And we’re back!
Three years since we were last there, the wonderful Doune the Rabbit Hole festival returned to the beautiful Cardross Estate near Stirling at the weekend, determined to make up for the years lost to Covid with a bumper edition of the event. DTRH is now Scotland’s third-largest music festival and this year brought music fans together for four days of entertainment. Tickets for 2020 and 2021 were honoured, and there was no additional cost for children’s tickets bought pre-pandemic for youngsters who were then under 12-years old. Additionally, many of the pre-pandemic artists originally booked for 2020 were also able to honour their slot on the line-up, which also showcased some big new names, a host of well-known Scottish bands and lots of up-and-coming acts.
The gates to Cardross opened on Thursday at noon and by around 2pm long queues were beginning to form. The capacity at DTRH was increased to around 15,000 this year, more than doubling previous year’s numbers, and the site layout had been increased and rearranged to accommodate that.
The stage layout and main arena was much larger as were all the camping sections, but still all within relatively easy walking distance, and rather than one entry point for all vehicles as had been the case previously there were separate entries for cars and for live-in vehicles, and four or five ticket verifying points at the live-in vehicle gate.
Despite the queues and delays for some, the majority of the staff and volunteers did their best to ensure that entry to the site was as stress-free and as seamless as possible. And the build crew worked round the clock throughout the weekend to address any issues that came up. Not enough water in the live-in vehicle section? A tap was installed within hours. Not enough bins in the camping areas? Again, installed within hours of people arriving. Need more electrical hook-ups? Done within a couple of hours. It was a seriously impressive effort by the Doune crew.
Thursday evening was spent getting acquainted with the new site layout, catching up with festival friends and colleagues that for a while there back in 2020 it was easy to think we might never see again. Fortunately, many familiar faces were back too. The Magic Circle Steam Room was as busy as ever, Tony’s Really Good Chips were still really good, and Monkey Temple and Priya were back with their beautiful wares.
It was already shaping up to be a good weekend and excitement levels were high; the usually chilled vibe at Doune was definitely more hyped and ready to cut loose after what has been a difficult two years for everyone.
Black Wolf Trap featuring Jamie Keira, previously of Jamie and Shoony, opened the Whistleblower stage and we caught the tail-end of Gentleman’s Dub Club on the main stage, titled the Jabberwocky stage.
It was all about the incredible Patti Smith on the main stage for us though. The American singer, songwriter, poet and activist said that the band had travelled to Scotland from New Jersey and apologised for her voice not being “100 per cent”, commenting that she was sure it would get better as the show went on. The Thursday night crowd at Doune didn’t seem to notice though, and sang along to Redondo Beach, Grateful, Ghost Dance, Dancing Barefoot, People have the Power and arguably her most famous song, Because the Night, which she introduced as having been written for her son Jackson, who plays guitar in her band. She played Nine, which she introduced as a song she wrote for Captain Jack Sparrow, and read Injustice by Scotland’s very own King Creosote, and as she left the stage she urged the crowd to “remember to use your voice”.
Which many did, if only to singalong to the 90s hits blasting out a wee bit later from the Whistleblower stage where the lovely Tim Burgess from The Charlatans was blasting out an absolute banger of a nostalgic DJ set into the early hours.
Doune is renowned for its family-friendly atmosphere and this year was no different with a packed programme of family activities lined up over the weekend, everything from Artie’s Singing Kettle to face-painting, story-telling, bubble and sword fights and glitter and foam fights, breakdancing and DJ workshops, puppet making, and disco yoga.
The family field, which this year was the biggest it has ever been at Doune, also had campfires, dance classes, Lego, balloon modelling, youth theatre, stone carving and even a beach. It’s amazing any parents of young children ever managed to persuade their offspring to leave.
The kids entertainment kicked off at a slightly too early 8am for those of us who were camped between the Whistleblower stage and the family area, although it is surprising how quickly you can get used to falling asleep to the rhythm of drum and bass and waking up just a few hours later to a very enthusiastic song about carrots.
So it was a relatively early foray into the main arena for us on Friday to catch the lovely G K McGinty from Dundee on the Bandersnatch stage. He kicked off with Relatively Speaking, played Button Pressing by his old band Sinderins and The Rhythm Divine by Shirley Bassey. They say the voice is an instrument and the talented Gavin personifies this, imitating everything from a horn to Shirley Bassey herself, and it was lovely to hear him sing live again.
