He’s a mainstay of the festival circuit and a troubadour for our time. He has a penchant for protest and the ability to say whatever’s on his mind regardless of the trouble it might land him in. From tender love songs to political observations, drunken folk music, Jay McAllister, better known as Beans On Toast, pops up in Leicester in a much anticipated double header with Skinny Lister in early December. Great Central took the opportunity to chat with him in advance of that show.
“You can expect a night of songs, stories, drinking, dancing, thinking and forgetting”, offers Beans when we ask him what the gig might be like. “This tour is special as it’s a co-headline, so both Skinny and I will be playing full sets. Personally, I think that it’s a great match. Musically it can be very different but our attitude comes from the same place.”
The day before the Leicester gig, Beans releases a new album. It’s become something of a tradition to do so on his birthday. “Yeah, the albums all done and you’re correct it will be coming out on 1st December” he confirms. “This one has guitars. And fiddles, accordion, piano, banjo and harmonica. I recruited a ragtag bunch of musicians and we decamped to a wonderful studio in the Welsh countryside for a week to record it with producer Tristan Ivemy. I’m very proud of it.”
“You can expect a night of songs, stories, drinking, dancing, thinking and forgetting”
It’s not long before our conversation turns to festivals. 2017 has been a year in which some parts of the media have been keen to highlight their horrors but Beans isn’t having any of that. “I think over the past years festivals have become so popular and so mainstream that now they are put on a pedestal a bit. Feels like this year it’s been trendy for the press to attack festivals for every single fuck up, but you know, everyone fucks up at some point”. He continues after a pause, “I’m sure some festivals will get left by the wayside and some might even choose to bow out like Secret Garden Party did. But overall festivals will change and adapt, at least the good ones with heart will. People enjoy festivals too much to let them fade away, yes there were a lot of horror stories this year but all in all, they were way outnumbered by the many amazing weekends that people had in fields over the summer. It just wasn’t cool to write about that this year.”
One innovation that has received widespread support this year at festivals has been onsite drug facilities. Beans gave a speech in front of thousands at Boomtown in support of such testing. “I was asked by Boomtown personally. They were looking for someone to talk about drugs openly and honestly, which is what I did. The main reason for me getting on the mic was to explain to people about The Loop (https: wearetheloop.org/) and tell them whereabouts it was.”
Beans explains further, “The Loop is an onsite drug testing facility where you can anonymously take in your drugs, answer a few questions about where you got it and what you think it is, they’ll test it and let you know what it is. This is a service that I wholeheartedly agree with. It didn’t feel hypocritical at all. I think people need to talk more about drugs and be realistic about them.”
Quite soon after this speech, Beans wandered off to play a set in Boomtown’s Kidz field, something that on the surface is quite a departure from a typical gig. “Yeah, that was good fun. To be honest though, I was expecting a few more kids”, he jokes. “In my head, I was gonna be playing to a crowd of kids, but as it was in the Boomtown programme, lots of full-grown adults descended on the kids field and from the stage looking out it didn’t feel a million miles away from other gigs I’ve played. That said I made sure I kept the language in check, played some songs I’d written especially and got a few of the kids from the crowd involved. So it was a good laugh.”
We wonder if this might be a future development. “Yeah, when it feels right I can do a family friendly set, I did it a few years back at Camp Bestival and I’ve got plans to do more in future, maybe some afternoon family matinees.”
“This is by far the easiest and best job I’ve ever had.”
A man who always gives the impression of being generous and supportive of other acts on the circuit, we ask him what new music has caught his attention this year, and Jack Francis and Funke and The Two Tone Baby are the names that Beans picks from the ether. We make a mental note to check them all out. When we ask about his dream all-time festival line up, the suggestions are arguably more ‘traditional’ . Kate Tempest, Dylan and The Doors would feature on the Friday; Chuck Berry, Bob Marley and The Beatles would sizzle on the Saturday and Jay’s perfect weekend party would end on the Sunday with Beans on Toast, Todd Snider and Conor Oberst. Humble throughout, Beans apologises for adding himself.
Beans appears to have a relentless touring schedule and we can’t help thinking about how he deals with the hectic life. “People say this to me all the time, it always baffles me”, he counters. “This is by far the easiest and best job I’ve ever had. Yes, I gig and tour a lot but that’s what I love to do and it’s not very often I get woken up by an alarm clock. Outside of gigging I’ll spend time with my wife Lizzy and to relax I like to smoke weed and write songs. If I’m really lucky I’ll get to do this for the rest of my days.”
The life on tour is often full of laughs and so we ask what the funniest thing is that’s happened this year. “That was at a late night drunken ‘secret’ show on the acoustic stage at Farm Fest in Somerset”, he chuckles. “Bob found a newt on stage during the gig. He told me it was a lizard and me being an idiot who thinks lizards roam wild in Somerset I believed him and announced it to the crowd. Bob placed the newt in his brand new acoustic bass ukelele and I tried to mic it up, it crawled into the hole of the ukelele. We had to stop the show while the stage manager took control of the situation and let the newt free outside the tent.” I guess you had to be there.
At which point, we get back to taking about December’s Leicester gig. “I’ve not even thought about travel for that tour yet, but my general Leicester tradition is to have a curry”, asserts Beans. It’s a tradition that we fundamentally support.