Reviewing Doune the Rabbit Hole last year, I commented that I had no idea how organisers were going to deliver an even better event this year to mark the Stirlingshire festival’s 10th anniversary. Well, they have done it.
Some 6000 tickets were sold for this year’s festival, around double the attendance figures of last year’s event, and while the site certainly felt busier it never felt crowded and the increase in numbers only contributed to the party atmosphere for many.
Doune the Rabbit Hole takes place on the beautiful Cardross Estate on the border of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in beautiful rolling countryside but within easy reach of Glasgow and Edinburgh and just 20 minutes or so away from Stirling - the organisers justifiably refer to it as a little piece of Stirlingshire heaven.
However, the narrow roads and single track leading up to the festival site were jammed with traffic on Friday afternoon as pretty much everyone seemed to arrive at Cardross at the same time. Delays of around two hours getting on site were compounded by some problems with QR codes and e-tickets – and then the ominous dark clouds that had been gathering all afternoon opened and the rain started.
The site had been extended this year to accommodate the increase in numbers, but one area that didn’t seem to be any larger was the family live-in vehicles section, which was already full to capacity by around tea time on Friday evening.
They got everyone in however, and on site almost in time to see the first act on the Jabberwocky main stage, producer and singer-songwriter Lee Scratch Perry, mainly because the living legend was around an hour late to the stage, for reasons known only to himself.
The Upsetter’s mellow groove was infectious though, chilling everyone out with his inimitable style of dub and reggae. Festooned with crystals, the 83-year-old sang about the rain and rasta, and got everyone jumping along to his self-proclaimed holy healing music, supported by band Easy Riddim Maker.
No one wanted this set to end, least of all Perry himself, who, despite having a gig to play in Croatia the following day didn’t want to leave the stage, telling the delighted audience “We should have finished a long time ago but we’re going to do one more tune”.
Next up at the Jabberwocky stage was the New Orleans-based Hot 8 Brass Band, bringing their old school street brass approach to a field in rural Scotland. They played a mix of their own material combined with some funk-heavy covers of everything from Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart to Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, and were joined on stage for much of their set by the ever-entertaining Lee Scratch Perry.
Scottish alt-rock band The Vaselines were on the much-larger-than-in-previous-years Baino stage and drew a big crowd of folk, a mix of original fans and those who discovered them through Kurt Cobain, who famously reportedly called them his “favourite songwriters in the whole world”.
The Devil’s Inside Me, Crazy Lady, Whitechapel, Single Spies and Molly’s Lips all got an airing, with Frances McGee and Eugene Kelly’s understated stage presence perfect for the poignant and heartfelt stories they craft in their music.
Understated is never a description that could be levelled at The Damned. Jabberwocky compere for the weekend, DJ Vic Galloway, could hardly contain his excitement as he introduced his childhood heroes – the band that started it all for him - to the stage, nearly an hour later than billed.
They stormed on stage with a set that blew everyone away from the outset, kicking off with an impassioned performance of Eloise, still wonderfully melodramatic an incredible 50 years after it was first written and some 34 years since the Top of the Pops performance that first introduced 11-year-old me to The Damned.
In a set that included New Rose, Neat Neat Neat, Love Song, Second Time Around, Nasty, Smash It Up, Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow (“Occasionally we write new songs, every ten years or so”) and their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit (“We can’t come to Doune the Rabbit Hole and not play White Rabbit so we’ve added it to the set especially”) they encompassed all their punk, new wave, goth and pop tendencies.
There was crowd-surfing, there was banter, there was an impromptu rendition of Donald Where’s Your Trousers, well, a couple of lines of it anyway, and an encore of Disco Man, Jet Boy Jet Girl and yes, Happy Talk.
A “famished” Captain Sensible was distracted by the smell of Tony’s Really Good Chips while Dave Vanian was on fine form, as slick as ever and his voice sounding as amazing as ever over the energetic and fast-paced guitars and pounding drums and bass. It was immense.
The gothic sensibilities of The Damned would have enjoyed the forecast thunderstorms that night and although the thunder didn’t materialise there was heavy rain over Cardross throughout their set and during the night. Unfortunately, we missed Bombskare’s Whistleblower stage set due to the overrun of set times on the main stage and ended up heading back to the van to dry out.
The yellow weather warnings of Friday night were followed by a warm and sunny Saturday and the expanded site was buzzing with a hive of activity from mid-morning. The huge kids’ area was packed with excited youngsters trying out a range of activities – everything from stilt-walking and hoola-hooping to theatre skills.
There was a silent disco each evening for youngsters, a free play area, and a quiet corner full of books for little ones. There was a traditional wooden games area run by the lovely Chas and Sandy from Arbor Antics, family yoga, talks and demonstrations on washable nappies, kids drumming, singing, puppet-making workshops and of course face-painting in a packed programme proving that Doune the Rabbit Hole really is one of the most family-friendly festivals on the go at the moment.