Also on the Bandersnatch stage was Glasgow-based singer-songwriter John Rush with his “folk-tinged pop songs”. John played the live stream of Doune last year, and said it was great to be back with an in-person audience this year. A self-confessed purveyor of depressing songs, including The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree, which was written about his dad, John was a big hit with the early afternoon crowd.
Not gonna lie, we went to see Peaness solely because of their name, and then they turned out to be one of the discoveries of the weekend. Hailing from Chester, the indie pop punk band has an almost 50s/60s girl group vibe, somewhere between No Doubt, The Bangles and Disney. Their set provided a perfect soundtrack to a sunny afternoon in a field, particularly when closely followed by Los Chichanos, who claim to be ‘the band behind Edinburgh's late night fiestas’. Their raucous Latin rhythms, 60s psychedelia, surf-inspired guitar and tropical vibes from the Andes and the Amazon all added to the summer feel.
The advertised line-up this year was subject to a few changes as various artists on the bill had to pull out for different reasons. Orbital and Craig Charles were probably the biggest names to have to cancel, while the resulting changes to set times meant that some folk missed bands they wanted to see. Organisers did their best to update festie-goers of the changes, with new set times posted at the information tent and at most of the stages, as well as online, but internet access was very patchy and often non-existent and not everyone thought to check the boards. Given the ongoing difficulties with Covid, it is hardly surprising that some artists or crew have to pull out at the last minute, or are delayed enroute to events, and this could well be a feature of events of all sizes for a while to come yet. Hopefully audiences can be understanding of that and the difficulties that performers, crew and event organisers face in the current climate.
Anyway, we missed The Rezillos. But we did catch Esperanza, Glasgow’s nine-piece ska collective who appeared at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in the city in 2014. Their Whistleblower set was typically energetic with the crowd skanking for joy in the early evening sunshine. One Man Down, The Magnet and 2-Tone Ain’t Dead all got an airing as did a cover of their east coast ska compatriots Bombskare’s Do All Dogs Go To Heaven?
Next up on the Whistleblower stage was another Glasgow band, Mickey 9s. Funk with a hint of punk or punk with a hint of funk, this irreverent four piece cannot be easily defined and combines rock and roll energy with dance grooves, most perfectly encapsulated in tunes such as Soundhaus and Ammunition.
And then it was time for Amy MacDonald on the Jabberwocky stage. The Scottish singer-songwriter, guitarist and musician was kicking off her summer tour with her show at Doune and told the crowd it was “so good to be here”. And in a beautiful and heartfelt moment during her set she commented that it was great to see so many young girls in the audience, adding that she had no doubt that in 10 or 15 years’ time one of them would be up on stage headlining as well.
It’s some 15 years since Amy released the first of her five albums, and her first top 40 hit Mr Rock N Roll got an early airing in the set list. Slow It Down, Run, Statues and This is the Life were all enthusiastically received by the adoring crowd with Never Too Late and Down by the Water making up the encore.
In the final set for the night on the Whistleblower stage, The Utah Saints announced that it had taken them two years to get to Doune, and added that they don’t talk much before launching straight into What can you do for me. This duo provided the soundtrack to the 90s for many a patron of Doune the Rabbit Hole and their DJ set went down a storm.
Saturday was by far the busiest day of the weekend at Doune the Rabbit Hole with a significant number of day-tickets sold. While the main parts of the arena felt busy, there were still pockets of peace and tranquility around the site that could be found. The scheduling between the stages worked really well, despite a couple of last minute changes to the programme. You could usually finish one band’s set before catching another on a different stage.
It’s fair to say that there weren’t enough bins or toilets or toilet roll but really, are there ever enough toilets or toilet roll? There were only a couple of stalls selling coffee, which led to long queues. But these are small issues in the big scheme of things.
It is worth bearing in mind that there have been next to no events for three years and events organisers and festival crews are possibly a little out of practice. What was once a slick operation practiced over many years is currently possibly not quite as smooth as it has been previously as those who work in the industry re-hone and refine skills once again. Give the crews a break and a chance to get back into the swing of things, they’ll be back on it in no time. And while I’m on the subject, a huge shout out to the bar staff who were all really cheery and the security crew who were pretty lovely too.
