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Doune the Rabbit Hole (day 3)

Doune Castle (Sunday 12th June)

By • Jun 23rd, 2011 • Category: gig reviews

First impressions count. So when I arrive at Doune Castle’s impressive entrance to relieve (ho ho) David, first thing I see is that the toilets are being cleaned.
DouneHaving spotted a few web review of last year’s inaugural event, the portaloos were just about the only complaint. The natural amphitheatre formed by a kind of walled garden looks like the ideal setting, it’s a small site for a festival, but still plenty of room to move around (we’re told later that the sparse crowd is actually the intention of the organisers and certainly it’s a contrast from the usual sardine like atmosphere of some of the bigger, branded fests. And a complete lack (it seems) of security means that the feeling, along with the high proportion of hippie types, means that the feel is one of a very free’n’easy gathering.
So to the music. On the main stage, The Newts are providing a suitable wake-up call for anyone who had enjoyed the late-night Saturday entertainment. Their mix of garagey punk and psychedelic rock is a toe-tapping, hip-shaking start to the day. Later on, a chat with their bassist, former Rags and Feathers man Tom Davis, suggests that this isn’t a unique style over the weekend, and yes, unusually, checking the lineup suggests there’s very little in the way of Biffy or Franz-style bands – this is a festival that doesn’t follow the usual trends.
Doune has three secondary stages, in fact tents – one – the camouflaged Army Tent isn’t hard to find, but the stage is shrouded in darkness, and from outside sounds like it’s hosting a bizarre 60s film soundtrack. Stumbling inside the stage contains Sean Degan Wood (and pals) – his female backing vocalist dispenses with the flute and adds nice harmonies to an avant-folk sound which would grace any Fence side-project.

That, largely, sets the pattern for the day – folkishness and 60s psych.

How To SwimExcept for the indefinable How To Swim. The band slimmed down to 8 (or was it 9) piece but still present an almighty task for the soundman, their big and brassy prog-pop epics filing out the arena nicely. The sound is just about sorted by the third number, by which time the band have told it’s their time is up, the first of a few niggling scheduling ‘issues’. A frantic ‘Sledgehammer/Gut Feeling’ segue (an unusual approach festival crowd-pleasers) plus one of their new singles and that’s it.

Hyperpotamus is one of those one man beatbox things. Which might sound like a disparaging summary, or at best damnation with faint praise. In fact, although songs built completely from looped vocal samples aren’t quite as stop-you-in-your-tracks unusual nowadays, his is an amazing sound – his vocals don’t sound like, well, voice, at least not after the layers have built up. That means that the actual lead vocal works beautifully, combining soulful vibes with just a hint of raveyness for the crowd. Plus, I suspect that the tunes are ones you’d be happy to hear again and again, live or on record.

James YorkstonJames Yorkston has a book out. Rather than plug ‘Diaries’ on The Hour, he’s come to the bigger Tweedledum yurt, a complete contrast to the Army Tent – brightly lit and probably not quite the right feel for a reading. However, his manner and delivery makes what is basically his diary – albeit punctuated by acoustic songs including ‘Steady As She Goes’ – an engrossing listen. In fact, I bought one.

When Uncle John and Whitelock called it a day the result was at least three offshoots. Adopted By Holograph are one, and show that the split along with a promising Jacob Yates album mean that any tears from the split will have quickly dried. This particular arm has a vaguely eastern/klezmer-y feel when they decide to make the crowd dance, and a smoky Tindersticks mood to being them down again. Ones to watch 😉
Adopted By Holograph
Honey and the Herbs are the first band I see who are unknown to myself and it seems part of some sort of pool of musicians forming for the day, That said, they seem pretty accomplished and rehearsed. Their sound? As with many acts today, hard to put a finger on; let’s say a kind of jiggy prog which for one bizarre but glorious moment suggests they’ve been listening to a lot of Bogshed.

A fest of this kind wouldn’t be complete without some World Music representation (HTS’s version of ‘Sledgehammer’ aside) but the Issho Taiko Drummers, despite their instruments, are as far from African-style percussion as they are from Japan. Three drummers combine for a massive display of synchronised beats, but the twist is former Dog Faced Herman, Jer Reid, building sounds of a different type, the two melding into a mesmerising, pulsating drone.
Issho Taiko Drummers
As we are pounded by the waves of noise, a greyhound wanders through… did I mention that as well as being decidedly child-friendly, Doune also seems to be a happy haven for our canine chums, which all seem to be decidedly laid-back.

Rozi PlainRozi Plain Rozi Plain has appeared at Tigerfest in the past – part of that Anstruther singer-songwriter guild, boss King Creosote is always a hard act to follow (or indeed open for), However, with a full band it’s almost as if the Bristol-based singer has reinvented herself – still portentous and moody with slow-burning swells of noise from a small brass section including Grnr displaying a hidden talent for the trumpet. It’s impressive stuff, though very chilled for an outdoor main stage, but they get away with it with some room to spare.

The big tent has Houdini Pax confirming my suspicions on the programming of the festival, more beats-y fun from the a Cardiff moptop 4-piece. Then, via the Oxfam stall to purchase a programme. Designed by Plimptons / Khaki Shorts’ Adam Smith, there’s a bizarre tale of Duglas T Stewart’s journey to see Mike Heron, and a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the day’s proceedings.

Apparently (via the ‘key’) 3 Daft Monkeys will be presenting us some comedy. Um, while the programme is largely accurate (in a surreal way) the band onstage are certainly fun, there’s not much to laugh about. However, their dancey folkiness puts massive smiles on the faces of the audience, a good number of whom are moved to dance a jig stage front.
RM Hubbert
A trip up to the top of the arena, where there’s another stage/bar (Mad Hatter’s) tucked away, where RM Hubbert is battling against both the elements and the sound bleeding from the other tents, but with his rhythmic flamenco-based post rock (new genre alert) he’s a joy to hear and indeed watch, I am sure that half the crowd are musicians, who might well junk their guitars and take up the harp or something less complicated after seeing the man in action.
Store Keys
The racket (er, sorry chaps) drowning out Hubby turns out to be Store Keys (I think, running order changes now starting to kick in). With Stevie Jackson and Roy Moller helping out, it’s hardly a racket when we can hear them properly inside the tent. They stick to the vaguely 60s/psych theme of the yurt, their bright and breezy psych-tinged pop working fine in a tent which should really be shrouded in darkness and joss stick smoke.

A familiar face on the main stage – no, not a /famous/ face, as I much confess I’ve not encountered Adam Stearns before. He does look familiar though… ah yes, from an hour ago when he was drumming in Honey & the Herbs. He’s an unlikely main stager, but his folky pop is really rather decent.

Meanwhile, Snow Goose’s dark sounds resonate from the Yurt, a little less chipper than Jim McCulloch’s previous act Green Peppers.
Trembling Bells
Remember when Maddy Prior fronted My Bloody Valentine? Me neither, but Trembling Bells clearly do as they revisit the back catalogue of that acid-fueled fantasy pop group. It’s hard to fathom really, a mix of finger-in-the-ear folk and downright guitar noise – though they show off mainly the folk component in the latter part of the set, to be fair. The band is the creation of percussionist Alex Neilson, formerly of Scatter and working with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s band, and who has enlisted Simon Shaw from Lucky Luke as well as vocalist Lavinia Blackwall. For anyone a little fed up of Mumford and Sons (or moved enough to shout “Judas” at their shows) this decidedly non-pop folk may be up their street.

