Doune The Rabbit Hole undoubtedly had the potential to be one of those fabled lost weekends.
Nestled in the picturesque Duncarron valley in a newly built replica medieval fort, the festival boasted a collection of Scottish and international talent that any of its contemporaries in terms of size would have been proud to see on their line-up.
The programme for Doune The Rabbit Hole came with the disclaimer “Time is an illusion, festival time doubly so, these listings are provided only as an approximate outline of concurrent stage happenings”
The fact the times were classified as early, middle and later matched the altogether laid back atmosphere that surrounded the whole festival site. As mobile phones had no signal and knowing the time was pretty pointless anyway we as a group tried to embrace this relaxed ethos. A couple of us even wrote “early, middle and later” on our wrists as watches. To which someone would periodically ask during the day “what time is it?” to receive the rolling up of a sleeve and the answer “definitely middle”, or “has to be later by now”. Yes certainly in the world of Doune The Rabbit Hole time was an illusion.
This was not so much of an issue for us festival goers as the site was so small that getting from one stage to another was quick and easy. I could however imagine that it would have been a bit of a nightmare for the performers not knowing when or indeed on many occasions what stage or day they were going to play. But enough negativity let’s get to the music…………….
So it was on the Jabberwocky stage that my musical weekend got underway with the scuzzy dreamy Pavement-esque sounds of “Behold, The Old Bear”. With his endearing chat, winning smile and a voice that fleets between Stephen Malkmus and Jeffrey Lewis, Raindeer and his Old Bear got the weekend off to the perfect start. He even threw in a brilliant cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” for good measure, which explains the sunglasses in the accompanying picture.
After a slight retreat from the main stage for refreshments (7.2% Thistly Cross cider mmmmm not quite the Merrydown from Arab Straps “First Big Weekend” but it did the trick) and a lovely Pigeon and beetroot wrap from the Wild Rover food company’s Land Rover it was back to the Jabberwocky to see the two bearded legends Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat
The Scottish album of the year winners brought “Everything’s Getting Older” to the fort. Bill tinkled away on the ivories as Aidan hit on the drums and cymbals as he unfurled his stories of love and loss in his deep Scottish drawl. “The Copper Top” was the standout track of the set, and special mention should go to Robert Henderson for his trumpet playing which added weight to the songs melancholy imagery. Before their cover of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” Aidan had a bit of banter with the crowd after a shout regarding his love for redhead pop star Nicola Roberts, replying with “Aye I love wee Nicola she’s a cracker“. Rounding things off with “The Greatest Story Ever Told” it was already a contender for set of the weekend.
“The Phantom Band” headlined the Friday night in a time slot which could only really be classed as middle/later in Doune time. Although Rick Redbeard had earlier in the day threatened a Tapless “Phantom Band” on twitter it failed to materialise (fear of midgies and photographers were the reasons citied) They did however play a blinding set which included massive sounding versions of “folksong Oblivion” from “Checkmate Savage” And “O” from “The Wants” as well as showcasing material from their forthcoming third album.
The rest of the evening was spent dancing in the mud to Optimo’s DJ Twitch, sitting on the stage and fort ramparts talking nonsense, drinking Jaegerbombs and generally having a great time. Oh and we also met Egon from Ghostbusters, well not Harold Ramis but a look alike anyway. Ultimately a cracking first day at the festival was had by all.
wandering up into the fort to acquire some breakfast on the Saturday we were drawn into the Baino stage by some heavy guitars and drums. All dressed in Monkey suits they joked throughout their set that they were a Monkees tribute band and The Evil Teletubbies. Finally at the end of the set by the insistence of shouts from the crowd of “what’s your name?” we found out they were called “St John’s Ambience”. It was one of those great surprises of a set, and I for one will definitely be looking out for them playing in the future.
Check out their video for a song called St John’s Addiction below
The middle of the day then went from the unknown to the extremely familiar as Dan Willson AKA “Withered Hand” took to the Jabberwocky stage in the pouring rain. With his own band augmented by sections of “The Second Hand Marching Band” he played what was undoubtedly the most well received set of the weekend so far. Despite the rain there was singing, dancing and general merriment in the crowd. After a slightly drunken version of myself shouted for “No Cigarettes” Dan later in the set duly complied and said “this is for that guy”. Never have I been so happy to be “that guy”, cheers Dan. Then to draw the set to a close “Religious Songs” rang out like a middle finger to the falling skies as everyone joined in for a raucous sing along.
We then shuffled up the slippy hill (thank god for wellys) to the Tenement TV stage where “Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard” were about to come on stage.
Sporting a newly shaven head and beard Jeff treated the packed tent to live staples like “life”, “water” and the zombie apocalypse tale of “If You Shoot The Head You Kill The Ghoul”.
Devoid of his now customary projection screens to show his comics during the set, Jeffrey reverted back to his tried and tested method of standing on an amp and flicking through the pages while singing about subjects as diverse as the French Revolution and space aliens.
Back down the hill to the Jabberwocky and it was time to meet the King, not Elvis, Creosote. Kenny Anderson played an up tempo set including “You’ve No Clue Do You” and “Nooks”, the later being preceded by Kenny saying he was in need of a belt for his trousers as they were falling down. In the spirit of the festival some kind soul went over to the stage and gave the King their belt to wear for the rest of the show. While it was a fun family friendly set, me being a morose bastard at times would have loved to have heard “Circle My Demise” or “And The Racket They Made”, alright alright I’ll get back in my coffin now. I have to say I did love the cover of “The Aliens” “Happy Song” though.
