A reviewer with more time on their hands, could, if they wished, link Doune the Rabbit Hole via an elaborate series of intertwining threads encompassing reggae, punk and the Scottish summer, all centred around one act on the bill. Fortunately for anyone reading this, life is short, and my Doune experience – my ninth in the 10 years of its existence – was as usual a grab bag of around half of the acts performing at Cardross Estate, the weekend a blurred dash between stages and tents, with photographer in tow and occasional assignations with the esteemed Ms Mayonnaise.
But in the words of St Jude’s Infirmary, “there’s no summer like a Scottish summer”, and when Doune arrives on the calendar, storm clouds gather. Thus by the time Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry arrives onstage, there’s a decided drizzle in the air. The queue to get onsite on Friday evening is a long one, and presumably the man they call ‘The Upsetter’ is in it, as he ambles onstage a whole hour later than timetabled. No matter. Living legends usually get cut some slack, and the Jamaican production legend is certainly that. Having worked with almost everyone who is anyone, from Bob Marley downwards on the reggae side, and dipping into punk, rap and dance, his influence is manifold.
Perry’s backing band are three white dudes from France – he makes a lot of the French-Jamaican connection – and while the maestro’s approach to performance is ‘loose’ to say the least, the excellent trio helmed by the fine drummer, make what must be a tricky customer look like an easy taskmaster – never without a spliff between his fingers, Perry also necks what seems to be an entire bottle of Buckfast over he hour or so he is onstage, making his meanderings even more fluid. As well as tunes from his own back catalogue he delivers versions of ‘Police & Thieves’ and ‘Sun is Shining’ – tracks that he produced for Junior Murvin and Bob Marley originally. We might call him the Nile Rogers of dub given the Chic frontman’s appropriation of tracks he is at time tangentially associated with. The trio generate deconstructed versions of the tunes in the way Perry would have at Black Ark Studio, seemingly effortlessly, though the meanderings must be a nightmare to deal with – like an amiable Mark E Smith, though sadly ‘Kimble’ is not performed this evening.
However, this is no tribute act – Scratch is is very much calling the shots.
Perry’s stature in the musical world is such that he is afforded the opportunity to ‘guest’ with the following act, Hot 8 Brass Band. A remarkable melange of funk, soul, and whatever genres employ a tuba as their centrepiece instrument, the New Orleans octet run through a series of what can hardly be called covers, as they take apart the likes of Luniz’s ‘I Got 5 On It’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’, and even chuck in the hook from ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. The shine is slightly taken from their moment in the spotlight, as Mr Perry repeatedly ambles onstage to join whatever member of the Hot 8 has left their mic unattended, allowing The Upsetter to toast (and I use the term loosely) over their carefully constructed backing. However, they take it in good humour, apart for the coronet player, who to be fair looked like he’d rather be anywhere else before proceedings had even kicked off. Contrast that with the saxophonist whose demeanour was set to ‘overjoyed just to be here’ for the entire set – the ideal festival performer.
Of course, playing a festival on in Scotland could go one of two ways for any act booked – all dependent on the weather, and whether they are on an outdoor stage or a tent. The Vaselines are under canvas, if not under wraps, in the Baino, and despite a lack of drizzle so far, the early evening slot is decently attended, doubtless a mix of hardcore indie kids (now middle aged) and perhaps some of the music fans who they have gathered via recommendations from other fans along their 30-odd year career.
And the band – with Carla J Easton on keyboards (and bike horn on ‘Molly’s Lips’) – take the opportunity to span the decades, a mix of the Kurt Cobain-approved early material like ‘Son Of A Gun’ given a new lease of life, and post-reformation tunes like ‘I Hate The 80s’ showing a sophistication that fans of the former may not have appreciated. The brooding ‘Devil’s In Me’ may be better suited to dingy clubs rather than, er, dingy tents, but Frances and Eugene’s vocal jousts will have brought the act to a brand new audience.
The Honeyfarm are Bitta DisGrace, Pimpses Asha, and Sweethardt Dowt and they appeared late on the Baino stage on Friday. Like a female Beastie Boys tag team, they traded lines and kicked up a right rumpus, Edinburgh style. With an (unnamed but very good) dude on the beats, they covered a range of subjects but always with style and attitude… ones to watch. (BM)
And while there are other acts playing into the night on smaller stages and tents – including the psychedelic Beak> whose sit-down late-night jazzy stylings make for a pleasant chillout after the day’s exertions – Friday’s main stage headliners are The Damned. 45 years in the business, they are clearly up for a bit of a party night. Subject to some sort of technical delay, singer Dave Vanian – still looking as young/undead as ever – sneaks into the audience to berate the roadies: “Get on with it!” before posing for a few selfies on his way backstage. Finally, following an introduction by DJ Vic Galloway which for any other act could be considered over the top, the punk legends take the Jabberwocky stage.
Launching straight into ‘Eloise’, the band’s biggest hit single, it’s a a real festival set, the quintet quickly showing that they are in party mode. Dispensing with the seminal ‘New Rose’ next, they arrive at ‘Neat Neat Neat’ a 100 mph for Vanian to channel the ghost of Jim Morrison during an echo-drenched breakdown. A breakneck ‘Machine Gun Etiquette’ follows, title track of the album which will provide much of tonight’s lengthy set. As does ‘Strawberries’, from the period bassist Paul Gray originally joined the group. ‘Ignite’ expands into a reggae mashup, presumably an attempt to try to lure Lee Perry out (he must have gone for a lie down, as he needed no coaxing earlier).
An epic ‘White Rabbit’ – a fairly obscure single from that era – is musically the evening’s high point, Vanian’s vocal rolling back the years and Sensible’s meandering guitar soaring into the darkening night. The band, Vanian tells us, write new material “once every 10 years” and ‘Evil Spirits’ standout track ‘Standing On the Edge Of Tomorrow’ is a match for much of what has gone before.
Indeed, it seems that the band have shot their bolt early, with encores required, nay, demanded by the partying throng, but ‘Disco Man’ fits the bill, its songwriting prowess once again proving that they are anything but a novelty act. We’re then given a choice between ‘Jet Boy’ and ‘Happy Talk’, the crowd opting (it seems) for a high-energy version of the former, before we get a take on Captain’s no. 1 hit that Rogers and Hammerstein could never have envisaged. And I’d defy anyone to find a better closer to what is shaping up to be quite a weekend.