Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival – live review

Doune the Rabbit Hole
Stirlingshire, Scotland
24-26 August 

Live review

A boutique festival in Scotland that is bursting with music at a grassroots level and leaves our reviewer hungry to hear more from the bands on the line-up.

Entering its third year, Doune the Rabbit Hole is a relative newcomer the the festival season in Scotland. Having relocated from Doune to Duncarron Fort for this year’s festival, I was a little unsure of what to expect.

After dropping my daughter off in Perth I made my way down the M9 and eventually stumbled on the correct route near Denny. A short while later and many hair-raising bends in the road behind me I came across the site. I found a parking spot halfway up a very steep forest road and wellington boots in place, made my way towards the fort.

Duncarron Fort is located in a picturesque forest, next to the dammed Carron Valley Reservoir and it’s nice to see people camped randomly in amongst the trees. The weather is decent but I’m prepared for the worst, what with this being Scotland.

A five minute walk and I’m heading up the hill towards the main arena and the fort itself. I pass the Inspire tent on the way and then have the surreal vision of the dance tent and several young guys bopping around to trance or some other form of young people’s dance music. I’m admittedly a little out of touch in that area these days.

I finally get into the fort itself and three of the stages/tents are inside the walls of the fortified village. A quick wander round and I head up to the highest level to the Tenement TV Stage where I catch Select Service (the fort itself is split over three distinct levels, all linked by a dirt track that weaves its way around the centre). It’s a good start to the day from the Hammond-infused band with the Dr Feelgood sound and it gives me much cause for optimism for the day ahead.

There’s a modest crowd wandering around the site, with many of them looking like they may be the bands appearing. I’m struck by the happy atmosphere as I make my way down the path which traverses the three levels of the fort. I head into the Baino Tent to see Neu! Reekie! which is actually a monthly music, poetry and animation night in Edinburgh.

First up for their appearance here is an acoustic set from Craig Finnie. He’s upstaged by a mud splattered, dread-locked guy sitting against the speaker stack who “plays” percussion by rubbing two empty beer cans together. I suspect he’s had a few more than the two he has though.

There’s also a bit of stand up poetry that was quite well observed and all in all it was an enjoyable appearance by the guys of Neu! Reekie! I have a wander just as the rain shows up and most people scarper for a tent when it decides to get heavy.

As such, the Baino Tent is pretty busy when Glasgow’s Teen Canteen get ready to play. A four-piece fronted by three girls and a guy on drums (turns out he’s a stand in today in what is usually an all-girl group). They deliver a set of hugely enjoyable dream-pop, with a really good tempo and a good eye for a catchy hook. There’s a sprinkling of ’50s and ’60s surf in what is a very energetic and warmly received set. They have to battle with sound from the main stage towards the end of the set but they soldier on and sound great.

The Jabberwocky Stage, which is the main stage, treats us to back-to-back rock with riffs aplenty, big vocals, thumping rhythm sections and lots of hair.

Dead Temple and Helicon certainly livened up the festival’s only outside stage, but they had the weather to contend with. Of the two Helicon made the biggest impression with their long, spacey epics and hints of Primal Scream. Their final song was a cracker with thumping drums and bass and big guitars. Really impressed with these guys.

It’s back to the Baino Tent for Wildhouse. A mixture of noise rock and alt-rock they assault the audience with pounding drums and a screeching guitars.They were rough around the edges and hurt the ears at times but the rhythm from the booming drums was infectious and I liked their set, which ended with one guitarist taking off his instrument in a continuing wail of noise which he then handed to someone in the audience who proceeded to mess around, creating more noise.

Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival – live review

By now the rain is coming down quite hard and most tents are very busy but I venture back out into the rain for Withered Hand. I’m glad that I did because he is excellent.

The banter between songs is quite amusing and there’s some interaction with the crowd, many of whom are singing along in full voice to the songs. There’s some alterations to the set list due to the explicit lyrics and the presence of lots of kids, which I thought was a very thoughtful touch and endeared him to the audience even more.

Still at the main stage and next up is Fence Records main man, Kenny Anderson aka King Creosote.

His set is mainly up-tempo and the healthy crowd certainly appreciate the gusto with which he and his band approach the songs. They certainly brighten up a very dull and rainy afternoon, with his new material sounding especially good. I’m quite pleased to hear him finish with ‘The Happy Song’ which was written by Kenny Anderson’s brother Gordon and performed by his band The Aliens.

Next stop is the Tenement TV Stage and it’s a busy old place as I trudge through the mud to the highest part of the fort. Hidden Masters are playing and their brand of infectious garage, heavy on harmonies, riffs and big fills has the crowd dancing along. Judging by the busy tent, I’m late to hear about these guys but they put on a great set and definitely warrant further investigation. My last band for the day are way down at the entrance to the site, in the Impulse tent.

Sparrow & the Workshop are no strangers to me. With two excellent albums and two memorable live gigs I’m pretty excited about seeing the Glasgow-based three-piece. As expected, it’s a busy tent and I’m not disappointed. They run through a few of their better known songs and the sound in the tent is surprisingly good. The bass guitar sounds good and thumping, while the drums are equally meaty. Both vocals are clean and sharp.

There’s also airings of some new material from their third album which is being recorded just now and it’s safe to say that it continues the band’s blend of genres and sharp eye for songwriting while signalling further progression. With the end of the set, I head for the car and the drive home and a level of anticipation for Sunday.

The second day starts on something of a sombre tone. After Sparrow & the Workshop the previous evening, the police took to the stage to advise everyone an elderly resident of the Carron Valley had gone missing and had been seen in and around the festival area. The police questioned everyone entering the area to raise awareness.

Once I was parked I had a walk up to the fort and settled on the Baino Tent for my first band of the day. The Giro Babies seemed to have a few fans present and on their first song we learned the singer had just been released from hospital less than an hour before they played. The band were okay, but never really went anywhere and when they did a song that had a rap in it, I felt it best to move on and get some food!

I did return to the Baino Tent a short while later to watch Easy, Tiger! Quite unlike the previous band these guys had an easy going blend of indie pop that was very easy on the ear. Jangly guitars, nice bass guitar, male/female vocals and a good tempo to the songs meant the audience enjoyed them a lot. They did seem to have a few sound problems, but these seemed to worry the band more as nobody in the audience seemed to care, such was the quality of the songs.

Baino was the place to be early on Sunday and my next two bands would both appear in the small tent. First up were The Magnetic Mind. If you imagine the music that might have features in a ’70s Dirty Harry movie set in San Francisco then you’d be close to the sound of this London-based band.

Keyboard, bass and drums featured prominently and the lead vocal from Ellie Foden was outstanding. Eschewing the warbling and wailing many female vocalists prefer, she just sings in a strong, rich and powerful voice like female vocalists of a bygone era. There was definitely a large slice of retro from these garage/pysch rockers and it was really well received by all.

North American War were a very different proposition altogether, but no less brilliant. Again the rhythm section are ace and this time the female vocal is more Kim Gordon than Janis Joplin. There’s a steady, relentless tempo to the songs and the melodies are married to some great, screeching guitars to create a nice counterpoint. That bass sounded great throughout and there were hints of many of the alt-indie bands from the USA that I like, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for these guys.

The Jabberwocky Stage is next for a band I’m not familiar with called Rainbow Fisher (not Rainbow Fishes as the set times suggest next to the stage). They are really good though, playing some very melodic indie-pop. Seems a lovely coincidence that the sun finally appears as they are playing. The tempo is good and the vocals and harmonies are great. There’s a hint of CSNY and like-minded music in there too, which never goes amiss.

By now my feet are killing me. The ground is muddy, but hard underneath and I can feel the blisters on top of the blisters. I soldier on though and it’s off up the hill to the Tenement TV stage via the food stalls. I settle on some Aberdeen Angus brisket which is fantastic.

Hunger taken care off, it’s into the tent for Kid Canaveral.

Doune the Rabbit Hole Festival – live review

I know all about this band, having seen them three times previously, and once more they don’t disappoint. Their brand of indie-pop is all about hooks, melodies and insanely catchy choruses.

They have a bit of a twinkle in their eye on some tracks, with the lyrics being really good fun. Another band with a new album in the works, we’re treated to some new material and of these ‘Low Winter Sun’ and ‘Who’s Looking At You Anyway?’ sounding especially good.

They have it all. Thumping rhythm section, catchy melodies and lyrics, a good sense of humour but above all an unerring knack for writing great songs.

It’s back to the Baino Tent as I enter the home stretch. Next on the agenda is Malcolm Middleton’s new project, Human Don’t Be Angry which includes Martin John Henry of De Rosa on bass guitar.

Seeing as the band have already released a brilliant album, I was confident that this would be good and I was not disappointed. The mainly instrumental set was flawless. There was a maturity and depth to the music that was mesmerising. It all seemed to be over too quickly and I suspect that this is more to do with the grip the music had on everyone present. It seemed to resonate with emotion and intelligence and while it felt like they played about four songs I was under their spell for the entire time they played. Brilliant stuff.

My final band of the night were The Fast Camels. I’d last seen them some years before in my hometown of Perth and hadn’t realised they were a late addition to the festival line-up. It was good seeing them again. Not unlike The Magnetic Mind, they delve into the past for their blend of psychedelic power-pop and in the intimate setting it sounds great.

It’s bursting with melody and some cracking vocals, while the keyboard sounds crisp and fresh, underpinning a lot of the songs. The rhythm section was tight and added a god, thumping backbone to the songs. It wasn’t all lightness and melody though, with the band ramping it up and rocking in a few places. Could have done with a few more handclaps though, but that’s just me. A great ending to a really great festival.

As I walk tentatively back to my car I ponder my two days at Duncarron Fort.

Having been a regular to T in the Park in the past (thought more in the early days) I was comparing my experiences at the two festivals. One is a behemoth, bringing tens of thousands of people a day to the site and charging a fortune for tickets, laminated line-ups, food and drink and basically making as much money as possible, while the other was a family-friendly haven of great music at grassroots level and beyond, staffed by friendly people and attended by a couple of hundred people that created a really nice, relaxed vibe.

There was no cups full of questionable contents thrown into the crowd or at the stage, no blind drunk people sleeping in mud and no feeling that organisers were after every penny you had. There were minor quibbles like lack of stage times or information about changes to these and the parking being a little disorganised but these were very minor.

I should also mention the sound. To me, it was excellent. The PA at each stage was really great and showed each band in the best possible light. There were the odd teething problems with sound, but I’ve been at a hundred gigs with bigger PAs that had the same issues. The overwhelming feeling was that the festival was a huge success.

I came not knowing many of the bands playing, but I left wanting to find out more about almost all of them. A big thank you and well done to everyone involved in a really great weekend of music.

All words and images by Steve Mcgillivray. You can read more from Steve on LTW here.




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