I’m laying in a field in Ireland staring into the blue. Mountains stretch out into the distance. Endless bays break up the shore. Sometimes the stillness of small corners of Earth can provide life’s most precious moments.
A time to stop and ask: “How good is this?”
Right there, right then, I was loving life in it’s simplest form. Laying in a field in the middle of nowhere admiring my surroundings and just taking it all in while listening to the sound of surfers having fun. Is there a better thing in life? I’m not sure there is. The sun was warm on my face. It felt good.
Out in the water four friends are riding a few waves. Enjoying the moment. Just four lads brought together by a love of surf, music and vagarity of chance. Rob, Jed, Pete and Rory. As a collective they are the Sunset Sons. Four surfers who are on one of the roller coast branch lines of life’s path. They are riding, laughing, smiling, making tunes that put a skip in peoples step, packing gigs and having a whole lot of fun.
Two years ago they hooked up to play a few covers and make a few bucks gigging in the hard partying bars of the Alps. By March this year they were at the heart of a music industry maelstrom and as a result signed Polydor’s biggest deal of the year. A five album deal no less. Which in this day and age of quick fixes and easy come, easy go, is testament to steadfast belief, a bidding war and some canny negotiations. From here on in however you should know them as ‘the lads’ because in surfing parlance that’s what they are, and good lads too.
So there I was in a remote field, sun shining, feeling surfed out and there they were in the surf. Every now and again I’d raise my head as one of the lads cruised across a deep blue wall. It had not been by any imagination a smooth trip, but it was possibly one of the best. Missed flights in an early morning rush, obstacles placed at every turn, yet every time a door shut another opened and a new friend had been made.
Skindog, Sharpy and I had arrived in Ireland on the Tuesday afternoon navigating life’s merry twists and turns as well as we could before arriving at a barrelling break in the middle of nowhere. Two surfers got out as we arrived so we paddled out into empty perfection as a double rainbow formed against dark clouds to the east, while the sun broke through blue skies to the west. A magical light illuminated most the session and our hoots and yells echoed in the silence. After a day that could have broken a weaker spirited person it was a triumph over adversity and one that had equally reminded us all why we love Ireland so much: the people and the environment. As for the lads, well they had been somewhat waylaid with press duties. Indeed two of them had to change flights and we would pick the other two up in morning.
The next morning was a typically Irish: dark, drizzly, dank. Skindog and I set off for the airport where Jed and Pete were waiting. We took the scenic route, inadvertently, but it was good to chat to the Dog about the vagaries of his world. Hugely respected and liked where ever he goes, yet to some still labelled “longboarder”. It’s a weird label seeing as most of the international surfing population see him as a very good surfer and he rides pretty much every type of board and size of wave with boundless enthusiasm. Longboarding and two second places in World Games have brought him fame and recognition where ever he goes, but high visibility will only get you so far, popularity and respect are much harder earned. He has an abundance of both.
Dog and Jed had hit it off at the Son’s gig in Perranporth the previous week, the afterglow of which had apparently gone on into the small hours. I’d never really met Jed despite us running shots of him and his Geordie crew when he was based in the Toon. He’s a big lad, but quiet and considered in his manner, a good surfer. One of the best younger east coast surfers a few years back. He has his head screwed on. After years of playing in cover bands and surf instructing in places like France and Fuerte’ he is now the drummer of the Sons. We have a lot of long term mutual friends so the strange ritual of meeting and greeting someone for the first time at an airport had the edge taken off. He was amping to know what the surf was like and how soon we would get in there. The lads had been busy with work stuff that had kept them out of the water for weeks. Jed just wanted to get barrelled.
Alongside Jed was Pete. He’s the random Aussie bass player. Pete’s cousin moved to France a few years ago and set up the Le Surfing bar, where the band met. Originally from Wollongong it also transpired we also had mutual friends both near and far so the car was soon filled with, “How is…” And, “What happened to…”, laughter, banter and funny tales. The vibe was good. Unfortunately other two band members were stuck in London due to the band being named as an MTV Break Out Act Of 2015. They were all supposed to be filming an indent for broadcast next year, but on seeing the chart Jed and Pete had bailed and sent the others to film. Possibly not a decision Simon Cowell would have let them get away with, but I had to admire their tenacity.
