Max Fotheringham / Adam Heath / Peny Bohan / Alex Cooper / Mick Pedder
Melbourne. Spring, 2013. It was hot in the tunnels where throngs of people made their way between Southbank and Flinders Street. A friend and I were in our own conversation bubble when that bubble burst, broken by a busker. He was up against the narrow tunnel walls, a maroon guitar in front of him with no fixed audience. He stood within a sliver of crescent footpath as people flowed around him like a river around an island. A cardboard sign in black pen read: "Looking for Bandmates". I walked on, but kept listening from a distance as the image of the sign faded into background noise; roaring trains and idling car engines amassed at the Flinders Street intersection.
Tim Shue, July 27, 2017
Amber Isles is a front-running Melbourne band that has been performing together since 2013 under the direction of Max Fotheringham. Known for blending amplified ambient textures with the considered care of a Swiss chocolatier, the band soon married this with the brass melodies of multi-instrumentalist and independent songwriter Peny Bohan rounding the sound with brassy analogue class. Before that however, lead guitarist Adam Heath (oft. mistaken for Mark Knopfler) coupled his vision with the source material, weaving incredible technical ability, tone control, and an infectious enthusiasm into the Amber Isles sound.
Busking has been a fundamental part of the Amber Isles journey and I recognise something very honest and courageous within it. It’s an act of making yourself vulnerable, a public performance without expectation. It can create ephemeral moments for passersby or briefly unify crowds like lines of shells on the tide until they are washed away again at the end of the half hour set. The start of a new set brings unknown episodes you hope a new audience will accumulate to witness.
Sunlight struck us as we emerged from the tunnel and onto Flinders Street. I looked at my friend and asked her to wait for a minute. I turned around and walked back against the flow of pedestrians to the busker with the maroon guitar. It was half impulse, half calculation – it was unlike me to introduce myself to strangers but in this case there was an irresistible invitation. If I hadn't decided to turn around in that moment, well, these paragraphs wouldn't exist.
Playing the streets of Melbourne, it was inevitable that the band would encounter Alex Cooper. A busking veteran and drummer for hire with wide networks and next level rhythmic phrasing. Originally from Sydney, Alex moved to Melbourne for the music and to found passion projects. Known for his modular drum setup of inverted cymbals on the ground and milk crates for stands, Alex is a captivating musician with a unique style and a drumming personality coloured by trip-hop, math-rock and polyrhythm. Soft touch and explosive crescendos drive the Amber Isles rythem section.
Four years have passed since I met Max underneath Flinders Street Station in the heart of Melbourne, our vibrant city that has been so fundamental to the story, the writing, the experiences, and the energy and performances. This Melbourne of our narrative was captured in the band's debut album Running (2016).
I had to leave the band early 2017, and now write this curled over my computer at a long dining table in Brussels Belgium. This is the dining table of sound tech Wouter Gordts. And It's fitting, because it is here, prior to Melbourne that Max met Wouter and conceived the move, the plan, and the band. Central to the development of Running throughout 2015-2016 he effectively joined the band to build a studio from scratch and handle all of the engineering. Wouter plays the role of the hookah-smoking Caterpillar from Alice's Wonderland.
Amber Isles is a group forged from the fires within the unique musicians I've lined up with myself as result of turning back into that tunnel. But more importantly it's a group brought together by the working arteries of this city. It is an ongoing invitation to anyone who has the privilege to stop and listen, a magnetic atmosphere appealing to anyone who might break the shell of the compressed mainstream and discover an unbeknownst desire for craft music.
Tim Shue, July 27, 2017