It was a later start for us on Saturday, and straight to the Jabberwocky stage for Tide Lines and their first appearance at DTRH. Their brand of heartfelt Scottish rock - following in the spiritual musical footsteps of Runrig - proved popular with the main stage audience. Rivers in the Light, Fortunes of the Fearless, Shadow to the Light, Running at the Dark and Far Side of the World all got an airing and were well-received by the enthusiastic crowd. As someone commented, these guys are going to be huge.
10cc were huge. And it is great to be able to see these legends of art rock history in real life. They opened with The Wall Street Shuffle from 1974, going straight into Art for Art’s Sake and Life is a Minestrone. The Dean and I, The Things We Do For Love, Dreadlock Holiday and Silly Love all showcased the fantastic harmonies and musicianship of the band under the stewardship of founder member Graham Gouldman.
Back to the Bandersnatch stage for Perthshire’s Scottish folk duo Mad Ferret (another band name you really need to say out loud) and their second set of the festival. They opened with a set of jigs, followed by Whiskey Whiskey and Ramblin’ Rover and a couple of reels for the Gay Gordons (it’s a Scottish country dance thing).
With their second album due out in August, they played a couple of their own tunes, a rendition of fellow Perthshire legend Dougie Maclean’s The Gael (as featured in The Last of The Mohicans) and finished up with a rambunctious Strip the Willow. Good times were had by all. Sticking with dancing bands, Bombskare were next on the Whistleblower stage. They opened with a couple of their new tunes, followed by I Wanna Be Famous, Do all dogs go to heaven? Freedom 35 and Lloyd Nib, as well as covers of Britney’s Toxic and The Bangles Walk Like an Egyptian.
We caught a couple of tunes by the Elephant Sessions and Sleaford Mods and then it was time for what was always going to be one of the highlights of my weekend, Buzzcocks. And they smashed it from the outset, kicking off with What do I get, Senses Out of Control, Fast Cars, People are Strange Machines, I don’t mind, Sick City Sometimes, Autonomy and Third Dimension. I’ve seen the Buzzcocks a few times over the years but this was the first time without founder member Pete Shelley. Guitarist and vocalist Steve Diggle has vowed to continue the band and true to his word they have a new album out in September.
Bad Dream, Destination Zero, Promises, Orgasm Addict, Manchester Rain, Chasing Rainbows, Ever Fallen in Love and Harmony on my Head brought a blistering set to a close, leaving the crowd shouting for one more tune. Steve asked the crew if they had time, got the nod and laughingly shouted “We’re gonna do two, fuck ‘em!” to the delighted crowd.
After walking and dancing some 10km, we called it a night and headed back to the campsite accompanied by the comforting rhythmic beats coming from the Comhla stage.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s crowds, Sunday was noticeably quieter with a more chilled out vibe which was reflected in the line-up, or maybe reflective of the line-up, but that wasn’t going to stop those who had stayed from having a good time. This was no more evident than at the Whistleblower in the afternoon when, in a piece of booking genius, Spanish duo Baccara took to the stage to bring some high energy 70s Euro disco to a field in the heart of Scotland. They sang Fantasy Boy, Call Me Up and led the crowd in a rendition of YMCA, but everyone was there for one reason, one song, and everyone – band included – knew it.
For those that maybe don’t know, Baccara’s first hit, Yes Sir, I Can Boogie returned to the UK charts a couple of years ago after it was featured in several online videos of the Scotland football team celebrating qualifying for the European championships. It’s become something of an unofficial anthem for Scotland footie fans and although it is a cliché to write this, the crowd really did go wild when they sang it. After two years of lockdowns and restrictions and stress, anxiety and heartbreak, it was a moment of pure and simple joy and happiness.
So much so that after calls for one more tune, Baccara returned to the stage just to play it again. “Scotland we love you!” they shouted, and Baccara, the feeling is mutual.