Festivals such as this are the chance for irregular gig-goers to catch up on those bands of whom knowledge is confined to the web. Thus, online research tells us that the remaining bits of Uncle John and Whitelock are now Tut Vu Vu. And they’re further from their parent band’s blueprint even than Adopted by Holograph, and their influences even more obscure and off the beaten pop path. Think (if you will) This Heat in disturbing atonal noise mode set to The Residents’ anti-tunes – and as if that wasn’t enough, a slice of free jazz as filtered through Kraftwerk – no, Kraftwerk mark 1, the one Flur and Bartos had locked in the attic. The main surprise about TVV is probably that the organisers didn’t put them on the main stage to confound the punters further.
The Real Tuesday Weld
Instead, some good-time dancing with the Real Tuesday Weld – who play 1930s jazz, and have the previous jiggers doing the Charleston.

Broadcast 2000 may have had a few uninitiated revellers checking Wikipedia, and their entry should really have a ‘disambiguation’ clause. Of course they’re not related to the Brummie popsters, This is more funky and actually, quite a bit of fun.

Though nothing is as much fun as Lord Rochester, at least appearance-wise. Unfortunately my camera for the weekend dates from roughly the same era as his Lordship’s tartan jacket, though their sound is a bit more 60s beat music than Bill Haley’s 1950s rock’n’roll. Did I mention his guitar? Odder still, James Yorkston gets up onstage to join them – on drums. You can’t say that the weekend’s not full of surprises…
Pumajaw are in the wee tent on the hill, as the drizzle kicks in, but they brighten the day with a stunning set – Pinkie has the most amazing voice, soaring high before trawling the depths and making our guts rumble. Meanwhile, John churns out great shards of spiky jagged guitar noise by way of incongruous contrast.

James Yorkston appears (yet) again, in no-book-plug mode and in the darkness of the wee yurt, He’s brought the wrong hat, which is the high point of the festival for many.

One of the organisers (who should perhaps remain nameless) is filling in the odd gap by playing a game of ‘festival bingo’. The rules: various boxes with “Dog on string”, “dog not on string” (check), “purple pantaloons”, “monged hippies”… you get the idea. And “Jazz Odyssey”. It’s not long afterwards that I head for the wee yurt to see Punch and the Apostles, but wasn’t expecting to be crossing off that particular box at this point. Paul Napier and pals usually make a big sound with lots of rousing brass, and do jazz, punk, folk… but not what we usually associate with that genre which certainly makes this reviewer think of prog. Specifically, I’m prepared to bet my house that it’s an instrumental cover of either ‘Octopus’ or ‘Black Smoke Yen’, from Van der Graaf Generator’s 1969 album Aerosol Grey Machine. Possibly both, played simultaneously. Bonkers.

Frog PocketSpeaking of which… Frog Pocket. Not in the clinically insane sense mind, though his blend of fiddle-based folk and glitchcore beats is fairly ‘out there’ stuff at times. It’s also a mystery that John Charles Wilson (Mr Pocket to you) isn’t more acclaimed in the general musical world – maybe it’s the crossover that’s a bridge too far for some. Performing live, he (as has happened before) takes a ridiculous time to set up his gear, but when he gets going it’s a magnificent sight and sound. There are some lovely Boards-y beats before the offbeats kick in and the slightly bedraggled crowd do their best to throw some shapes to his off-kilter rhythms.

Meanwhile in the big tent, Teaspoon, The DTG, and The See See flit by in something of a blur, all seemingly from that vaguely 60s psych-rock mould we mentioned earlier. Written afterwards they’re to these untrained ears largely indistinguishable, though The See See have the same frontman as the Store Keys, even if he has tried to fool us by changing his jacket.

Mike Heron, as a former member of folk-rock legends The Incredible String Band, is the ideal headliner for a festival such as this. Sensing a crossover crowd, he plays some pop to go with the folk, though there’s some rather nifty a cappella harmonising by the entire band that’s straight out of 1968. He gets Trembling Bells up for a final few tunes, and in a sense, hands on the psychedelic folk mantle to his natural successors.

And that crossover between ancient and modern sums up Doune the Rabbit Hole. Fingers crossed that its future will be as long-lived as that of its headliner.

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