Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival

Cardross Estate, Stirlingshire




It began 12 years ago with just 200 people and three stages for music with a line-up that consisted of mainly up-and-coming Scottish bands like Meursault and Withered Hand.

It was then described as a two-day tea party in the countryside surrounding Doune Castle and it cost just £47 for the weekend with camping.

In 2022 it has grown to rival the late-lamented Wickerman festival for the title of Scotland's mini-Glastonbury with 10,000 people over four days attracted by more familiar names with three out of the four headliners being homegrown acts that made it big - Belle and Sebastian, Amy Mcdonald and Teenage Fanclub.

The number of stages across the site has nearly doubled in the last three years alone with more than 100 additional acts on the bill in comparison to the last time the festival took place.

The Herald:

In 2022, more than 200 international and Scottish acts, as well as hundreds of workshops, talks and family-friendly activities were on offer throughout the weekend.

Like the Wickerman it more than ensured that families could bring children with a whole field devoted to families and keeping the children entertained with a vast outdoor play area, theatre, storytelling, songs, be-a-band workshops, hula-hoops, tea parties acrobats and clowns.

It was so dominant that it would not be surprising that some of the naughtier lyrics being spewed out by some of Scotland's best up-and-coming rappers could have filtered across from the adjacent Tum Tum Tree tent.

While Doune has built a reputation for showcasing some of the best up-and-coming Scots bands on what is a stunning greenfield site at Cardross Estate, on the fringe of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, one of the undoubted highlights of the four days was the wall to wall hit machine 10CC.

Now with songwriter and bass player Graham Gouldman as the sole original member, with founding members Kevin Godley and Lol Creme and Eric Stewart, now in their 70s, doing other things, it was easy to be suspicious about what could be served up.

What was produced was one of those festival moments you never forget with what seemed like a collective 'oh, that's right, they did that'.

10CC were, of course, responsible for some of the most treasured songs in British music history. From 1972 to 1978, 10cc had five consecutive UK top-ten albums and twelve Top 40 singles.

A fully formed 10CC would surely sell out Hampden.

The Herald:

But here we are on a main stage on an early Saturday evening with 10CC behind the quirky Camera Obscura and a euphoric Belle and Sebastian in the pecking order delivering hit after memorable singalong hit from a gritty Art For Art's Sake, a cutely delivered The Things We Do For Love and the crowd-pleasing Dreadlock Holiday to tearjerking stonewall classics co-written by Gouldman I'm Mandy, Fly Me and the golden worldwide hit I'm Not In Love. And it was the latter that got the award for most sung tune of the festival with every word, it seemed, sung by the crowd with gusto.

One of the most bewildering sights of the weekend was a pogoing push-and-shove mosh pit full of mainly young teenagers going mad for a Steve Diggle-led Buzzcocks through laste 70s punk classics from Orgasm Addict to Every Fallen In Love... It made me wonder whether the punk legends had managed to find a song onto the hugely popular Stranger Things TV series soundtrack.

The festival has always been adept at giving a stage to up-and-coming Scottish bands and with a midday Saturday slot it was Glasgow's The Joy Hotel that produced a jawdropping set of genre-defying rock (if you can use such a trite term as 'rock') that will live long in the memory for the few that witnessed it.

Moulding surf pop, progressive, psychedelic, metal and rock art textures, the odd scream or two, a crashing piano and much much more, the seven-piece produced a delightfully disorienting and deliberately ramshackle set which would change rhythm when you least expected it, stop and start when you weren't looking, while you could not tell when one tune started and another began.

The Herald:

When they did speak to the audience it was "good morning, campers" and a hilarious "we are The Joy Hotel, can't you read" quip.

With so many new bands and artists covering what has already has been done, this a rarity - an exciting band who do their thing and sound like nothing else.

 But with a debut album possibly as fas as 18 months away it will be a while before they will be vying for any Scottish Album of the Year award. On the evidence of one set, however, and with the right progression it would not be a surprise if they were in the argument for a Mercury.

The diverse and eclectic musical lineup also saw multi-million-selling Scottish singer-songwriter Amy MacDonald wow the crowd with a setlist that revealed her progression from her wonderful early single This Is The Life to material from her most recent album The Human Demands.

Dumfries and Galloway songstress Zoë Bestel has one of the most delicate and precious voices of Scottish nu-folk and it proved a little bit too much for the mixing desk, who could not deliver enough volume for those who had gathered at the Bandersnatch stage to actually hear. When her voice was given a mixing desk boost it firstly went into feedback and then gave up altogether with a power outage.

The Herald:

So the 24-year-old produced what was one of the ballsiest performances of the festival, by coming away from the microphone in the midst of the confusion to keep calm and deliver songs sitting on the steps of the bandstand stage, with the audience invited to sit up close.

Once the gremlins were sorted, the unnerved singer, renowned for her stripped down performances accompanied only by a ukelele, produced a spinetingling cover of the Massive Attack song Teardrop, a song few would attempt to deliver.

The Tum Tum Tree tent was the place to go in search of new music and new ideas and among the most ear-catching was Kamihamiha a rapper from Kirkcaldy who mashed beats and rock riffs to his spitting rhymes to great effect and with no shortage of controversy.

His anti-Conservative party F... The Tories rap was as politically harsh as the crunching backing track and the ranting delivery which invoked a predictable call-and-response.

Doune the Rabbit Hole festival director Jamie Murray said: "Seeing people gathered, dancing and enjoying the music all together once again was terrific.

“We’ve added so many new additions to the festival this year so it really is bigger and better than ever. It feels so special to be welcoming visitors old and new to Cardross Estate once again. It’s been a long wait for the return of Doune but all worth it in the end.

“Making the festival an inclusive, family-friendly space is also so important to us and this is my first Doune the Rabbit Hole as a parent myself, so it’s all the more poignant. It’s amazing to see so many people of all ages flocking through the gates and to get the weekend underway.”

While it is without doubt one of the most relaxed of festivals, it was not without its organisational difficulties and issues with cancellations and timings. One big draw, the electronic music pioneers Orbital cancelled with the mixing desk not really knowing whether they were on or off. Sleaford Mods had in fact been moved from another stage to the Orbital slot on the Comhla stage while the Buzzcocks appeared an hour-and-a-half early with confusing information provided.

But the overwhelming feeling from the organisers was positive.

The Herald:

“After two years of plans put on hold due to the pandemic, it felt incredible to see and experience the success of this year’s Doune," added Mr Murray.

“The artists were outstanding and the crowds were absolutely loving it, but it’s not just the music that makes Doune so special. We pride ourselves on being an all-inclusive, family-friendly space for everyone, with wellness activities, comedy events, workshops and talks. It was amazing to see so many people of all ages flocking through the gates and getting involved with every aspect of the festival.

“We’d like to thank the local community for their incredible support this year too. It was a long wait for the return of Doune the Rabbit Hole, but it was definitely worth it. Roll on next year!”

With Teenage Fanclub, Boney M, 808 State and SAY Award-winning Sacred Paws providing a resounding sign off for the four days, the self-proclaimed 'Scotland's biggest independent festival' has proved it is a crucial part of the the nation's festival scene, after pandemic-related postponements in 2020 and 2021, with a tasty recipe of relaxed, family-friendly fun, cutting edge new music and established names.