Photo Credit: Michael Gallacher
“How about that then?”
Arms outstretched presenting the vista at the entrance to Duncarron Valley, our volunteer bus driver Stephen (or ‘Magoo’ as the tabards call him) grins with unrelenting enthusiasm as our ragtag, slightly shaken ensemble takes in the view of Edinburgh to the left and Glasgow to the right of our perspective. Scotland’s two central cities laid out across one, epically disorientating scene. The team behind the festival have indeed picked an incredibly pretty place to take over for the weekend. After clambering back into the psychedelic bus for another rollercoaster ride up the spiralling road, Stephen slams the dash board and yells as if riding into war. We get there in our respective pieces and he lets us out of the bus with another wolfish grin, “Welcome to Doune The Rabbit Hole!”.
The site itself is a spectacle to behold. A wooden fort still under construction by the Clanranald Trust, it sits perched at the top of the hill. This weekend music-filled tents and artworks dot the trail to the entrance, with the main stages inside the fort itself. Rather than an intimidating stronghold, it now conjures images of a Maurice Sendak illustration, banners and flags flying from the ramparts, and fairy lights strung from the trees. The Wild Things have taken over; they have small children strapped to their backs as they drink wine and mead from plastic bladders. They all have massive beards.
Wandering around while distant Gaelic strummings echo from twig constructed stages and barefoot children are left out of the loop their parents are passing the joints around, a creeping thought rears its confused and boozy head, ‘Are we in the midst of a hippy jamfest? Should one take off the wellingtons and perch a hand woven cap on one’s head?’
Retreat into a tent to ponder this, no. You should not.
There’s a band onstage and it’s Pumajaw. Clutching her accordion like some terrifying infant, Pinkie Maclure is bewitching as she laments and seduces over the ominous soundscapes provided by the spectral John Wills. They come on like a brewing storm, all dark intent and sensual promise. Exiting the tent still entranced, they have brought on the rain.
On the main “Jabberwocky” stage, here comes a man who demands your attention, he is here to tell you tales of sex and self, it’s Aidan Moffat. Backing up these lyrical journeys is key-tinkler Bill Wells; their band adding to an incredibly melodic and surprisingly intimate set.
The downpour continues for the rest of the afternoon causing the bark underfoot to swamp into a mud pit, and as the sun sets on the fort, this is where we shall frolic.
It rains on, the stars come out, the place becomes a dance party. Channelling the masses are space druids The Phantom Band. Umbrellas are laid to waste as they are cast underfoot, hands too busy throwing up crazy shapes in honour of their, as always, impeccable live performance. The heavens be damned, let’s all freak out.
Too much home brew, twinned with attempts at slumber in a damp, cramped tent, makes getting up the following morning like crawling from a grave. Aching bones and grey faces lurch towards the vivid colours of the festival, desperate for some respite. Please have harps and lutes gently lilting from the rafters in the shelter of the Inspire tent.
The cosmos throws a curveball in the form of the first band of the day, Glasgow-based punk/blues two piece The Red Show. The noise is a revelation, the collective hangovers are blasted away by the assured swagger and guitar noodling of Gareth Goodlad, who croons and yelps into the microphone as it spins away from him like an elusive lover. Surveying proceedings with one of the finest drum-faces of the festival, is the thunderous rhythm section Mike Jackson, who would look just as comfortable wielding hammers as he does sticks. As the final notes resonate out from the tent nobody is left slumbering.
The Inspire Tent will feature heavily in Saturday’s memorable performances. The sun shines on for the morning, but seems to know what is coming and retreats behind a curtain of cloud as a haunted carnival rolls into the tent. Kochka don’t so much take to the stage as possess it. Frontman Mark Donnelly, weaves through the crowd like an apparition charged with the spirit of yearning as he screams a rallying cry into his megaphone. A terrifying baritone support vocal to the carousel rock that emanates from the stage. They round off their musical gypsy curse with a flourish of jazz hands and slink out of the back of the tent to rapturous applause, off to terrify some of the many children toddling around.
Now for something completely different, to banish the curse of the “aw nut it’s raining” blues, a figures comes onto the Jabberwocky stage straight out of Scottish folklore. With one infectious smile, Kenny Anderson - the regal King Creosote - has the crowd delighted. His band plays the perfect festival set, accepting a few requests and even playing a moving rendition of John Taylor’s Month Away from the impeccable Diamond Mine album. Jumping, clapping, bubble blowing, mud-slinging, these chaps (and lady) know how to bring out the best in the audience and finish their set on a high with the perfectly suited cover of The Aliens’ The Happy Song. There is not one face present that is not in possession of a smile as the band wave their way off stage.
Floating down the hill on a high, it’s back to the Inspire stage for the final band of the evening (at least for this guy). Securing a place with plenty of time to spare was a wise choice, as the space soon fills to the brim for Sparrow and the Workshop. The tent vanishes as soon as the first strum of Jill O’Sullivan’s guitar sounds out: it now is a barn. This is a barn dance. A freakin’ awesome alt-country rock barn dance. Drummer Gregor Donaldson adds subtly harmonious backing to Ms O’Sullivan’s soaring vocals. They turn seductively feral for a fantastic rendition of You Don’t Trust Anyone. The trio (rounded off by bassist and guitarist Nick Packer) have the place going mad, feet stomp and they make their exit to cavernous applause.
Day three sees the miracle of sunshine. Raymond Elma of Betatone Distraction struts onto the Jabberwocky stage in rock ‘n’ roll sunglasses and greets the day. Flanked by an impressive pile of pedals and complicated electrical looking thingies, the electro rockers resonate across the medieval fort like a vision of the future. Olly Stockman’s squelching synthesisers draw confused and awestruck stares from the assembled earth children, but the band please the early risers with some cheeky banter and camping-friendly plastic mug merchandise. They have the tunes too, which encompass twitchy hip hop beats, thrumming electronics and post rock breakdowns that will hopefully ensure these lads become no strangers to festival stages in the future. Mr Elma really does suit those sunglasses.
After one last herby ale to toast the Sun God, it’s time to return to civilisation, which is slightly tragic. The team behind Doune The Rabbit Hole, led by director Jamie Murray, deserve a long lie-in and a hearty pat on the back for all the work, passion and good intent that has gone into staging this weekend’s festivities. Marching under the mission statement of “Make Scotland Happier!” these soldiers of peace and love have certainly won their war this year.