Doune the Rabbit Hole also has a wonderful array of independent retailers and caterers. This year, charities such as LoveMusic HateRacism and the Faslane Peace Camp both had stalls at the event alongside larger organisations such as the Woodland Trust and RSPB Scotland.
Festie-goers could buy beautiful felt dragons and unicorns, healing crystals, tie-dye clothes, upcycled skirts made from saris and even vinyl records, while the Corner Shop stall sold all the essentials for a weekend’s camping. And there was even a wood-fired steam-room to warm you up after all the rain.
As well as the wonderful Beat-Root Café with its range of vegan treats, including falafel burgers and chocolate brownies, and of course Tony’s increasingly famous Really Good Chips, there were pizzas, crepes, haggis, street food and burgers on offer for hungry revellers.
Over in the newly extended part of the site was the Cinemor77 yurt showing a variety of silver screen productions over the course of the weekend, the Bandersnatch stage for new and upcoming performers, and the Sasan-Gasana mindfulness and meditation area where some of Scotland’s leading yogis, reiki masters and massage experts – including Kilted Yogi sensation Finlay Wilson – held classes and workshops.
One of the highlights of this year’s Doune the Rabbit Hole for me however was the Douniversity, a series of talks and discussions on a huge range of issues covering science, music, politics and the media with a focus on positive change. Friday saw the wonderful folklorist, writer and singer Margaret Bennett talk about Scottish customs, as well as other speakers talking about chemistry and LGBT-inclusive education in Scotland.
Saturday’s line-up featured presentations on Extinction Rebellion, the public image of Vikings through queer theory and how music can have a positive impact on dogs, while Sunday saw festival director Craig Murray discuss “the series of impossibilities perpetuated by a pervacious media” regarding the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury last year. There was also a presentation by the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks and a discussion on the future of Scottish journalism as part of the thought-provoking and gripping programme.
Away from the Douniversity, I was determined to cover new or different bands to those we saw at the Kelburn Garden Party a couple of weeks ago. Tom Maguire and the Brassholes soon put paid to that plan though. I went just to watch their set because I had enjoyed their energy at Kelburn so much but their performance at Doune was even better so they’re getting a mention in this review too. They even attracted the attention of the drummer from Asian Dub Foundation who was watching them from the side-lines.
Near the end of their set, frontman Tom Maguire jumped into the crowd to sing along with some of his word-perfect fans and somehow ended up lying down and getting everyone to cover him in grass while his bandmates improvised and kept playing – as well as filming his antics.
It was another great display of showmanship from this band whose energy and enthusiasm for life, love and music is a joy to watch and absolutely worth seeing if you get the chance. As Tom mentioned a few times, they are playing Edinburgh next month; they are well worth checking out.
Talking of energy and enthusiasm, Asian Dub Foundation have it in bucketloads, despite first forming over a quarter of a century ago. Described as one of the best live bands in the world, their set was hotly anticipated by the Doune crowd and they weren’t disappointed.
Vic Galloway introduced them by commenting that they were a hugely important band “now more than ever in these divided times” and they thundered on to the stage with a powerful set of thumping dub basslines, searing guitars and flute and angry, urgent lyrics.
Guitarist Steve Chandra Savale told the Doune crowd that the band were “citizens of nowhere and proud of it” and that the “fire’s still burning”, which was more than evident in this red-hot show.
From the red-hot punk-spirited ADF on the main stage we headed to the mellow-vibed Yellow Movement love-in of Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 on the Whistleblower stage.
The tent was packed with a sea of yellow Colonel Mustard t-shirts and hoodies and an extraordinary level of happiness and positivity as hundreds of fans sang along to International Sex Hero, tried to Cross the Road in the crowded tent, and joined in with a Dance Off.
The band’s anthems Peace, Love and Mustard and These Are Not the Drugs You Are Looking For got an early airing, with Tom Maguire – without his Brassholes – Ian Mackinnon from Medicine Men and Mark McGhee from The Girobabies as well as numerous kids joining them on stage. It was ‘taps aff’ as we say here in Scotland as the Colonel tried to encourage some airflow through the tent by creating a sort of fan-effect with t-shirts before leading the ever-eager crowd through Capturado and Gay Icon, urging everyone not to be complacent as a society and to keep fighting for the things that are right.
Once again, the Colonel and the Dijon 5 (all 12 of them) raised everyone’s collective spirits and for a wonderful happy hour it is easy to believe that everything is going to be alright with the world and that anything is possible. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of positivity, particularly when combined with a will to fight the good fight.
From fighting the good fight to punk’s favourite Fifers, the Skids. They played a blistering hour-long set, singer Richard Jobson bouncing around the stage in a manner that belied his description of the band as “five fat guys from Fife”.
The Kings of the New World Order led the crowd in a chant of “Fuck Boris Johnson” and introduced 1979’s Working for the Yankee Dollar as “more relevant than ever before”, proving that they are still angry about the current world order of things.