And thus their road trip began and we hit the track searching some of the quieter corners of Donegal Bay. Lifes merry twists and turns were soon joined by this stretch of coasts hard to call mix of swell direction and the effects of a spring tide. The search was on, and off, and on again as the tide dropped off slabs and onto others. The lads spent a day in wetties as opposed to music studios. All was good. Until back in London MTV twigged they only had half a band turning up for a very important video shoot. Predictably they threw one and demanded the full package be at their studios the next day. Imagine being let loose on a surf trip, getting up early, hitting the airport, on plane, off plane, picked up, dash around the coast and then being called back to London. Yes. Philosophical was the mood. But let’s face it, MTV demanding you go and film with them is not the worst problem to have.
So off they went while Skindog, Sharpy and I reassessed and relocated. Bundoran it was. Good old Fundoran. It would be pumping. And that is how we came to be surfing with dolphins. Just the three of us at a fun little peak. Earlier we had rocked up at PMPA which was kind of okay, but acting as meeting point for the local crew rather than the end destination. It was a good crew at that, both in size and in attitude. Numbers had been swollen by many visitors but the Bundoran boys are always a good mannered, solid surfing, bunch. One of my favourite crews from around the globe as it happens mainly because they work the old school rules; give respect, gain respect. Old smiles, new friends.
HQ established we were soon in the sea on a little running right. We had it to ourselves for hours until couple of local lads paddled out. We said hello, called each other into waves, got barrelled. Then off to the north fins broke the surface. Dolphins. And then they came. Swooping, diving, surfing, circling right around us. It was a pretty epic five minutes. Then they were gone back out to sea. It was shame to see them go, but we shouldn’t have worried. 20 minutes later they came back swimming right between us. Jumping and surfing waves. So close if you had reached (and they let you) you could have touched them. It was almost as if they were saying “See ya!” and off they went into the sunset. We’d been barrelled for four hours and surfed with dolphins. Pretty damn epic. Not of course if you are heading back to Ireland from an MTV recording and reading about it all in text message. Still after making the flight by two minutes and with an ETA of 12.30, base sorted and and all time forecast for the morning all was not lost for the lads.
It’s early morning. The wind is offshore. The swell is pumping. It’s a crisp, sweet, sunny day. The house is in chaos as the full line up of the Sunset Sons try and find their relevant boots, hoods, gloves and wetsuits. They go about it in a manner which suggests they are a close bunch of mates who had perhaps been travelling with other just a tad too long the previous day… and got up an hour too early. The other two members include Rory, the lead singer, keyboard guru and object of most ladies affections. He ended up being conscripted into the band after a performance at, yes that bar again, Le Surfing where he was spotted by Jed singing. He had arrived in Hossegor looking for waves, got adopted by Wales’s favourite surfing son, Carwyn Williams, and there he stayed. I liked Rory. He has a voice for sure, and presence, but he has a great ability to make you laugh. Chicks also love Rory but you can’t hold it against him. He’s that kind of guy. You would have beer with him except he had to stop drinking as he likes it too much so he sticks to water.
Rob meanwhile is different again. He is the quiet one. The axe man. Possibly, I thought, axe murderer as he was so quiet among the dawn mayhem. But then he came out with a dry quip and everything was alright. While all others are probably what I would call surfers turned professional musicians, Rob was bought in due to his musical proficiency… and then thrown in the deep end as the lads taught him to surf at places like the heaving shore dump of La Graviere.
20 minutes later and we are overlooking sunny offshore, if slightly inconsistent, four foot barrels. The lads, amped to a factor of 15 on a scale of ten really didn’t need any encouragement from a Skindog who was frothing harder than the last pint of Betty Stoggs from a hand pump, but they got it anyway. It was a start of a six and a half hour session. I asked Jed later when the last time he had surfed for so long was, “When I was about 13?” was the answer.
