Despite being a bit of a Doune ‘veteran’ (having attended the last three incarnations of the four-year-old festival) there’s always a pause on arriving for first impressions of the site – since ‘Doune’ is no longer eponymous, having moved from the castle grounds to Doune to Carron Valley – and now to this new location on the Cardross Estate near Menteith.

And following last year’s sprawling location in a hillside fort, we’re back to the feel of that first fest – nicely compact with everything within easy walking distance. (As an aside, a certain website which shall remain nameless generously previewed the festival but tried to divert revelers to Doune Castle. On first viewing there is admittedly a slight feeling of deja vu, so they could be forgiven – ok, maybe not, but certainly the new arena harks back more to the original site and less to last year’s, where the main feature was the rivers of mud which snaked their way down the hill.

Happily, the weather’s fine on this occasion. And We Are The Physics are luring us towards the main (Jabberwocky) stage. A band always worth seeing, they have gone from sharp staccato tunes to a fuller sound with big, swaggering choruses. They still do that old trick of ‘freezing’ mid-song – part of an almost legendary live act (at least in Glasgow circles). As is often the case at festivals they do a longer set than usual meaning that they can slip in a cover version and also throw the stage open to a random guitarist – christened “Brian”, he shows a neat line in classic rock riffs which adds to the good-natured chaos onstage. This was apparently the last show from the band before their “indefinite hiatus” but hopefully they’ll be back, bigger and louder.

As with any festival, there are choices to be made. Fruit wine or cider? Wood-fired pizza or risotto? No Island or Esperi? The latter turns out to be “no contest” as the close pronimity of the Baino Tent to the Inspire stage means that the former’s visceral rock would easily trump Chris Lee-Marr’s delicately-looped folktronica. Though it turns out that Esperi were delayed in traffic somewhere between Dundee and Perthshire. Narrow escape.
Rick Redbeard, having navigated the backroads from Glasgow, suffers a similar fate, this time at the hands of the Jeremiah Weed mini-stage, which as far as anyone can tell, is a kind of guerilla gig intent on drowning out anything within earshot with a bar band playing INXS covers. The Phantom Band’s mainman, however isn’t fazed by this intrusion, engaging extra percussion – a tambourine – to drown them out, and seems in fine spirits.
He dedicates a marvellous version of ‘Now We’re Dancing’ to some newly engaged friends, and in his laid-back drawl describes the US town where he acquired his trademark hat (“from Pig, Kentucky”) and finally auctions a copy of his album (the winning bid is “£10 and a hand job” to which Redbeard replies: “I’ll not force you to give me the… tenner”.) The music? Oh, superb as usual with ‘All My Love’ and a closing ‘No Selfish Heart’ among many high points.

Over at the Inspire Stage, Vereor have a full run without being disturbed – though their sonic assault is perhaps less likely to be troubled than many. Post rock is probably the pigeonhole of choice, though they mix up loud/quiet with fast/slow – I was going to describe them as “restrained” but their last song blows us away with all three barrels. (The band have now changed their name because their old monicker was “pish” – you can now find them operating as Codex.

As regular readers will know, we are legally obliged to refer to Haight Ashbury’s “sunny Californian sounds”. So they may seem a risky main stage choice, given the usual driech Stirlingshire summer. Perhaps anticipaing the deluge, their sound seems to have changed a little, bass-heavy and a bit more Seattle than San Francisco. Either way, ‘Rest And Be Thankful’ is an enjoyably apt tune.

Perhaps musically polar opposites, Girobabies do still tell tales of Scottish life – a thrashy four-piece, the best feature of their set is the good-natured sparring with the audience, and their song ‘Overheard in the West End’ – inspired by the titular remark “You can’t fully appreciate an oilspill until you’ve seen it on a high-definition tv”.

Back to the Main Stage where Meursault are in full band mode. This means that Neil Pennycook’s already massive voice is amped up to fully complement/compete with his backing cohorts. ‘Flittin’ is as intensely epic as it gets while ‘Hole’ is slow, quiet, and far from family friendly… and probably not festival-friendly either. Though as it happens, their take on Pink Floyd’s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ goes down the proverbial storm. My bad.

Unable (again) to resist putting acts in pigeonholes, I choose to dump Our Smallest Adventure into the one marked “post classical”. With song titles as long as the tunes themselves, their cello/violin mix makes for a towering sound.

Bands seem to have joined the bill from far and wide, with no apparent bias towards local talent. Arboteum are a case in point – Americans, they’re part of the Thrill Jockey roster, though more straight-ahead rock that, say, Tortoise or Trans Am. Though what subdivision of the genre should we place them in? There’s a feel of Neil Young to the songwriting (and possibly the beards), but this notion is set on its head by the thudding, Joy Division-style bass. Markedly intense, it’s easy to see why this foursome are mentioned in awestruck tones.

It’s at this point that I start to catch small snippets of acts on all four of the ‘official’ stages. Alasdair Roberts is on the Jabberwocky, bringing songs of love and death to a sizeable and hardcore following. Though since he’s ‘And Friends’ it means that even the death ballads have a jiggy edge to them thanks to Stevie Jones on bass and of course Rafe Fitzpatrick’s violin.
To the Inspire stage again for a quick dose of Bad Jokes – my scribbled notes suggest mainstream songwriting promise – ok, in fact, they say “Stereophonics sound, but descent into lad rock territory saved by cello”. Which sums them up pretty well, the strings making for a pleasingly unusual set.

If that is daming with faint praise, pity Iona Marshall -”nice tunes, nice voice”, though I do recall a decided lack of the nasal American drawl beloved of so many of our singer-songwriters.
Oh, The Hostiles are a five-piece ska-punk act from the USA, which is surely description enough? Oh, apparently not, they’re from Ayr, I’m told, though the singer IS from across the pond. There’s a certain generation of UK youth who grew up with the likes of Less Than Jake and their ilk who make up their audience on the Inspire Stage, while their big brothers may well be in the Baino Tent for Paws. A band who are made for small, sweaty tents (if not indie clubs). An unkempt three-piece making grungy, catchy pop… well, you do the cliches, suffice to say that even a cover of Meursault’s ‘William Henry Miller’ has Made in Seattle stamped all over it. Either way, they deliver one of the most thrilling sets of the weekend.

I may have suggested that local acts weren’t a major part of the lineup, so quite how the John Langan Band arrived at their heady slot on the bill was a mystery. However, seems they received this accolade on merit – or size of following. Whatever, a main stage-sized crowd gathers to see their take on folk – Scottish-style trad with a sizeable portion of gypsy jazz thrown in. (Edit: their biog suggests that they are from London, of all places).

Post punk. Now, if that meant a mix of post rock and punk rock, then it might sum up The Simian Line (not Bobby Holly as billed, which let’s face it would be a rubbish name for a band). They claim this is their first-ever gig, but that seems unlikely. Accomplished in the angular pop stakes, they also (when they choose to) make some very danceable tunes. Another (ahem) one to watch out for.

They’re by no means the last band to play (the programme seems to stretch pretty much into tomorrow morning) but our headliners are the swamp rock legends Gallon Drunk. In the darkened Baino Tent, the rammed area around the stage has the feel of a small club gig. One-time Bad Seed James Johnston‘s intensity as frontman for the act fits the surroundings pefectly, making an ideal way to top off day one.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Now, read the review of Saturday’s show