Live Review – Doune the Rabbit Hole

This article originally appeared in The Herald newspaper (Scotland) on June 13, 2011

Doune The Rabbit Hole
Friday June 10 / Saturday June 11
Old Newton House, Doune
(Four stars)

Channelling the spirit of seventies Glastonbury, and informed by the magic of Alice in Wonderland, Perthshire’s Doune the Rabbit Hole is an intimate festival with a big heart.

Now in its second year, the three-day not-for-profit event allies pop culture with Alice in myriad colourful ways – from its Jabberwocky and Mad Hatter stages, to its day-glo offerings of magic, philosophy, costumery, art, absurdity and mystical potions (not least herbal tea and local ale).

The music, too, had brushes with fantasy. Crouching under the low-set, tiny opening to the Tweedledum Tent on Friday, one felt like Alice entering another world – in this instance a realm sound-tracked by ace electronic alchemists Conquering Animal Sound. The duo’s meticulous technical framework encountered some hiccups, but they were nonetheless spellbinding.

There were also notable tea-time crowds for local indie evangelists Zoey van Goey and boisterous-rock combo The Ray Summers.

Friday’s headliners, Polar Bear, unleashed a hillside-battering jazz-stramash, but the evening belonged to Bhundu Boys founder and afro-pop trailblazer Rise Kagona, who had children, zombies, fire-jugglers and gig-goers dancing and grinning like Cheshire cats.

A typically mesmeric appearance from Glasgow epic melodists Remember Remember provided an early Saturday highlight, while American Frank Fairfield took us back in time, performing his so-called “hillbilly music” on fiddle and banjo to stunning effect.

Much had been made of 60s cult singer-songwriter Nick Garrie’s return to the stage following a 40-year hiatus, and his set was suitably warmly received. More interesting, though, was a low-key turn from deadpan Welsh bard Sweet Baboo (pictured). He had to compete with noise from the main stage, and in struggling to fill his performance with loud-ish songs, played a live rarity and enduring favourite, Tom Waits Rip-Off.

Alasdair Roberts and band dispatched a brilliant, rip-roaring folk show, of which new work Wheels of the World was a standout: it featured a sing-a-long chorus about destruction and a prog-folk Bluebell Polka interlude.

Saturday’s closing double-header of indie-pop champions BMX Bandits and alt-rock saviours The Vaselines worked a treat. The former played a vintage set that included Serious Drugs and Gettin’ Dirty, while the latter confirmed their place in pop legend with blazing renditions of cult-classic Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam, and newer languorous-rock ode The Devil Inside Me. Their performance was rendered increasingly dramatic by darkening skies, psychedelic projections and – unless it was a trick of the light – a white rabbit at the back of the field.

The Herald review from Sunday’s Doune the Rabbit Hole is online here.

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