The Chalets, Fight Like Apes, Gemma Hayes, and a few more, but absolutely no where near the amount of females in the music scene now. I guess that was what made us stand out a little more back when we started out – the fact I was a woman in a band with all lads. That and the absolutely ridiculous name.
We started out gigging in a place called The Voodoo Lounge. Our first gig was here, we were called The Famous Five and it was probably a terrible gig, but memorable for the fact Podge walked to the stage wrapped in toilet paper. There were many more gigs after that as we tried to find our feet as a live band. We played all over Dublin, whenever we could, and it was when Derek Nally – Whelans’ booking agent – saw us perform at a show there, that things started to change for us. Derek became our manager and he believed in us more then we believed in ourselves. He had us play some amazing support shows and was just an all-round cool guy. Everybody loved Derek and everyone knew him. He once managed to get us an audition/showcase for a record label, which I remember being really weird and awkward. We had to set up our gear in a room in front of three or four seats and play a few songs like we were playing a gig. It was the kind of situation in which I really felt like I was a woman in a lads’ band. I knew the label people would be looking at me in an entirely different way in terms of marketing. Nothing ever came of the showcase anyway, but it was definitely an experience that left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
Over the next few years we released our first album, kept doing any gigs we could get our hands on and plugged our fingers in our ears when anyone told us to change the name. When we got to 2010 our bass player had left and we were planning for our 2nd album. During the summer of 2010, Derek sadly and suddenly passed away. This was such a massive blow to all of us. He was such a huge part of HamsandwicH, and to not have him around all of a sudden was a shock. His funeral was on the day we had booked as our first day to go into the studio. We decided to go ahead because we knew Derek would have told us to anyway. They were a very surreal two weeks in the studio, filled with sadness in our heads but we were determined to make Derek proud. I think that’s what kept us going. Towards the end of 2010 we released White Fox and started to see people’s opinions of us change. People seemed to not be bothered about the name anymore and more about the music. Then in 2011, Ray Darcy played, and continued to play ‘Ants‘ on daytime radio and things started changing. We were getting more gigs and more people were coming to the gigs. It definitely changed the course of the band for the better and is a really good example of how Irish radio can work for an Irish band.
We’ve gigged an enormous amount and had some of the most amazing experiences too. Getting to play in Dubai and have a small holiday with everyone for a few days was so much fun. As well as playing a gig, we got to go on a trip to the sand dunes and hang out in a camp in the desert for the evening. Then there were all the amazing festivals we got to play, Electric Picnic being a personal highlight, and specifically when we played to a packed Other Voices stage in the woods in 2015. That was a gig I will never forget. It was over the course of these few years from around 2011 to 2015 that I really felt something just clicked along the line somewhere and we just gelled with playing live. Personally, as a performer and a woman, I really figured out who I was and started just really enjoying myself. It probably had something with getting older maybe, but I really started feeling a lot more comfortable with myself and just confident in who I was. Outside of HamsandwicH I have also been afforded some amazing opportunities to sing with other bands and meet some amazing people. In the past few New Years Eves, I have been asked to take part in the Turning Pirate Mixtape and it is always the best fun. Most recently I got the chance to sing a Carpenters song and it was like a fairytale, dream come true kinda stuff. And that’s what it’s all about for me. With HamsandwicH and all the other wonderful things I get to take part in, it’s all about letting go and having an experience and just fucking enjoying yourself.
So here we are now in 2018: we released a new song, ‘Bodies’, at the end of last year and had lots of fun playing it live, and we are writing at the minute with plans for a fourth album. The Irish music scene is in a really great place at the minute and I loved watching it change and grow while being a part of it for 15 years. The number of incredible women coming to the forefront of Irish music is something that has needed to happen for a long time and I could absolutely start naming names but we would be here all day. In the last 3/4 years I have seen some incredible ladies performing and have somehow made a lot of them my friends now as a bonus. I still love being in HamsandwicH, we have a laugh and get to play music together. It is tough at times but we wouldn’t be human if it wasn’t. I don’t think I’ll stop being in HamsandwicH until the day it stops being fun.
Photos by Moira Reilly, Loreana Rushe and Tara Thomas.