Open and Honest
“On stage I’m home. I don’t get nervous, I just feel happy.”
As a girl, writing and entertaining my cousins and my parents’ friends with a dance was the norm, making up songs to sing to my toys was the norm – it brought me joy and I wanted to have people experience that feeling too.
Me entertaining my cousin Amanda, My grans flat, Rondebosch, Cape Town 1992
I was known as a creative kid who could entertain herself for hours. One day my mum suggested I find someone to record my songs as I had written so many. She even suggested getting a publisher and looking into selling my songs to the “mega artists”. Actions speak louder than words so I decided to take a step back from that idea, it seemed too out there and almost impossible to obtain at the time. I’ve always been stubborn and fought the idea of recording an album after a-not-so-successful recording experience in Johannesburg – I can’t complain though, as I wrote two other songs during that time that are now on my first album Warrior – Mila and Famous.
Jamming in Niel Solomons Studio, Johannesburg, Guateng.
I had been born in Ireland in 1991 and left for South Africa before I was one year old, as a little girl I always wondered what it would have been like to grow up in Ireland. I always wanted to go back there and wondered if it would be only in my old age.
After matriculating I knew I wanted to continue studying so I went right into teaching my ATCL in Speech and Drama through Trinity College London. My studies were flexible so I worked as a front lady assistant at the Rustenburg Pharmacy in Muizenberg. In my free time I was performing with my mum (Heather Mac), Dad (Tim Parr) and Stepdad (Mark Harris) singing harmonies or my own original songs.
In 2011 my mum came across the Dharmasiswa scholarship to study any music academic subject in Indonesia. I jumped at this opportunity and spent 5 months studying Gamelan (traditional ensemble music of Java and Bali in Indonesia) at the ISI Institute of Arts in Yogyakarta.
Gamelan Class: Practicing on Bonang Barung at the ISI Yogyakarta, Indonesia 2011.
Vokal intitation with traditional Indonesian chior. Men are called Kecek and Women are called Janger.
On my return I worked with the Indonesian Embassy in Cape Town, performing Gamelan and singing Indonesian songs (Singing in Bahasa- The traditional Indonesian mother tongue). It was such an amazing learning journey and gave me an inkling of the life work I would be doing in a Male-Dominated-Music-Industry. I was performing for consuls and diplomats and making a difference in the world through music and through the meeting of music cultures – I have the Indonesian Embassy to thank for this. I made the most of it with all my heart. In between, I was rehearsing and prepping for touring with my mother (Heather Mac) promoting her album Within at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and accompanying her at the Fleur De Cup Awards Ceremony at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. I have often been told I have too much on my plate, but I made it work – sweat, tears and all.
Performing harmonies in launch of Heather Mac’s Album “Within”. Middles Chris Tokalon on flute and saxophone. Left Tonia Moller on harmonies and percussion. Baxter Theatre, Cape Town.
Returning from Indonesia I also lost my best friend, my grandmother, who passed away. It was a dark time, but I wrote and passed my ATCL exam and got my drivers licence, but I never had her to celebrate these milestones and that was the worst part for me. Two years of teaching Drama at a school followed. The school was close to where she had lived and I often remembered her saying to me “Never waste away your talent Amber, you have an original and beautiful voice, please promise me this”.
In 2013 I felt it was the right time to leave South Africa. My teaching contract had finished and it was time for me to reconnect with my creative roots and rediscover myself through my music – so I did the unthinkable, I got my Irish passport and within 4 months of getting it, booked my first flight to Ireland!
Photo courtesy of my godmother Gill Cassidy standing Glendalough, Upper Lake, Co. Wicklow.
Living in a very cold and windy Ireland I imagined sooner or later I would make a career from being a musician but this came with its challenges which I would have to face head on with grace and dignity in the coming months. I never gave up or lost my drive to make something out of my musical talent.
I started getting to know my way around Dublin and after a few months of living there, found myself a job working as an Afterschool teacher for a Nursery School to pay rent – I was paid better than most mainstream teachers in South Africa, but money was still tight. In my free time I went busking every Sunday at the Peoples Park and Monday Open Mic Nights at the Gilbert & Wright in Dun Laoghaire. This was a transformative time in my life. I learnt to survive and live on the open road alone, meeting amazing fellow friends and musicians along the way.
I had those moments too where I missed home, thought about my gran, my brave mother, family and friends who kept me focused, recalling the motivating rehearsals with the Heather Mac band, and exciting collaborations with other artists like Alex Serra (from Native Young), both my dads Tim Parr (Guitarist) and Mark Harris (Guitarist). These phenomenal people and opportunities were part of my growth and still are. They helped me get here where I am now. Far away from home, out of my comfort zone, the perfect place to manifest my dream as a musician.
Endless walks, great conversations and finally getting to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the Irish way was fantastic. Every day was a test of my self-confidence and determination to connect with people and perform my music, but I soon became distracted and disappointed. I would go around all the pubs asking to play, but unless I played some covers or Irish songs they turned their heads away. I sang and played only originals and this seemed to be my downfall. On the bright side, the Horse and Hound in Greystones had me perform one evening, and that was wonderful – I learnt some traditional Irish songs for that show. Then there was the Gilbert and Wright in Dun Laoghaire. The musos who played there were welcoming and warm. I found my home. I felt at this moment that not getting what I wanted was a good thing. Never lose faith!
A local fan asking if I was from Spain after song. The Peoples Park, Dun Laoghaire.
Busking every Sunday at the Peoples Park in Dun Laoghaire I made good friends with a local man who was 80 and learnt how to speak simple conversational Spanish – he thought I was from Spain. Such encounters and performing were the only things that kept my spirits high. However, I started to question my decision to live in Ireland. I actually asked myself was this it for me? So instead of giving into doubt, I gave into reason. A friend of mine, Dave Murphy, introduced me to a man named Victor who owned and made Victor’s Way Indian Sculpture Garden in Co Wicklow – where I was born – and he told me if I want to make it in music what the F*** am I doing in Ireland. London is the way to go woman! This became my greatest catalyst, amongst many others, to decide to move to London. I believe with all my heart this was the perfect push I needed to start taking myself more seriously as a performing artist and take a leap, “No one speaks for you. Speak for yourself now.”