There’s been a lot of media chatter the last few days about the series of drive-in concerts being planned featuring the likes of Ash, Dizzee Rascal, Gary Numan, with attendant questions on how they would work, how safety would be ensured and how enjoyable the experience would be. Delighted to have had the opportunity today to experience a drive-in gig first hand, the first in the UK, I believe.

So hats off to SoundLevel Events for trailblazing this idea and Hampshire County Council for supporting it so positively. The event was held at Royal Victoria Country Park, Southampton. 80 cars were allowed in, with up to 5 passengers, charged at £40 per car.

In the lead up to the day there were, understandably, a number of e-mails setting out how things would work. For example, cars to arrive between 6.00 and 7.30, possibility that everybody would have their temperature taken (this didn’t happen), cars not able to leave until the culmination of the event. These communications were helpful. Far from being over-bearing it gave a strong sense that the organisers were keenly aware of the need to keep everybody safe and perhaps more importantly demonstrate that gigs like this can work with a suitable framework in place.

On arrival we were greeted by extremely friendly staff and directed to our parking spot – think a grid 12 x 7 of large parking spaces. Once parked we were allowed out of the car and could sit on the left side of the vehicle, though actually sitting in front of vehicles was also possible and still respected appropriate social distancing. Most people had camping chairs and sat and enjoyed beers and picnic before the music commenced at 7.45. The atmosphere was respectful and relaxed.

The location suited the event well, with the stage situated in front of the Royal Victoria Chapel (the only remnant of the vast WW1 hospital that previously occupied the site). Most particularly the chapel has a modern and sizeable toilet block which was more than adequate for this size of audience.

And so to the music. As Me and The Moon took the stage it was nothing short of spine-tingling to be listening to live music once again. Standing next to our car the view was fine – we were about 40 yards back. Yes it was a little odd not to be shoulder-to-shoulder with others, but it was great to be able to grab more beer from the boot, and a hoodie as the evening breeze from the Solent picked up.

Me And The Moon are Jonny and Tamara, indie folk duo from Southsea. They played some songs from their back catalogue as well as newly penned tunes, written during lockdown including the particularly striking ‘Strangers’. Normally they play as a five piece but, just the two of them this evening given social distancing protocols; this created an amusing moment five songs in when the ‘substitute’ drum machine went out of kilter. Excellent set, including a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place’ which Tamara introduced as “we don’t normally play covers.... but then again, we don’t normally play in front of cars

Local Southampton band Bash! were up next. Most of the band live together so were able to play as a unit; Angus the drummer has recently joined them as his chosen bubble so was able to complete the line-up. A wonderful half-hour set incorporating their brand of slightly jangly pop. New song ‘Broken Hearted’ was a stand out as was the lively closing number ‘Going Insane’.

Local punk folkster Sean McGowan rounded off the evening. Launching straight into his set after reminding us that “Life’s too short to take too long”. Sean treated us to a marvellous selection of his many heart-pulling songs - always endearing as he strums his way through tales of inner city shenanigans, romances and life lost. In inimitable self-deprecating style he was keen to stress how the success of the evening was down to everybody but himself, but he certainly played his part in allowing us to ‘have a good giggle’.

As the set drew to a close Sean got everybody to get in their car to honk horns and flash lights. An absurd cacophonous din in any other circumstance but perhaps the moment that best characterised this evening’s events and these strange times.

Are drive-in gigs the future of rock n roll ? Well possibly for the foreseeable future but if that’s the case we won’t go far wrong if the template set down today is followed. Many thanks to SoundLevel Events, the bands and all the supporting cast and agencies for making this happen.

Si & Sally