Belfast girl who's Got Game

Musician and football fan Jessica Hammond has recorded the official song for Northern Ireland's Green and White Army ahead of this month's Euro finals. Ahead of the team's opening match tomorrow, she tells Gail Bell why it is time women had an anthem of their own

Jessica Hammond has written the official anthem for the Northern Ireland Women's football team, who embark on their UEFA Women's Euro 2022 finals campaign tomorrow.
Gail Bell

WITH Northern Ireland's Senior Women preparing to kick off in the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 finals tomorrow, a rally call in song has been building to a crescendo, waiting to 'Na-na-na-na' its way through stadium gates and changing rooms long after the final whistle.

At least that is the hope of Belfast musician, Jessica Hammond, who penned and produced the catchy Girl Got Game official anthem especially for the Euros - and Northern Ireland's Green and White Army who play Norway, Austria and England in Southampton over the next 10 days.

"I really want the song to get into people's heads and stick there," says the 28-year-old vocalist, producer and sound engineer who runs Black Studios in Dundonald.

"The goal was to try to encourage and inspire the players in the changing rooms and fans at home and in the stadium. There is a feel-good vibe about Girl Got Power, but it is essentially an empowerment song for women."

After being approached by the Irish Football Association about creating the song for the women's team, Hammond, who is currently "flat out" working on the music for CBBC children's show, Nova Jones, was ecstatic about combining her love of music with her passion for football.

"I started playing football for fun from when I was about five and I still play today - for Bangor Ladies," she enthuses. "I remember as a youngster getting the opportunity to go to American summer camp, but I was doing singing at the time and music and drama camps, so my mum gave me the choice of doing football or music.

"I picked music because that was always my first love – but football came in as a close second. Getting to combine both now with this song, is just brilliant.

"I'm definitely going to try and get over to see some of the matches. We are in the middle of season three of Nova Jones - about an inter-galactic pop star - but I'm hoping to finish up early and get over for a couple of the games."

The former Ashfield Girls' pupil first embarked on a music career aged 14 as a finalist in the Disney Channel's talent search programme, My Camp Rock, and she was a teen winner of the Belfast Citybeat Young Star Search competition.

She also competed in BBC's The Voice in 2012 when she was 17, telling hosts Holly Willoughby and Reggie Yates that before her audition she had been scared to perform outside of her bedroom after being bullied at school.

"Looking back, I really think taking part in those competitions when I was so young helped me build up confidence," she says, "although I still get nervous when performing live today.

"They were all great experiences in different ways, though, and gave me networking contacts which is crucial in this industry. It was hard, the pressure of doing a good job, but a great experience that stays with you."

She has since qualified as a sound engineer and gone on to work with top producers and Grammy award-winning writers including Amy Wadge (Thinking Out Loud/Ed Sheeran) and Ollie Jacobs (The Saturdays).

"I did consider going to university and got accepted to study music in Brighton, but at that time I was gigging a lot and wanted to get into music production," she says.

"When I was in London for a couple of years, I couldn't get any jobs in any of the studios because they weren't taking anybody on, so I came home and decided to do a sound engineering degree and just open up my own studio.

"It was quite isolating being back in Northern Ireland at the start because the producers I had been working with were all in London.

"I needed to record my own vocals and send them over, so I had to learn how to record myself from scratch and learn how to produce for anyone to take me seriously. It has been a long haul, but I feel like we're getting somewhere now."

Today, she self-produces all her own releases alongside long-time collaborator and co-producer, Matty Graham, from their base at Black Studios, as well as working with other artists, including TV stars and radio presenters.

"We work with the big stars who feature in Nova Jones and do all the recording, mixing and mastering for the show," says Hammond, whose goal is to write "at least" 100 songs in a year, whether released through her own label or with other artists.

"I've done remixes for Anton Powers of Kiss FM and we write everything for Molly Rainford, a big star from Britain's Got Talent, who now stars in Nova Jones. I love writing pop and dance tracks, so working on the music for the programme has been right up my street."

Not neglecting her own vocals, she recently released Hold You (Warner Records) with Belfast DJ and producer, Hix, and has a growing Spotify audience of 225,000 monthly listeners and over three million streams, with releases on Irish-based label, Paragon Records, and European dance labels, Chill Your Mind and Loudkult.

Yet, it all might never have happened and she could have been a chef – only for the early starts.

"I took a break from music whenever I moved to London when I was about 19," Hammond explains. "I took a little career break for six months and got accepted to do a chef's apprenticeship, but as soon as they said it was going to be a 5am start, I thought, you know what, I'll stick at music, music is more for me...

"I still love cooking, though, and I love to cook up something special for my fiancee, Erin Riley, who has her own very successful TikTok career.

"I have been watching some Gordon Ramsay tutorials and I'm going to cook his Beef Wellington as soon as I have some free time to switch off and relax."

First, though, there will be some not-so-relaxing watching and waiting to see how the Northern Ireland women fare in the Euros – and if her "edgy, urban pop song" can inspire a generation.

"I really hope that Girl Got Game sets the mood for success and that everyone is singing along in the stadium," adds Hammond, who says the song has been 'stuck on repeat' in her own head for three months.

"I was trying to capture that feeling, the atmosphere, in the stadium, with the 'na-na-na' section and reference to Green and White Army in the chorus.

"It was important to use football terminology in the lyrics while still keeping them relatable outside of the game – a feel-good song for all women, on and off the pitch. The women's team has made history by qualifying for the Euros and it's great to have my soundtrack backing them every step of the way."

:: Girl Got Game, released through Paragon Records, is available on all digital download sites.