When we were invited to cover the Pop Punk Pile Up Festival in Selby, heading down wasn’t a straightforward decision. There had been a certain amount of controversy surrounding the event, and the booking of one of the bands on the bill. Now, we know exactly what side of that fence we’re on regarding that issue, and we’re not going to budge on that. Fuck that band and everything they stand for. They will not be featured in this review, and there is no way that we’d even consider watching them. There are, though, a lot of good bands throughout the rest of the weekend, and the venue is just a short walk from our house, so we figured we’d head down and see some of the other acts that had been booked. In addition, our pals in Lyon Estates have released a charity t-shirt especially for this event to raise money for Safe Gigs For Women and IDAS. You can purchase that here.
Anyway, disclaimer aside, another big challenge that we faced this weekend was seeing a full weekend of underground bands from the same genre and being able to write something different about each of them. All in all, the line-up was pretty good on paper. A lot of bands we hadn’t heard of, some we’d seen the names of doing the rounds on the scene and a bunch of our friends too, as well as the handful of established bands at the top of the bill each day, so we embraced the challenge.
The first band we saw after arriving on Friday were Wrthless, a band from Scotland. They’re not a band we’d heard of before, but they were a decent enough melodic pop-punk band. Their cover of Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue let them down a bit, as their own material came across much better.
Sheffield based alternative rockers Air Drawn Dagger were next, and they weren’t what we expected. While we knew that a lot of the top billings weren’t all pop-punk, we naturally assumed that the earlier bands would be. Air Drawn Dagger played an interesting brand of rock that is quite difficult to put into a box. Their live sound is a little lacking without bass, but singer Maisie makes up for that with her incredible voice and energetic stage presence. They also brought cupcakes, which is never a bad thing.
This Time Last Year are on next. They own the stage and give the impression that they’d be very comfortable on a much bigger one. They’re a fun live band with some big songs. They also had local hero Jonny Gill (for the first of many times this weekend) onstage with them for a song, providing guest vocals on their upcoming single.
Our old pals Blueprints followed, who were formerly known as Saving Time. We used to really enjoy Saving Time back in the day, but in all honesty we were very surprised with just how good Blueprints are in comparison. While staying true to their pop-punk roots, they’ve created a more mature sound and frontman Lee’s vocal range is very impressive. Between songs they’re very relaxed onstage to the point where they’re just having a chat with the audience and eachother, removing any sort of divide between the stage and the floor. It’s good to see these guys back playing together, and based on this showing, they’ll have no trouble developing a solid fanbase.
Before nipping out for a bit we caught the first couple of songs of Outta Peak, who’re certainly an interesting bunch. The start of their set was plagued with technical difficulties which they didn’t seem to be aware of – they played with samples and a drum machine, and as they were bounding around the crowd playing their guitars in and amongst everyone, there was absolutely no sound coming through other than the backing track. Everything was clearly coming through their in-ear monitors though, so they remained blissfully unaware. It’s a shame, because they were quite clearly great at what they do, and were putting on quite the show too.
Following them were Pray For Hayden who are another band we’re very familiar with and have been for a long time. It was bassist Mark’s last show with the band after over a decade, so it was both a shame and also hilarious that he injured his leg one song in and had to spend most of the set sitting down. As usual, they’re a great live band and the dual vocals between lead singer Ash and (that man again!) Jonny Gill work really well. They’re not like that on record, since Jonny wasn’t in the band when their last EP was released, so it makes a whole new dynamic in the live setting. We’re really looking forward to hearing that on future recordings!
Then it was time for Safeguard, a pop-punk band from York who seem to be developing quite a name for themselves online. The band don’t really have any of their own identity in their songs, it’s all very generic. The vocals are very weak live too, especially after a day of such good singers so far, and their stage presence is boring. How this band are racking up thousands of Spotify and Youtube streams when so many great bands out there aren’t, we have no idea.
Lyon Estates on the other hand, absolutely nailed it. Big catchy hooks, singalong choruses, powerful vocals, high energy, they’ve got the lot. Throw in the fact that they’ve raised a lot of money for IDAS and Safe Gigs For Women at this event too, and you’re on to a winner. They’re the only band from Selby on the line-up, so they’re playing with home advantage, but it seems that not only did they play to the biggest crowd of the day so far, they treated that crowd to one of the best sets of the whole weekend.
After taking a bit of time with some press duties, we headed back into the venue to see the second half of Sweet Little Machine. They’re a very professional band, they’re super-tight, their songs are very catchy and they’ve figured out exactly how their show should look onstage. The only issue is, something that we’ve mentioned in the past when reviewing this band, some of the moves are taken straight out of a Green Day show. The frontman’s mannerisms are so much like Billie Joe’s that it comes across almost like a tribute act, which is a shame because they’ve got literally everything else right.
The final band that we saw on Friday were Blood Youth. The Harrogate based hardcore mob had just returned from a very successful European tour which saw them playing to thousands of people, so they didn’t seem to impressed with the hundred or so people that were awaiting them in Selby. They didn’t deal with it in the best way either, with the guitarist requesting that “all ten people put your hands in the air” and pointing out that they’re not a pop-punk band, so weren’t sure why they were even booked. “This is the closest thing we have to a pop-punk song. I fucking hate it” probably wasn’t the best thing to say to the crowd at the Pop Punk Pile Up Festival either. That said, there’s a reason that they’re playing to thousands of people across the continent, and that’s because they’re an incredible live band, attitude aside. They eventually started to look like they were having a good time as a circle pit opened up, covering about half the room, albeit with only a handful of people getting involved.
We hung around for a while to see Room 94, but 45 minutes after Blood Youth had finished they still weren’t onstage, so we decided to call it a night.
