Rogue folk singer, story teller and cult legend Beans on Toast returned to Stereo last week. After releasing albums almost yearly for the last 8 years, Jay McAlliste AKA ‘Beans on toast’ is on tour again in anticipation of his forthcoming album ‘Spanner in the Works’ that is out on December first.
Beans’s set starts with a rather sombre reminder of the terrible year 2016 has been, as he carefully lists the rise of Fascism, Brexit, terrorism, TTiP, fracking and the loss of all our heroes from Bowie to Mohamed Ali, in one of his new songs. Fear not, though, for while what Beans sings about is depressingly true, and he knows just wishing it all away won’t help, he calls on us all to be the best we can be and change what we can to make 2017 a whole lot better. This is the draw to Beans’ charm, for despite much of the serious, politically charged issues discussed in his music, he always tries to find the humour or silver lining that will make life better, if not for the world, for yourself. Beans tells the crowd early on that all he can do amidst this doom and gloom is to try and have a laugh about it and spread a more positive message, and this is what he does. He also assures me privately that he is not secretly pleased about Trump’s victory despite the song writing potential it offers him.
The simple folky four chord songs about everything, from when supermoons became a thing to his rogue grandmother keep the audience jigging throughout the evening. Bean’s relaxed character creates an intimate feeling as he and the audience debate which songs he should play next and he tells them anecdotes in between songs, sometimes getting so lost in a tangent that he would have to restart the song. Beans on Toasts’ mix of laid back attitude and bitter honesty is his defining characteristic both on stage and in the studio albums, which makes him a breath of fresh air. Jay seems to embody the classic idea of a traveling folk singer who loves a to chat with people across the country long into the night over a pint. In fact, he did something not so dissimilar to that last year in his documentary, ‘Small Town Celebrations’, in which he toured the overlooked tiny towns of England that nobody has ever heard of to hear the stories they had to tell. The documentary does well to paint a picture of the small venues around the UK that don’t have 4000 seating capacity but are nonetheless the home to some of the best gigs. In an interview before the gig Jay speaks of his concern at the dwindling number of small gig venues in the UK. Over the past ten years alone, around 40 per cent of London’s music venues have closed. Jay is in the process of making his second documentary about this issue. It is this underdog element that makes Beans so likeable, and it comes through in his music. The closure of independent venues is a concern to many, as they are important spaces of community and culture. While Glasgow has a great selection of venues, the closure of the Arches last year serves as a reminder of the need to protect independent cultural spaces.
Jay explains that in an attempt to change things up in the new album he followed his friend’s advice and ditched the guitar. Thus, the album is more electronic compared to his older stuff, but don’t worry — the protest lyrics and sweet love songs remain. Despite the slightly more electronic feel in the album the gig sees no such technological advancement. Beans sings in his croaky voice and plays his guitar to the crowd’s delight, while bringing his two support acts, Sky Smeed and the duo Tensheds, on stage a number of times to a great effect.
When he next comes back to Glasgow, probably with a new album, I highly recommend. Let’s just hope that the year before his next visit will be less inspiring to his songs.
Article by Charlie Scrimgeour