Monday, 2 September 2013

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Doune the Rabbit Hole 2013

Now in its fourth year, Doune the Rabbit Hole is bucking a trend that has seen small, boutique festivals bite the dust in the last few years. Moving to a new location and taking place on the Cardross Estate in Stirlingshire, the festival was also hoping to move past the troubles of years past and having heard some scare stories of last year’s festival, I was prepared for the worst when I left on Thursday afternoon. Thankfully though, things were running much more smoothly this year and the festival went off with very few hitches.

Opening up the festival on the first evening to the early arrivals were Honey and the Herbs with their lounge psych instrumentals on the Jabber Wocky stage. Their tunes are the right mix between soft and funky to warm the crowds up for who are to follow. The festival, being on a small site, worked with a staggered schedule between their two main stages – Jabber Wocky and Baino – meaning there was less noise over noise (though there were still issues with the Inspire stage having loud music almost drowning out quieter bands on Jabber Wocky). The Fast Camels opened up the Baino stage for the weekend with their power-pop show and gain new fans aplenty with their stage banter and funky tunes. But they were not to be the funkiest band to play the evening as Orkestra Del Sol closed the Jabber Wocky stage on the first night with a powerhouse show, leading the crowd in a mass polka and leaving everyone with smiles on their faces as they headed back to the campsite, or the bar.

The festival site opens fully on Friday morning allowing punters to sample more stages, stalls and installations. There were ample activities to keep the kids busy at the Kids Area, and all your possible alcoholic needs were served by the main bar, Cairn O’Mohr wines bar and the Jeremiah Weed truck. And the lovely people at Jeremiah Weed also brought with them a table tennis set and the Liverpudlian band, Man Get Out. The latter band weren’t to be found on any schedules or listings but prove to be a great find.

The first day of the festival has many highlights and interesting stories, from bands playing in honour of deceased past members (Lady Bird Killers on Inspire stage) and the loud and proud catchy hooks that only We Are The Physics could provide. I was a bit disappointed to not find Esperi on the Inspire stage at the scheduled time, with no notice of any changes but this proved to be the only real scheduling disruption I found over the weekend. Rick Redbeard plays melancholy folk to bring us all down (his words) on the Baino mid-afternoon, and his songs prove to be even more powerful live. He is an early contender for highlight of the festival, quickly followed (in the standings and on the schedule) by Meursault on the Jabber Wocky. The Baino stage is packed out for PAWS’ rock show on Friday evening and their energetic show is exactly what we need to send us further on into the night. Miaoux Miaoux are the days main stage headliner and their synthy pop gets the crowd dancing the entire hour and even longer as the festival continues into the night. The Baino stage runs right into the early hours and before calling it a night for day one, I was able to see the stunning Trembling Bells put on a powerful show perfectly suited for this time of the evening.

The second full day of the festival begins with an early afternoon dance party in the Baino provided by Bar Room Crawl’s apocalyptic funk. It was impossible not to be caught up in it and they certainly started the day off right. The Baino also played home to Beerjacket’s heartfelt songs and strong vocal, as well as Stealing Sheep’s soft-pop that packs the tent and spills out into the main arena. It is one of the biggest crowds of the entire weekend. But the highlight of the Baino’s schedule was the return of The John Knox Sex Club, who prove to be as tight a live band as they were before their hiatus and frankly if you weren’t excited about their return at this festival then you missed out. Getting a hug from lead singer Sean Cumming during their final number is one of my favourite things that happened over the whole weekend. Meanwhile over at the Jabber Wocky, Washington Irving brought their strong live show and folky vibes for the mid afternoon and noted that this was a special show for them as it’s their last live show for the next three months. Panda Su’s soft pop gathers a crowd of young to old on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The Monochrome Set bring their post-punk show for the early evening and the revelers are more than ready to party hard by this time. There was a three-way clash at 10pm on this day with Nevada Base’s stripped back set at the Fruit Stand stage, The John Langan Band on the Inspire a night after having played the Jabber Wocky but with a crowd of as many or more people to enjoy their folk for all and Clinic’s noise rock to close out the Jabber Wocky for the day. They are the first band to properly pull a crowd close to the main stage and they put on a complete performance that everyone will remember well beyond the weekend itself. Doune being a small festival, I was able to catch parts of all three sets in this clash and see all the bands I wanted. However my Saturday highlight had to be when I was walking the site looking for a band to fill a free hour and came across an impromptu drum jam at the big tree in back area of the site. Musicians on the site as well as revelers made up the twenty or so strong drum band, seeing everyone from kids to seasoned musicians playing together on site is definitely my favourite thing I witnessed all weekend and certainly something you would not see at a bigger festival. Small festivals has a special atmosphere all of their own.

