Entertainment Music

Friday 17 November 2017

Waves, raves and bellyflops

Last week, I inadvertently stated that The Sea Sessions was not going ahead this year when I meant to write The Summer Sessions. Happily, I can report that The Sea Sessions in Bundoran, Co Donegal, is actually in rude health. Now in its fifth year, the festival has become a Mecca for people who want to surf the Atlantic waves and the musical zeitgeist on the same weekend.

The brainchild of Daniel Brown and his colleagues, Pete Craig and Declan Madden, The Sea Sessions began as an attempt to entertain the ever-growing hordes of board-carrying surfer dudes who flock to this rough 'n' rugged corner of the north-west in search of the perfect wave.

This year's event, which has a capacity of 5,000, takes place from June 29-July 1, and features an impressive line-up that includes riot-predictors Kaiser Chiefs headlining on Friday night; Dublin heartthrobs The Coronas and DJ Rev Run of the lamented Run DMC on Saturday night; and legendary Madchester party animals Happy Mondays on the Sunday night. Also appearing are Jape, Ham Sandwich, LTJ Bukem and Beardyman. Surf is most definitely up.

Daniel Brown admits that it took a while for the festival to find its feet: "In the first year we booked Kila, Asian Dub Foundation, Mick Flannery and RSAG," says Daniel.

"Unfortunately it didn't go well. We absolutely lost our shirts to the tune of €70,000.

"We were about to walk away from it but the buzz we got from organising it and the huge levels of fun and all the positive feedback we received convinced us to put it on again the next year -- besides, we had to find a way to pay off the 70 grand!

"So we tried to book Super Furry Animals the next year -- initially they were reluctant but once we translated our email into Welsh, they agreed straight away! Then people sat up and noticed what we were doing. We'd learned from our mistakes. The game-changer was getting Paul Weller to play the festival on the third year. That showed we'd arrived."

Daniel says the town has been transformed over the years, thanks to the influx of surfers from all over the world. Documentaries like Waveriders have shown how what was once a minority pastime in this country has grown into a mainstream leisure activity -- and, for some dedicated surfers, a lucrative career (take a bow, Easkey Britton).

Crowded House's Nick Seymour is just one international rock star who loves nothing more than to do battle with the breakers on the western seaboard.

"I've been surfing in Bundoran for years," says Daniel. "It used to be I'd have to go looking for people to go surfing with. If someone came through town who was into it, you'd jump on them. Now, there's been this explosion in the water. I took my 13-year-old son surfing for the weekend.

"There are hundreds of people having the experience -- a bit of surfing, and then afterwards hanging out on the beach by the campfire.

'We wanted to reflect what was happening in the water on land. Bundoran had, you could say, an image deficit over the years. The way the town has reinvented itself and started working with people like ourselves has been unreal. There are very few places on earth as beautiful and enjoyable to surf as Donegal. We're proud of that."

He adds: "I live in what would have been a ghost estate between two wave-breaks. But most of the houses are now inhabited by surfers. Indeed, the Association of Surfing Professionals' Barefoot Expression Session -- the richest prize in Irish surfing -- is taking place the same weekend. The most internationally renowned surfers in the world are coming this year."

So what can first-time festival-goers expect if they head north by north-west? "The event is bang in the middle of town," he says.

"There's a beach, a pedestrianised promenade and then there's a big sandy car park, which is the most perfect site for a festival. The camping area is across the road from the event site.

"Alternatively, you can book an apartment overlooking the site or a house just outside the town. There's a real community atmosphere. It's a chilled crowd, in good spirits."

And dare I ask: what about our famously unreliable weather?

"We know what the Atlantic can throw at us -- 20-foot waves!" laughs Daniel. "We know it can turn from decent weather to hurricane status in 30 minutes flat. We have invested heavily in big tops from the UK. We've made sure that every stage has proper cover."

The Sea Sessions runs from June 29 to July 1. www.seasessions.com

nkelly@independent.ie

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