Notts Pop Punk Fest at The Maze, Nottingham

On January 3rd, The Maze hosted what was probably Nottingham’s first festival of 2015 with Notts Pop Punk Fest. Last Saturday, a little further into the year and at a more sensible time for a festival, it returned to the same venue with two stages (main and acoustic), all geared up for over seven hours of music. Though described as a pop punk festival, only a handful of the acts fell strictly into that category – this might explain why the festival’s pages have been scrapped and replaced by Hood Fest, ready to return next March.

A prime example of the non-pop punk side of the festival came from main stage openers Pack Mentality, who we saw give a solid show at Derby’s The Vic the night before in celebration of their EP launch. Though largely similar to their Friday night performance, The Maze’s low stage gave them chance to get involved with the crowd, with frontman Daniel Kevan joining the floor in single Salvation, and better sound quality was reflected in the more comfortable vocals.

The fest seemed to be good at getting opening acts right, with Lauren April on the acoustic stage delighting the crowd with her nigh on flawless vocals. Among a selection of her own work came a handful of well known covers, from Alanis Morissette’s Ironic to Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, and an infectious rendition of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing that even had people outside singing along. Lauren gave a performance that demanded attention and respect, boasting the sort of voice that if you heard it drifting out of a pub or cafe would encourage you to step inside and stay till the last moment of her set.

With all the energy of a band with only a few months under their belts, Our Saving Day took to the main stage, along with the crowd working ability and confidence of an established act. A few moments saw the vocals fall flat or be covered by the instrumental, but the atmosphere drummed up from a couple of well known covers (a Fall Out Boy number and trusty pop-punk anthem Stacey’s Mom) left these moments forgotten in the dust.

Other noticeable points across the day included On The Open Road’s clear comfort to return to a more intimate venue after the well tackled main stage at Rescue Rooms which they graced last Tuesday, having less trouble keeping up with the energy of recently-announced lead guitarist Jack Dutton, and Requin Blanc’s upgraded-to-main-stage show, making the most of the significantly improved vocal power available.

Though both stages’ openers had been impressive acts, the stages’ closing sets managed to top that. With the inside of the venue reaching a point of boiling insanity (credit to pop-punk enthusiasm for that), acoustic headliner Arthur Walwin took his set out to the venue’s beer garden with support from Willowen’s “box monkey” – that’s percussion to you and me – George Fullerton. By the end of the first track any general chatter had died down, possibly in awe, as the unexpected duo worked their way through Arthur’s catalogue of hits alongside tracks from his forthcoming debut album. A medley of pop numbers and a mix of the two best known Taking Back Sunday tracks (“the band that got me into pop-punk”, Arthur claims) also cropped up in the setlist.

Quite the contrast to the quaint sing a longs and fairy lights of The Maze’s beer garden, Manchester quintet Milestones had the stage inside to cause a stir. With frontman Matt Clarke and bassist Mark Threfall taking to the floor to bounce life into the all but worn-out crowd, they perfectly reflected the band’s ethos; keep giving it your all. Since releasing their debut single More To Me in December and their debut EP Nothing Left a few months ago, they’ve gone from strength to strength, never slowing down or pausing for breath. A couple of front row fans showed the band the dedication they deserved by chanting every line with the same force Matt did, and the introduction of new, more vocal lead and assertive work went down a treat. Milestones feel – literally and from their position in the music scene – like an act ready to explode into the big-time shows at any given moment.

Though it came across as more of a rock party than its title would suggest, Notts Pop Punk Fest proved another interesting day, with the best acts standing out a mile.

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