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FESTIVAL REPORT: Doune The Rabbit Hole 2022 (Sunday)

When: 17th July 2022

Where: Cardross Estate, Cardross, Port of Menteith, Stirlingshire, Scotland

It was 1972. September of that year, in fact. And we went to our first music festival, my pal Dave and me. The occasion was that of the Great Western Express, more commonly known as the Grangemouth Festival. It was held in the town of that name which lies on the south shore of the River Forth estuary. The event is seen by many to have been Scotland’s first ever music festival.

Grangemouth Festival 1972
Grangemouth Festival, 1972

As young teenagers we travelled that day to Grangemouth from our home town of East Kilbride on a coach organised by the Key Youth Club. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of that occasion, Dave and I reunited and went, this time by car, to Doune The Rabbit Hole festival, some 30 miles north east of Grangemouth. First started in 2010, Doune The Rabbit Hole is often said to be like “a mini Scottish Glastonbury.”

In many respects the differences between the two events are stark. The first thing that strikes you in this regard is location. Grangemouth is an industrial settlement dominated by the town’s petrochemical and oil refining works. It’s skyline then, and it may well still be now for all I know, featured a mass of tall dark chimneys and huge concrete cooling towers, each and every one continually belching acrid smoke and flames into the air. It was an oppressive physical environment. The festival itself was a one day event held in the town’s sports stadium, an area encircled by a running track and with one solitary stage – a large orange construct flanked by a stack of massive WEM speakers – upon which nine individual acts played.

In marked contrast, Doune The Rabbit Hole takes place in a beautifully picturesque family-owned estate set on the fringe of the Scottish Highlands, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It lasts for four days, boasts no less than eight different music stages and features more than one hundred acts across its extensive line-up.

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Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival 2022

Several degrees of separation can also be found between the general demographic of those who were at Grangemouth Festival half a century ago and the folks flocking to the Cardross Estate this weekend. The former, or so it seemed, was comprised largely of younger men in their late teens and 20s/30s hellbent on consuming vast quantities of cheap alcohol – Lanliq and Eldorado fortified wine often being the drinks of choice – and who had associated aggression and violence very much on their mind. The latter is far more cross-generational and whilst many are not averse to a drink they are in possession of a much greater sense of well-being, self-control, general bonhomie, and all-round collective responsibility.

In keeping with Doune, though, Grangemouth did seek to showcase Scottish musical talent. On the bill 50 years ago were Billy Connolly, fresh from his stint with Scots’ folk duo The Humblebums (alongside Gerry Rafferty); the Chris McClure Section; and Beggar’s Opera, who at that time were essentially the resident house band at the late, sadly lamented Burn’s Howff pub in Glasgow city centre. The emphasis upon Scottish artists at Doune, however, is proportionately far greater and in possession of a much higher profile than those acts were back in 1972. This year Doune’s headliners on the final three nights, for example, are Amy McDonald, Belle & Sebastian, and Teenage Fanclub.

In Grangemouth, two score and ten years earlier, Beck, Bogert & Appice had brought Scotland’s first ever music festival to a close. Here, tonight on Doune’s main stage, it was the turn of those Scottish national treasures Teenage Fanclub to do the honours. They signed off with a stunning triple-fusillade of songs – ‘My Uptight Life’, ‘The Concept’, and their very first single, 1990’s ‘Everything Flows’ – that would easily draw favourable comparison with any other three consecutive songs from a single artist around today. I have seen Bellshill’s finest many, many times over the years, from playing lower down the bill to Neil Young and Booker T & the MGs in Finsbury Park in London in 1993 to an appearance at the Green Man Festival in Wales last year and I tell you they have never sounded as good as they do so tonight.

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Teenage Fanclub

Earlier in the day we had some top-notch tunes courtesy of Alex Rex, drummer and founder member of those canny Scots’ folk experimentalists, Trembling Bells; a cracking performance from Bristol-based Billy Nomates that bristled with confidence and no little energy; and Spanish duo Baccara who had clearly come to this country to thank Scottish football fans in person for making their 1977 disco hit ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ their unofficial anthem.

Whilst social media is not always the most accurate barometer by which to measure an occasion, over the course of the weekend the forums were peppered with complaints about Doune The Rabbit Hole which ranged from the general infrastructure/organisation of the event to more specific observations about the shortage/quality of the toilet facilities on site and poor communications around numerous unforeseen changes in set times on the various stages. It would have to be said that these comments were heavily outweighed by others saying how much they had enjoyed the festival.

Speaking as we find, though, and in acknowledging that we were only there for one day, it appeared that any logistical difficulties that may have been present during the first few days of the festival had largely been ironed out by Sunday. That said, Doune The Rabbit Hole is most certainly very much DIY by nature, though I do feel that this often ramshackle approach to its presentation and delivery merely adds to its innate charm. The festival extends to those of us who are here the warmest of welcomes and provides a lovely relaxed and safe environment in which to enjoy all that it has to offer. In addition to the brilliant music line-up, the Doune The Rabbit Hole programme of entertainment also includes Douniversity Talks, Yoga & Wellbeing sessions, various Workshops – ranging from the Maori art of poi to juggling and learning to improve your handstands – plus a Family Field catering for kids of all ages, all of which evidences just how far the concept of a music festival has evolved since 1972.

Image of the Grangemouth Festival courtesy of Twitter

All other photos: Simon Godley

More photos from Sunday at Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival 2022

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.