To begin the tide was a little high and with morning sickness affecting many of the other breaks it was more crowded than I had seen this little stretch of coast, but it was still pretty epic. The lads were joined by Emmet O’Doherty, Conor Maguire, Andrew Kilfeather, Barry Mottershead and Dylan Stott. But it was as the tide dropped and the crowd dispersed that the magic started to happen. With a dropping wind and tide the swell began to line up, the crowd started thinning and people started calling each other into waves. There were eight second pits, hoots, a rotation in the line-up, smiles and a general vibe often lost in other areas of the world. As the sun started to drop the tubes became golden to the point where it was hard to see as you travelled through them, light glinting off the hollow face. Lips becoming translucent, mesmerising. It wasn’t heavy, it was fun. As fun as fun gets. A moment in time that stays in your memory. I remembered two friends who are in hospital at home and got one each for them. I shouted, whistled, hooted, smiled again. We all did. And we all surfed for hours. Six people eventually became four, became three, became one. On exit we found Rob and Rory had done a shop run and handed out roast chicken, sandwiches and cakes. It was pretty perfect.
That evening was pretty special. Emmett, who’s family own the Chasing Bull pub, managed to get the lads the loan of all the instruments and equipment they needed for an impromptu gig. The place was packed with Bundoran surfers old, second generation and visitors all having scored during the day. It was good. Many pints were drunk. And this is how I ended up laying in a field in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday afternoon pondering life’s great path on the last full day of the trip. I wondered where we would all be in twelve months time. Then I wondered if the guys a Shells in Strandhill would have any nice cake. They did, and they also had more surf and sun out the front, the lads dug in again.
The Saturday night turned out to be less rock and roll than I imagined spending a Saturday night with a rock and roll band would be. The lads have a pact not to make the mistakes of previous bands and drink themselves into oblivion within six months of signing their deal. They are grounded and they have their heads screwed on. They know this is their shot and they are going to take it. Plus the forecast was good again, and they wanted to get up for a dawny before once again hitting the road. So it was a steak in the Bridge Bar, laughs and conversation. A world away from life on the road, and even, heaven forbid, computer screens and wifi. We were into the realms of a good old fashioned surf trip. We talked of the band and what was happening all around them. They are very down to earth, and self effacing, “We’re not the best musicians the world, but we just love what we do.”
“It’s a kinda weird when you walk into a bar and people are kinda pointing, want you to sign autographs or have their photos taken. I mean it’s just us..?”
“The best gig we have ever played was in Ullapool. The people up there just go crazy!” That was it. No antics, no airs and graces. Just the pub with mates, a discussion on making the most of the rented cottages laundry facilities, a constant battle for the road warrior band, then a bit of QI.
Next morning Rob and Rory chose a lay in so Jed, Pete and I go to the reef. It is misty but three foot and pumping. We have two hours so suit up and head in. As soon as we reach the peak the sets stop so we sit about looking at each other. Ashore a van draws up with some surfers in. We all sit and wait, and wait, and … you get the picture. The van drives off. As it clears the bend and goes out of view the first set arrives. The swell pulses. We start hooting, calling each other into waves. Cold it be a perfect end to a surf trip? The mist eases back from the water to the shore and turns orange in the daybreak. Yes it could. It’s another incredible view for the memory bank. Three out, soon to be joined by our good friend Emmett, sharing waves. Jed and Pete have their best surf of the trip.
The trip back to the airport was filled with laughs and comfortable tired silences. It was the end of an epic little road trip, but I’m convinced just the start of something special for the lads. And off they went, off into the real world, a whole random road of life as a rock and roll band awaits. The love of the finer things in life bonds them though. Surfing and friendship. We wish them luck.
(You can check out their first two EPs and pre-order the new one on iTunes)