Sunday saw our belated first foray to the Tum Tum Tree tent, hosted and curated by You Call That Radio’s Mark McGhee, to catch Glasgow-based Becci Wallace. Introduced by Mark as being one of the most exciting female vocalists in Scotland at the moment, she opened her set with The Things They Say About Love, and Deconstruct, played a couple of new songs (one of which is so new it’s still untitled) as well as To the Water, Swan Song and Focus. With a wry outlook, thoughtful, engaging and heartfelt lyrics and an intense, melodic, strong vocal performance it’s worth checking out Becci’s work if you get a chance. She has gigs coming up at the end of July and in August as well as song-writing workshops with Music Broth.
More homegrown Scottish talent, this time at the Jabberwocky as new wave indie pop legends The Bluebells took to the stage. The band’s mellowed out vibes were perfect for a warm summer’s Sunday afternoon with the set list including a tribute to the Buzzcocks which singer Ken McCluskey said they had missed the previous night because “we’re so old we had to go to bed”. And when he comments that they are releasing their first album in 38 years you are reminded just how long it has been Young at Heart came out. Fortunately, it’s up next in the set list and the mellow crowd got up on their feet to dance like no one was watching. In a further reminder that children are the future, a group of young kids joined the band on stage for a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s Hey Children, Whats That Sound to close their set.
Thanks to the near perfect scheduling of the DTRH programmers, the crowd headed up to the Comhla stage for perennial festival favourites The Peatbog Faeries. As with many other bands and groups, the last two years have seen a few changes for the Peatbogs, with a new keyboard player and drummer, and an additional fiddle player. None of that appeared to affect their performance however, with another foot-stomping show getting everyone in the packed-out tent and the field around it up dancing for an amazing hour of traditional folk fused with electronica, starting with The Jester and culminating with Folk Police.
It was back down the hill to the Jabberwocky for the band that stage host Vic Galloway called one of his all time-favourites, Teenage Fanclub, and the third Scottish band of the weekend to headline that stage. They opened with songs from their new album including the title track Endless Arcade, followed by It’s All in my Mind, Start Again, Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything, It’s a Bad World, My Uptight Life, The Concept and Everything Flows. It was an accomplished set from the band affectionately known as the Fannies by their erm, fans. As the set drew to a close, excitement was building over at the Baino’s Tollbooth stage for what was to be one of the performances of the weekend.
In the run-up to DTRH I had surprised myself by how excited I was about seeing Boney M, and it seems I wasn’t alone. Despite it being the last night of a four-day festival, the Sunday night stalwarts were waiting at the stage for the Euro disco icons and buzzing with anticipation. They were chanting, whistling and singing before the band were even due on stage. The musicians took to the stage and started playing a medley of Boney M tunes before the band themselves appeared to what was quite frankly thunderous applause on a hot and humid night.
They launched right into Sunny, Daddy Cool and Holiday in quick succession with the audience - of all ages - dancing and singing along to every word. Featuring one of the founding members of Boney M, Maizie Williams, they belted out Belfast, Ma Baker, No Woman No Cry and Brown Girl in the Ring, and to say the crowd went wild as the first chords of Rasputin were played would be something of an understatement. Some 45 years after the Rivers of Babylon was first a hit for Boney M back in 1977 it was blasting out of a stage in the middle of a field in Scotland to hundreds of very happy music fans. Closing their set with Gotta Go Home was kind of apt, we could have listened to them all night but really had to go home.
And there you have it. Four days, eight different music stages and more than one hundred acts. There were some difficult choices to be made over the weekend – we were disappointed to have never made it to the Douniversity this year for example and to have missed Belle and Sebastian – but all in all it was a true return to form for this gem of a festival after a difficult couple of years for musicians, event organisers, crew and fans. Seeing everyone dancing so joyously and being part of such a wonderful communal experience used to be such a simple pleasure but is something I will never take for granted again.
In pure Lewis Carroll terms, to fall down a rabbit hole is to stumble into a weird and disorientating alternate reality. While I wouldn’t go so far as to describe DTRH as weird or even disorientating, it is definitely a very welcome escape from our current reality. And where else could you see Baccara, the Peatbog Faeries, Teenage Fanclub and Boney M on the same day? As someone commented, it’s so wrong it’s right.
The secret of DTRH is well and truly out now and, as Patti Smith said, festivals are all about coming together and celebrating being alive and doing the best we can – which sums up the ethos of Doune The Rabbit Hole just perfectly.
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