Day Two got off to a lovely start with Joshua Nash playing some acoustic pop-punk songs. He played a mix of covers, including Taking Back Sunday’s Cute Without The E and Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties’ Our Apartment, some of his own songs and some songs by his band Amongst Thieves. Josh has only been playing acoustic shows for a year or so, and he’s really come a long way in that time. We’ve watched him develop from the start, and this was certainly one of his strongest performances to date.
Next up was our favourite act of the whole weekend, Sally Pepper. We’d never heard any of her music before, but the upbeat blend of acoustic folk-punk and pop-punk really hit the spot. Between songs she was chatty and engaging, and even when the mic kept cutting out, she kept the crowd entertained very well. It was still very early in the day so the crowd wasn’t huge, but we’re certain that there are a whole bunch of new Sally Pepper fans after this showing. She also mentioned that she’s in the running to play at Slam Dunk Festival and was gathering votes. She certainly got ours!
Last Chance followed. After a load of pop-punk bands yesterday and loads more still to come, we were hoping to find a couple of bands that stood out and broke the mould a little bit, but unfortunately Last Chance weren’t that band. They’re decent enough, but very generic and didn’t really offer anything to write home about.
Later, Jonny Gill took to the stage again, this time playing songs from his solo acoustic back catalogue, backed by his Pray For Hayden band mates. Jonny’s full band sets are always a lot of fun and it’s nice to hear some older songs that don’t get too much air time in his solo sets anymore. A particular highlight was a cover of Enrique Englasias’ Hero. A speech about how certain there are certain band members on the scene who have turned out to be ‘wrong uns’ and a pointer in the direction of the Lyon Estates charity shirt – known at this point as the anti-wrong-un shirt – was a welcome addition.
A Few Too Many were the next band we saw. They’re a band that we were unfamiliar with and in all honesty, we wish that was still the case. This band shouldn’t be out of the practice room yet. They’re sloppy, the vocals are poor and the songs just aren’t well written. Sure, ‘punk’ isn’t all about perfection, but bands need to be at a certain level of competence before they put themselves infront of an audience and A Few Too Many are nowhere near that level yet, and on this showing, there’s little evidence to suggest they ever will be.
We actually had to take a break after that, and came back in time for the last few songs from Shaded, who were the polar opposite. Well crafted songs, big catchy choruses, great stage presence. Everything a pop-punk band should be. This is a set that belongs on a much bigger stage, and if Shaded keep putting in performances like this, it won’t be too long until that happens.
We’ve seen the name Catch Fire around a fair bit, so were excited to finally check them out. They’re a tight live band and have plenty of energy onstage, but unfortunately they’re one of many bands this weekend who didn’t stand out from the rest.
Coast To Coast followed, and they’re certainly an interesting band. They’re obviously very accomplished musicians and have a great rapport both with eachother onstage and with the crowd, but there’s something that massively lets them down – the vocals. We really weren’t sure what was going on. The droney, off key and at times completely inaudible noise coming from the singers mouth was just confusing. Why are these clearly talented musicians and songwriters making this weird sound? We don’t get it.
Altered Sky were the final band we checked out on Saturday, and fortunately they’re a band of headline quality, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out by having to leave early. Their show is very theatrical – the singer came onto the sage wearing a hood and a mask, and continued to throw some pretty impressive shapes throughout the set. They’re a little heavier than anything else we saw that day, more alternative rock than pop-punk, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was the busiest that the venue had been all day too. Much the same as Shaded earlier on, this is a band that seem like they should be playing much bigger shows and there probably aren’t too many more chances to see them in a setting like this, so head out and catch them in a small venue while you still can!
We didn’t see as many bands on Sunday, but we arrived just in time for No Insight. They’re the band we’ve been looking for all weekend – a band that takes pop-punk and puts their own stamp on it. They were one of the best bands we saw at the festival, so it’s a shame they were on so early on Sunday and didn’t play to much of a crowd. Their dual vocals create some sweet harmonies and they’re a bundle of energy onstage. They were the perfect start to the day.
The incredibly loud Counterpoint followed, changing the tone completely. The Manchester based trio were one of the heaviest bands of the weekend, and it was nice to break up the pop-punk a bit with something a little different. They gave out free t-shirts too, which was nice.
York based Heartsink were the next band to grace the stage and we were pleasantly surprised with what we saw. They’ve rebranded from their previous name One Way Street and it’s proved to be a good move. The new songs are a bit heavier, and some of the reworked OWS songs sound great in the new, more mature sound. They’ve tightened up their live show a lot, and having been around this band for some years through a number of line-ups, and this was by far the best we’ve ever seen them play.
Northern Horizon are a band whose name we’ve seen around quite a bit, and their upbeat, Green Day-ish pop-punk is a lot of fun, but musically there’s nothing groundbreaking happening. They do it better than a lot of the other bands this weekend, but in the grand scheme of things, this is decent pop-punk and nothing more. Perhaps we could have appreciated it a little more earlier in the weekend, but the generic sound had started to get a bit tiresome by this point.
With that in mind, we decided to call it a day after Saving Sebastian who were another band on the punkier end of the scale. It seemed like a good time as this band have great, catchy songs and know exactly how to control a crowd – just be silly. Their engaging stage presence and great punk songs made them one of the highlights of the weekend.
All in all, we had a pretty good time at Pop Punk Pile Up Festival. Not all of the bands were our bag, but for the most part there were a lot of examples of the fact that the UK pop punk scene is in decent shape at the minute, especially in Yorkshire. A special mention has to go to the team onsite at The Venue all weekend who despite a hectic schedule, so many bands and different challenges, kept everything running so smoothly, and to Dave on the sound desk who made everything sound great!