I begin my Sunday at the Inspire stage watching young Charlotte Brimmer who performed original songs with her beautiful vocals. She proves to be a brilliant raw talent and will hopefully go onto bigger and better things in a few years time. The Inspire stage also played host to The Rag’n’Bone Man’s one-man guitar and drum show, which shows a level of talent and showmanship I was unaware it was possible for one person to wield. It was an incredible show and I must thank Mark from The Girobabies for the recommendation to catch him. Jo Mango brings her heartfelt alt-folk to the Jabber Wocky on the last afternoon, playing tunes for the crowd enjoying a sunbathe and a sleep with soft vocals and easy listening tunes as the perfect backing. Following on from Jo was Randolph’s Leap with their indie-pop show fitting in perfectly with the summer’s day and going down a treat with the afternoon revelers. Hidden Masters’ good old rock’n’roll show gathers a large appreciative crowd in the early evening before Samba Sien & Diwan provide funky African beats that get the crowd dancing in ways that only such delightful and soothing tunes could. For a second headliner band on the final day of the festival, they are a wild card choice but prove to right in with the festival atmosphere and are exactly what we need on the final night. The Jabber Wocky’s final band for the weekend is the excellent Horn Dog Brass Band. It was an absolute joy to see a brass band with such incredible showmanship and originality headline a Scottish festival, and I wish this happened more often. They certainly deserve to be playing to bigger crowds. Sunday was the day where I spent a lot of time at the Fruit Stand stage at the back of the arena, with its intimate offering some highlights on this day alone. Banana Sessions, another recommendation from Mark of The Girobabies, get the early evening slot and they are perfect summer festival music from talented musicians that gather a crowd in and around the Fruit Stand. Siobhan Wilson’s set could have easily been hampered by a power cut at the stage but instead turns into a totally memorable experience as the talented singer resorts to going fully acoustic for two songs whilst the equipment is fixed, and these two songs have such power and beauty that I was actually disappointed that the power returned for the end of the set. As sun went down on Sunday evening I caught Rachel Sermanni for the first time, her strong vocals and funny stories were perfectly fit for this festival and she gains many new friends during this set. My festival came to an end with the musical and comic stylings of Shambles Miller, choosing to watch him over what he perfectly describes as Super Mario on acid over the side of the arena. He gathers a crowd as his set goes on and his original songs and banter go down a treat, and for a guy who’d been at the festival himself since Friday and suffered a bug bite, he played a very strong set. A superb end to my first festival.

Also available over the weekend was the Low End dance tent, though I never found the time to get there myself.

Doune the Rabbit Hole’s fourth year may have been their most successful yet, certainly in terms of the running of the festival. With so many volunteers and musicians on site for the full weekend it did become hard to tell where the paying punters were but I do hope there was enough to make doing this festival again a viable option. The site they chose this year was also much better suited to a festival experience than previous ones and the locals in the area were apparently all happy to have everyone in town so let’s hope that allows the festival to stay put for the long run. As for the rest of the site, there could have been a few more food options (though I appreciate as a boutique festival they want to offer a different experience, and therefore different food options) and some more lighting over the arena and site itself to make it safer for people moving around at night. There were also more wasps than I’ve seen in my life over these few days but that’s more out of the festival runners’ control than everything else. Overall, this was definitely a successful festival and Doune seem to be on the right track to providing a fully functional, one of a kind festival.

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