The Saints are Coming, Hurry on Boys and Circus Games had everyone singing along, and Scared to Dance was dedicated to founder member Stuart Adamson. There was a cover of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and the Buzzcocks’ What Do I Get and Ever Fallen In Love which all got a fantastic reception and Jobson invited a young boy wearing a Skids t-shirt up onto the stage to sing Masquerade with the band before leading the crowd in a typically rambunctious rendition of Into the Valley.
The 70s theme continued with Sister Sledge’s headline slot on the Jabberwocky stage. Their appearance is probably the best indication of how far Doune the Rabbit Hole has come in the last couple of years – these legends of disco headlined Scotland’s biggest festival, Belladrum, just a couple of years ago, and here they are in a field on the outskirts of a wee village in Stirlingshire.
They drew a huge crowd, many of whom it is fair to say had partaken a few alcoholic beverages and were singing along to every word and doing their own wee dance routines to old familiar favourites such as Freak Out, Frankie, Shout and of course Lost in Music, this evening’s version of which was about 20 minutes long. The big finale was obviously We Are Family, which is an incredible 40 years old this year.
Leaving the main stage, we wandered up the site and right in the heart of the arena where Edinburgh-based fire theatre company PyroCeltica had also drawn a big crowd for their impressive performance combining dance, Scottish music and fire.
However, it was off to the Whistleblower stage for us and another hi-energy set, this time from folk punks Ferocious Dog. Fresh from headlining the Ely Folk Festival and ahead of their main stage slot at Beautiful Days in August, the six-piece are veterans of the live music scene.
They opened with Cry of the Celt from new album Fake News and Propaganda and blasted through crowd faves Gallows Justice and Hell Hounds, Too Late, Quiet Paddy, Lyla and Slow Motion Suicide in what was indeed a ferocious set.
The later night revelry at the Whistleblower continued with what was by all accounts a storming set from The Girobabies, and another set from Tom Maguire and the Brassholes, while Niteworks and Fat Suit took to the Baino stage, and there were DJ sets at the Warren and folk sessions at the Bandersnatch.
Sunday saw a return to the wet weather, and while we spent much of the day in the Douniversity, a fair few folk headed home. There was still a good crowd on site though, and other folk arrived just for the day, many drawn to Doune by the strong Sunday evening Jabberwocky line-up of Hawkwind, Kathryn Joseph and The Wailers.
Glasgow singer songwriter Carla J Easton was back at Doune for a second year, and pointed out to those gathered to watch her in the Whistleblower tent that when she played last year she was just getting over viral meningitis.
Feeling in fine health this year and with her amazing voice in fine fettle she gave a polished performance of the indie pop she is growing a well-earned and richly-deserved reputation for. Backed by her band, her set included Bird in the Sky, Lights in the Dark, Impossible Stuff and Dreamers on the Run. Comparisons with Arcade Fire are not unjustified.
Back on the main stage and Hawkwind were about to deliver an immense wall of sound that had everyone dancing in the rain. Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, these legends of prog rock, space rock, psychedelic rock, call it what you will, proved that they are very much Warriors on the Edge of Time from their heavy bass-led set opener.
There was an impromptu acoustic interlude however as drummer Richard Chadwick broke the drum kit, prompting one of his band mates to declare that he was “resigning’ from the band.
The show must go on though and it did, with Spirit of the Age and probably their most famous song Silver Machine before an encore of Hell Bent for Leather. There were lots of happy hippies in the field that evening, as well as some old punks who were pretty impressed too.
And there were a fair few old punks heading up to the Baino stage to catch Japanese pop punk sensations Shonen Knife. Currently in the middle of a UK tour promoting their new album Sweet Candy Power, they played the title track, Dizzy and Party from the recently released offering, their unique brand of pop punk – something like The Ramones meet Stephanie from kids TV programme Lazy Town - as much of a hit with the crowd now as it was back in the early 90s when they were championed by none other than Nirvana.
Sunday night headliners on the Jabberwocky stage were The Wailers, who, as requested by Bob Marley himself, have kept playing since his death in 1981 to keep spreading the message of love and unity.
Their two-hour set included Natural Mystic, Rastaman Vibration, Buffalo Soldier, I Shot the Sheriff, Survival, War, No More Trouble, Could You Be Loved, Three Little Birds, One Love, Jammin’, Get Up Stand Up and encores of Is This Love and Exodus. It was an incredible feeling to be part of a thousand-strong choir singing ‘Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cos every little thing’s gonna be alright’.
For a couple of beautiful hours in a field in the dark and the rain there was a ray of light and if you closed your eyes and just listened to the music you could be carried away to a place where peace and love and unity and justice could be achieved through positivity and peaceful uprising.
Which kinda sums up the whole ethos of Doune the Rabbit Hole. As The Wailers frontman, Joshua David Barrett, said, “Rise you mighty people, you can accomplish”. And as the organisers of Doune the Rabbit Hole have proved every year for the last ten years, that much at least is true.
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Doune The Rabbit Hole 2019 review