HE’S more used to rocking stadiums and arenas across the globe.

But last night Dire Straits bass guitarist John Illsley chose his own New Forest pub for the launch of his new studio album, Testing the Water.

A select audience gathered as the multiple Brit and Grammy Award winner performed two 45-minute sets and a singalong encore at the rural East End Arms, between Lymington and Beaulieu.

John joked: “This is a bit of an experiment. We’ve been here 25 years so I thought it was about time I played the place!”

Testing the Water sees the “engine room of Dire Straits” in fine form and he showcased new tracks including the first single When God Made Time, Sometimes and Run For Cover to a packed pub.

Surrounded by rock memorabilia, John and his band were given an enthusiastic welcome by the lucky locals who snapped up just 30 available tickets to enjoy the intimate gig alongside family, friends and music journalists.

Their opener was Dire Straits classic Walk Of Life and the crowd were treated to covers of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan and Southern Man by Neil Young before a rousing Brothers In Arms finale.

The follow-up to 2010 Streets of Heaven and due for release in June, Testing the Water is a more personal album than his previous offerings.

John added: “The last few years have been so turbulent politically, militarily and personally and I wanted to try to create some songs that reflected these strange times and perhaps were worthy of sharing with others.”