After getting several more pints of the 7.2% Thistly Cross Doune us we headed back outside the forts Walls to the Inspire Stage to catch a bit of “Sparrow & the Workshop”. Already in full swing by the time we got down Jill O’Sullivan’s voice was as sweet sounding and soaring as ever and was the perfect way to round off another great day of music.
Saturdays after hour’s entertainment came courtesy of the Matchbox Cineclub tent, where we watched James Gandolfini get his arse kicked in True Romance and men forget that they could just take their gang jackets off and walk home unimpeded in The Warriors. The guys who ran it were lovely and not only kept us out of the rain but also supplied us with biscuits and crisps, thanks again.
Sunday started with me making a point to head up in the early reaches of early to make sure I didn’t miss “Olympic Swimmers” on the Jabberwocky. After seeing a couple of other bands play and asking a sound man who had no clue what was going on where and when I made my way up the hill to the Smoak Food Stand for breakfast. It was thankfully around this time that big white table tops appeared at the front of the stages with the revised running order and rough times adorned on them.
“The Second Hand Marching Band” got the day off to a bright start with their 15 piece ensemble. If any band was going to take the fort with sheer numbers alone then it would be them. Much foot stomping and even some muddy dancing ensued in a set that even managed to bring the sun out overhead. “A Dance To Half Death” sounded particular sweet in the sunshine.
The extremely talented Jef Sinclair from the band drew this picture for the Programme
The majority of the rest of middle to later was to be spent in the Baino tent.
First up was “North American War” who my only previous knowledge of was the fact that at least two of them have frequently served me alcoholic beverages in “Nice ‘N’ Sleazy” in Glasgow. Thankfully though that wrong has now been righted, noisy scuzzy guitars sit behind a vocal which crashes from sounding like a slightly less hyperactive female version of Cedric Bixler from “ATDI” to Emily Haines from “Metric”. They are definitely another band worth checking out live at the next possible opportunity.
Following on with a change of stage and possibly time (As we know that’s hard to quantify here) it was finally time for “Olympic Swimmers” There was also a slight change in line-up due to Graeme Smillie being away on bass duties with Karine Polwart, thankfully a more than adequate deputy was found in Andy McGlone from “Holy Mountain”. The lighting quick drumming of Jonny Scott mixed with Susie Smillie’s passionate vocals makes “Olympic Swimmers” a devastatingly brilliant live prospect. Nearly a week on and I still get shivers down my spine when I think about “Apples and Pears” and the look on Susie’s face as she sings “but that knife that’s in the kitchen sink won’t find its home in me” with such commitment and intensity, it’s absolutely spellbinding.
It was then a quick jump back to the Jabberwocky for the last time of the festival. “Three Blind Wolves” were just getting underway and drawing a decent sized crowd with their brand of Scottish Americana. Ross Clark is an artist I’ve got a lot of time for and I do love his distinctive wail and rasp of a vocal. “Hotel”, “Emily Rose” and “Sex is for losers” were the even higher peaks in an exceptionally strong set.
We happened to bump into two of the “Galoshins” at a fire the night before. The guitarist we ended up giving the nickname “Roland” due to the fact that he somehow managed to roll in said fire totally by accident and come out the other side unscathed, Rock N Roll. The band actually was great and got the whole of the bursting to the seams tent dancing along with frenzied enthusiasm. If you had told me the night before that the second bespectacled fellow I met would be wearing a green moo moo and punishing the drums like a demon I would have said you were mad, but fuck me can that boy play. Well done “Doune The Rabbit Hole” for providing me with another great wee surprise of a band that wasn’t on my radar.
Back up to the top of the hill for a refill of 7.2% and another opportune stumbling in on the nymph like Liverpudlian folk songstress Laura J Martin, who we saw play a couple of songs on her flute and mandolin, it’s safe to say her music was as beautiful as she was….
From beauty to well Malky, from the name of my website it goes without saying I’m a massive fan of all of Malcolm Middleton’s music. “Human Don’t Be Angry” are no exception to that rule, and today they are on fire. With Jonny Scott from “Olympic Swimmers” again on drums the Ginger wonder weaved his beautiful guitar soundscapes. “Asklipiio” sounded absolutely gorgeous while “1985” built and then soared well out of the back of the tent and off into the wilderness. The fact that both Aidan and Malcolm continue to make such great music in their separate guises definitely makes the loss of “Arab Strap” that much easier to take.
The end of the weekend and the end of the music was drawing near but there was still time for one last dance courtesy of Chemical Underground’s solo electro pioneer Julian Corrie AKA “Miaoux Miaoux” in the Tenement TV tent.
With the last pint downed and last dance faded out we left the fort for the final time. Retreating like a defeated army back down the hill, we took shelter yet again in the Matchbox Cineclub tent this time to watch some Richard Pryor and Louis CK, personally I could not think of a better way to finish off an amazing weekend.
I’ve added in The Phantom Band Comic Strip that appeared in the Programme at the bottom of the review since someone’s search engine terms that lead them to my site yesterday were Phantom Band Cartoon, Doune The Rabbit Hole, so hopefully whoever it was will find it again.
Words – Ross Cunningham
Pics – Ross Cunningham and Colin Urquhart