WORDS BY SARAH DORNEY
IMAGE BY Andrew Leontarou (@themanfromtag)
In the strange time that is 2020, flashing your headlights at the stage is the new way to cheer on live acts. Crowded mosh pits have been replaced with carparks for now, and while it is a different experience, there is still some great live music to enjoy even in these unprecedented times.
After a huge lineup of bands competed in the heats of the University of Newcastle’s Band Competition, it has all led to the Drive-In Grand Final. Audience members could park their cars for free and watch all the acts from the relative comfort of a vehicle. The University did very well in providing such an impressive set up for the emerging bands of the campus, with the drive-in setting providing a great atmosphere for both performers and the audience. It was like experiencing your own personal festival within the confines of a car.
Notably, all except one of the bands featured on the night were either solo women or female-fronted bands. In pre-COVID times, festival lineups were still struggling to include more than a handful of women into their ranks, so it is extremely refreshing to see the immense girl power exuding from the UON competition.
The night was filled with so much talent, so here are some of my personal favourites/ stand out moments of the night
First up, and a highlight of the night is ‘Berlyn’, who immediately set the tone for the night with her brilliant set. Effortlessly cool, sunglasses and all. Her sound is familiar – with her introduction likening her to Angie McMahon – but she is remarkably unique. There are some hints of 90s-sounding rock throughout her set which separates her from other acts on the night. The band behind Berlyn was fantastic, some extremely nice guitar solos heard on the night. Her standout song was ‘Breathe Alone’ which is phenomenal, and to my dismay, not on streaming services currently. Berlyn set the precedent for the whole show, and I can easily picture her playing the opening slot at Groovin the Moo whenever festivals are allowed to make a return.
Another stand out from the night was ‘Hey Jan,’ who gifted the audience with some funky jazz sounds to liven up the evening. To change it up, they provided the crowd with some moody tunes too. The stage was doused in blue light to neatly signify the mood change. Much like the rest of the lineup, Hey Jan has a unique sound that is all their own. Frontwoman Zoe Hallam’s voice is unlike anything else heard on the night. Her presence is commanding; she’s a natural on stage and effortlessly manages to interact with the audience- even if they may be inside cars. Their song ‘Easily’ is a crowd pleaser, an upbeat tune that is dangerously catchy (and yes, it’s still stuck in my head days later). It was clear to see why Hey Jan deserved to win the Wild Card recording package on the night, keep a keen eye out for their upcoming EP release.
‘Cooks and Bakers’ have been around the Newcastle scene a little longer than some of the other acts on the lineup – I can even remember seeing them at The Cambridge before live music ceased to exist. They’re very composed and succinct on stage; they know exactly what they’re here to do, and they do it well. Their set is tried and true, and it hits the spot. A stand of the boys’ set was the track ‘Cage’, with the quintessential ‘Newy rock’ sound.
Finishing the night was ‘Viragos‘, a very new band who only played their first gig together back in August. This is not at all apparent during their set, as they play together like a band that has been touring for decades. Viragos are introduced as having influences from early 2000s pop, and it definitely comes across through their sound. With every song having high energy and reinvigorating sound, it’s a complete experience all the way until the end of their set. Lead singer India Seddon-Callaghan even goes into a spoken word bit mid set, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. With excellent harmonies and a full set of songs that are all bops, it’s not hard to see why they took out the top prize for the night. I expect big, big things from Viragos– they are something special.
It’s wonderful to be able to see Newcastle bands new and old back in action once again, and with restrictions slowly easing and live music returning, UON’s Drive-In Band Comp Grand Final was a great first taste at what we have to look forward to seeing in the coming months.
Fortunately, the whole show was livestreamed to UON’s Facebook, so check it out below: