One of the attractions about a festival like Doune the Rabbit Hole is the unexpected discoveries made moving from stage to stage
So the Baino Tolbooth – sponsored by the Stirling venue of the same name – is opening up with a local talent showcase. Raven Valia and Katelyn Baxter may be present, but the frontman is, it seems, either Stewart McRae or Jake Ewing. Whoever it is shows an excellent knack for songwriting and a delivery a little reminiscent of Richard Hawley.
From just down the road, and situated on the main stage, Bis are from Glasgow, Scotland, as they’ll let you know frequently throughout their set – this has become a running gag presumably having started when they were big in Japan or somewhere. And they hark back to those halcyon days of chart success, hardly touching on their recent, excellent album ‘Slight Disconnects’ – the trio’s only new album this century, they inform us.
No matter, it’s very much a crowd-pleasing festival set – massively energetic, hi-nrg electro-pop with some seriously crowd-moving rhythms. Of course there’s The Hit aka ‘Kandy Pop’ – introduced as “sorry not sorry” – and some punk and disco to close, they promise – the euphoric ‘Eurodisco’ one of the weekend’s highlights, while the shouty ‘Kill Yr Boyfriend’ a safety pin-tastic closer.
We then take in some small doses of the other stages – there’s Fauves getting funky on the Whistleblower stage, offering some summery grooves ideal for the sunshine, while folk legend Archie Fisher serves up some classic tunes including an Incredible String Band cover.
Having once been deported from the UK, BC Camplight sensibly feels his way into his Main Stage set in front of a crowd of largely unfamiliar faces. Establishing that as we are not in Stirling, there are no competing factions present in what’s an attentive audience. We get the Covid-unfriendly singles ‘How To Die In The North’ and ‘Back To Work’ as well as the ones you will know – the dreamy swoon of ‘I’m Alright In The World’ which did soundtrack much of our lockdown via 6music airplay, and ‘Coming In To Land’, the title track from 2018’s album which will, Brian informs us, be followed by a new long-player only just completed.
Teresa May, responsible for many of his recent personal woes, gets it in the neck with ‘Fire in England’, though it seems his hair loss began before the much-derided Prime Minister’s one-woman terror campaign against the stetson-less songwriter. In a set that’s high on entertainment as it is on epic tunes, ‘Seismic Land’ is followed by a rocking closer in ‘I’m In a Weird Place Now’.
Hen Ogledd – Welsh, sort of, for “the Old North” – are as unfathomable as their name. It’s Richard Dawson, again, this time on a bass shaped like some sort of medieval instrument while Rhordi Davies in on clearly electronically-modified harp, as well as vocals for a ‘tune’ which is more of a letter of complaint to some government department – we arrive halfway through, but it’s apparently the favourite of Sally Pilkington, who is joined on dual synths by Dawn Bothwell.
The two propel along ‘Trouble’ which is as close as they get to actual ‘pop’ music, but the plethora of influences make for a baffling but wondrous set.
Like Dawson, various members of The Skids appeared in a second guise at Doune 2019. There’s no Big Country this time round, but Tidelines offer a real blast of Scottish rock, perhaps less tribute to Stuart Adamson and drawing more from Runrig. Except their anthemic sound actually includes real bagpipes.
Honeyblood has always been Stina Tweeddale, pretty much, with a succession of bandmates, usually drummers, coming and going. However, despite, as far as we can tell, the frontwoman having taken to the stage alone, her tardy colleagues swiftly join her in a real band of sisters.
There’s a sense of excitement, understandably given that this is the act’s first show in three years, but despite a slightly disorganised feel – “Please tell is what it is,” asks bassist Anna Donigan during a setlist snafu – the three mesh together perfectly for ‘Anywhere But Here’ and a blistering ‘Sea Hearts’.
10cc were, in their heyday, very much a band of two halves, or perhaps four quarters, or… however, now, with Graham Gouldman the last original member, it’s hard to imagine quite how this example of heritage rock might pad out. In the event’s it’s a triumph. The frontman has employed excellent musicians, particularly Iain Hornal who takes on many of the vocal parts performed on record by Eric Stewart, while the other more recent recruits ably fill in for Kevin Godley and Lol Creme. There’s a deference from the new boys to their leader, often referring to the band in the third person, as if they are mere curators for the classic tracks which they deliver, note-perfect, to the Jabberwocky crowd.
For 10cc diehards there’s a schism between the original four-piece and the latter years, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ possibly acting as a line in the sand, but the new lineup show no fear in fully crediting their former bandmates’ roles in penning the hit singles delivered – ‘Art For Arts Sake’ – Gouldman dedicating it to his father who “gave” him the title – ‘Silly Love, ‘I’m Mandy, Fly Me’, and of course, a dreamy singalong in ‘I’m Not In Love’. There’s even a new song, ‘From Rochdale to Ocho Rios’ which – more cultural appropriation ahoy! – incorporates steel drums for that on-holiday feel.
But any thoughts that they are just churning out the back catalogue are dispelled with the well-deserved encore – a version of their first single ‘Donna’ which, lacking Godley’s falsetto, is instead performed a capella, in a doo-wop / barbershop style, and quite beautifully too. The extended ‘Rubber Bullets’ which follows is almost vulgar by comparison, but another reminder of the breadth of this band’s status as a Goliath of the pop charts.
It’s an odd piece of scheduling in a sense, that Camera Obscura should have the “hard act to follow”, especially given that it’s their contemporaries Belle & Sebastian who are next up on the main stage. However, despite not having gigged for a long time, Tracyanne Campbell and crew are livelier than ever, chatty, and musically tighter than even their most ardent followers might have expected. With all members clad in white jackets (there’s no reference to this made, so perhaps a bizarre coincidence) they roll back the years, from opener ‘Come Back Margaret’ to the climactic ‘Razzle Dazzle Rose’.
There’s no evidence of new material yet, instead the band easing themselves back into the live arena with a festival-friendly “best of” set which inevitably includes ‘French Navy’ and an euphoric ‘Hey Lloyd’ as well as a “very old” ‘Teenager’ – “47 years” wisecracks Kenny McKeeve when the frontwoman ponders just how long it has been since their first “hit”, if #182 in the charts counts (the song is, still a teen, just, having turned 19 this year), a fact which will leave some of the crowd feeling their age, especially given the celebratory dancing taking place.
Headliners Belle and Sebastian are no 10cc in chart terms (who is?) but for their fans, every song, even the b-sides, is a Hit. Thus, they can start with a rip-roaring ‘Dog on Wheels’ and still have crowd-pleasers aplenty to spare. The sound is a little awry to start, Stuart Murdoch a little quiet, and Richard Colburn’s tom-tom being, it seems, centre of the mix. This has the effect of making the set even more dance-friendly for a crowd already very much up for a party. ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ and ‘If She Wants Me’ are standouts, while, emphasising Doune’s family-friendly credentials, the band invite up all of their offspring onstage for ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’.
‘Wrong Girl’ is announced as a country song, though with its Northern Soul stomp of a chorus, Country and West Coast might be a more apt description, while Stina out of Honeyblood reprises her Boaty Weekender role as Monica Queen’s stand-in for ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ – “she just showed up” jokes Stuart Murdoch afterwards. There are high hopes of an exclusive preview of new material with a track purporting to have been written just an hour before the band hit the stage. However, there’s double disappointment as not only is it actually ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’ but it’s the set closer. However, there is time for one more, ‘Another Sunny Day’ from ‘The Life Pursuit’, before we head for the hills, tired but as with every Doune the Rabbit Hole of the past decade, musically sated.