Live review: Doune The Rabbit Hole 2019 (4 stars)

Live review: Doune The Rabbit Hole

Sister Sledge / credit: Stevie Powers/ReCompose

Charming and chilled Stirling festival celebrates 10 years with a standout line-up across the weekend

Doune The Rabbit Hole has, in years gone by, fallen victim to the sort of biblical washout that would kill even the most hardened festival goer's buzz. It is with some trepidation, then, that we make the trip on Friday night despite several ominous sounding weather warnings. As it turns out, there's no reason to panic; we don't need to worry about floating towards Gargunnock on an airbed turned raft, instead we get the thrill of enjoying The Vaselines' life affirming set on the new, massively improved Baino stage. Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee have a humble stage presence, belying the indisputable fact that they have written several songs that are perfect and have every right to be cocky. It's a set heavy on classics, and when Carla J Easton brings out the bicycle horn for 'Molly's Lips' you're reminded of the sheer character of these tracks, living breathing things with personalities of their own. It's a great way to kick off the 10th edition of the festival.

Come Saturday, there's sun to go with a line-up that's absolutely stacked with greatness. Gwenno is majestic; her technicolour, bilingual psychedelic pop blowing off the cobwebs from the previous night's shenanigans. As is customary, she concludes her set with some audience participation, 'Eus Keus' bringing the biggest gathering of Cornish chanting in this part of the world, ever, probably – though who knows what goes on behind closed doors. A highlight from her Welsh Music Prize winning debut album Y Dydd Olaf, 'Fratolish Miang Perpeshki' positively glistens; this is intelligent pop music of the highest order. After a short turnaround, C Duncan and his four-piece band are extremely tight, arriving at Doune after a successful run of shows in support of third album Health. The harmonies are joyous in their precision and Duncan's compositions have impressive range. 'Talk Talk Talk' is by a distance the funkiest thing he's made and it's a sound that ultimately suits him.

Dr John Cooper Clarke's set is stowed out at the Baino, his crowd-pleasing anti-poetry twisted, funny and bold. Over on the Whistleblower stage, there's the solo project of Kid Canaveral's David MacGregor, Broken Chanter – a set of anthemic, atmospheric rock tunes yearning to break out of the tent's confines. MacGregor is joined by a four-piece band which includes Jill O'Sullivan (Sparrow and the Workshop, Bdy_Prts) on violin and vocals; the highlights of the set are when the pair's singing thrillingly dovetails.

Live review: Doune The Rabbit Hole

John Grant / credit: Shawn Brackbill

The site has expanded this year, and while still small, there's noticeably more room to stretch the legs, and six stages, plus various workshops and places to jam. Regrettably we miss the Aardman Animations demonstration, but the fact that it's happening is pleasing in itself, as is the vast amount of young Scottish talent playing on the smaller stages. Through the woods there's The Warren stage, which on Friday night is spectacularly lit up for the occasion. Today St Martiins' lush, dreamy pop is perfectly suited to fight off any mid-afternoon lulls, before the notorious Romeo Taylor gets the blood pumping again. Armed with a backing track and a pint of red wine, he blasts through OMD style synth-pop bangers ('Go Without'), Disney villain meets wrestling entrance music ('The Waters Divided') and a pained homage to James Bond ('Espionage'). He covers a lesser known Guided by Voices tune before unleashing the viral hit 'The Kingdom of Scotland', which – for the unacquainted – is the sound of Basshunter rewriting the national anthem. It's all parody but, underneath that there's genuine love for the source material. A ten-year-old girl demands to have her photo taken with the star after the show. Mad, extremely silly and – for better or worse – unlike anything else happening in the country right now.

John Grant is one of the best songwriters in the business today, and a flawless live act to boot; his show on the main Jabberwocky stage is the day's standout, and he's not without some serious competition there. Last year's Love Is Magic forms the majority of the set; the opening 'Tempest', with its warning synths and arcade gunfire, sounds enormous, 'Preppy Boy' carries a brilliantly cocky groove and 'Metamorphosis' – a brave choice for this festival crowd maybe – is extraordinarily captivating, with the somber tones of it's midsection injecting gravitas. We're given the best of singalong moments, 'GMF' is the sweary anthem we want and deserve, while Grant bids us farewell with the theatrical 'Queen of Denmark'. Awe inspiring stuff.

Live review: Doune The Rabbit Hole

Sister Sledge / credit: Stevie Powers/ReCompose

Back at the Baino, The Skids are a bit cantankerous, and Richard Jobson too eagerly meanders off on some inane digressions that can't all be chalked up to killing time while technical foibles are sorted out ('shut up and play your fucking songs' comes the agitated call from the bar). When they get to it they're magnificent. A shout out to power-pop pioneer Pete Shelley comes in the form of a cover of 'What Do I Get?'; of their own material the final two punch of 'Masquerade' and 'Into The Valley' get the fists truly pumping en masse.

John Grant is back at the Jabberwocky, but this time as a punter, standing stageside with a huge grin on his face as Sister Sledge deliver an hour of wall-to-wall disco classics; 'Good Times', 'He's The Greatest Dancer' and 'Thinking Of You' are all present – the musicianship and choreography is wonderful. 'Lost In Music' is drawn out for around 20 minutes as everyone gets a chance to show off, and you can't take your eyes away for a second, before a closing 'We Are Family'. There's time to quickly sprint back to the Baino for Bristol's Beak> before the lift home; theirs is a brooding set that's weird but danceable – if you've still got the legs after the disco hour that is.

A decade in, this feels like a significant moment for Doune the Rabbit Hole, which has expanded at a manageable level without losing the hippie charm that forms its identity. The food stalls are varied and priced reasonably, the bars are great (stocking local produce from nearby breweries), and the vibe is remarkably chilled, with plenty for kids to do – and dogs everywhere raising spirits with those big grins they display when they're out and about. A hugely successful weekend and, on this evidence, a vital event for the Scottish calendar going forward.

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