Beans On Toast @ Bristol Rough Trade

Tilly Wainright interviews artist Beans on Toast about his new book.

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As he celebrates his “tenth” (ish… the precise numbers have been up for debate) year as a recording artist, Jay McAllister aka Beans On Toast took to a number of stages last month for his “Sitting On A Chair” tour up and down the UK. A clear, nostalgic nod to his first album (Standing On A Chair 2009) the tour kicked off in Brighton’s Komedia, finished at London’s The Clapham Grand and comprised of 16 shows in 13 venues. These were supported by Daniel Lucas of the wonderful Boss Caine. Uniquely and exclusively seated shows, “Sitting On A Chair” was host to many a stroll down memory lane in terms of Bean’s back-catalogue as he reminisced with friends, old and new, about his career up until this point.

The recent tour also introduced Bean’s newest venture: his outrageous, thoughtful and just-plain-lovely memoir Drunk Folk Stories (2018) which was released on 1st May. The book offers a number of reflections on many things including love, friendship and the music industry, all peppered with Bean’s own brand of optimism cultivated over the years. As the first book I “read for fun” after the exam period, it didn’t disappoint in terms of both the colloquial hilarity one expects from Beans as a writer and the thought-provoking introspection that is found in much of his discography. It is a recommended read for anyone interested in not only Beans’ music but also the history of many venues and artists he’s encountered along the way from Glastonbury to Bonnaroo, Billy Bragg to Flogging Molly. 

I don’t mind my gigs being quite boisterous and loud

So you’ve just finished the “Sitting On a Chair” tour. How was it? How did it compare to your other recent tours like Double Trouble last winter for example?

I really, really enjoyed it. I’m not sure if it was a bit self-indulgent but putting the songs in a different kind of arena almost made the whole shows feel really different and really personal. I like to think my gigs are always kind of relaxed and personal but I think maybe more so. More about the songs and I really loved it. And it’s not like from now on all my gigs are going to be seated. It’s a case of keep changing things up. I didn’t realise quite how different it would be making it seated.

How so?

I just thought it’d be the same sort of thing. I don’t mind my gigs being quite boisterous and loud. That sort of pin-drop isn’t what it’s about with my gigs. With the seated, there was still that vibrancy but it was a different light shone on it and I enjoyed it.

So you can see yourself doing more of that set up in the future?

Yeah definitely. Certainly the older I get. There were quite a lot of people that wrote to me saying “I don’t go to many gigs anymore”. Some people were like, not scared off but “I don’t wanna come to a seated gig”. Fair do’s. But then there were some people that were like “I wouldn’t normally come to a gig”. There were some friends of the family who have never been to a Beans On Toast gig that when they found out it was seated they were like “we would like to come along”. So I guess it opened up somewhat of a new crowd.

So just a little more about the book. You’re now a published author: how does it feel?!

I’m really proud of it actually. I kind of surprised myself by writing a book which I guess is always a good thing to do, to surprise yourself. I never had any ambition to write or ever pictured myself writing a book or anything like that it just… I knew the stories and I’ve been telling them for so long that they were solid and I just started sitting down. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t wanna be like “Hey I’m gonna write a book”. It’s been good to learn new things ya know like I’ve been putting out records for a long time but there’s lingo around books that I didn’t know. “Type-setting” and all these sorts of things that were quite interesting to delve outside of what I’m used to. In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to putting out music. There’s still a banter that I had to learn around books so I feel like I can hold my own now with my ISBN.

Nice! One of my main questions is how does the process compare to songwriting?

Very different actually. I think songwriting is something that happens for me quite instantaneously. I’ll sit down, have a spliff and write a song or two, and over the course of a year, I’ll write an album. The book was written over the course of a year as well but with song-writing obviously, you play it – it has a life afterwards, but the main bulk of it is done with the writing whereas with the book you spend a lot more time dicking around and editing which I found quite tedious.

That’s so interesting, I didn’t think it would be that different. When I was reading it, it reads the same as the music sounds to me.

Well yeah, I suppose it comes from the same place. Telling the stories. The book comes from years of saying them. When it actually came down it wasn’t like sitting down and wondering what would happen next. It was more “this is what happened and how do I get it down in a way that makes sense”. Half of me just wanted to get someone to write it up for me with me just sit there chatting away but I don’t wanna be that guy. Cos I wouldn’t be able to say I wrote a book so I gave it a shot. A lot of people have said that they read it in my voice which is really nice.

I’ll sit down, have a spliff and write a song or two, and over the course of a year, I’ll write an album

One of the things for me that stands out from your music and now your book is the optimism that precedes you to an extent. The book also is really nostalgic for all the independent stages that supported you in your career. I’m just wondering how do you maintain an optimism in regards to seeing so many grassroots venues come under threat or closing their doors?

I mean not making light of the situation by any means – venues are closing and that is bad – but at the same time other places are opening and music’s not going anywhere. I almost feel like the kids need their own venues as well. It’s fair enough having the legendary plaques on the wall but for the new kids coming up it doesn’t mean shit to them. So I think shaking things off, in hard times when people start shutting music venues is when amazingly creative things happen from youth culture, so if there’s an optimistic way to see venues closing I guess it’s just to assume that someone’s got it covered.

I did see today that you’d retweeted a guy citing your book as the reason he was going to start going to more festivals even if that meant going alone and making friends there. I was just wondering if you had any advice for those who might want to see more music and not miss an experience but are potentially anxious or hesitant to go by themselves?

Well, just go, isn’t it! I’ve always enjoyed going out by myself anyway but I know that doesn’t necessarily come as easy to everybody but I think it’s easier to go to a gig than go to a restaurant by yourself. You do blend in, there’s a main focus of attention so it’s not like people are coupled off. I also like to think that at the right gigs, you’re all there under a common understanding so it’s quite easy to start a conversation. I mean you must have at least one thing in common to talk about. I think it’s a little bridge to cross that could be crossing a huge ocean but I think if anyone is apprehensive about it then once you go…I think the whole point of gigs, well, the gigs I wanna go to is that everybody’s there together so how can you be alone in that scenario?

Tilly and Poppy

For me, Beans On Toast has become synonymous with togetherness in the last four years. I went along to the Rough Trade signing thinking I was going to meet a new friend from the Bath show earlier in the month. I ended up bumping into the lovely Poppy and her dad, who I’d met at Beans’ Double Trouble tour last December. The four of us chatted away for most of the evening and if that isn’t symptomatic of a Beans On Toast show, it’s hard to say what is. From seeing him at the O2 supporting Frank Turner in 2014, to a one-off set in Blissfields’ shisha tent at 2am: I’ve been lucky enough to see Jay perform eight times now. His music has become the soundtrack to so many summers, friendships, kisses and laughs shared with some of the best people I know. Fundamentally, Beans’ writing carries an infectious empowerment to strive for love, progress, adventure and optimism in every facet of life. Infinite thanks to Jay, Adam, Bristol’s Rough Trade and all the friends, old and new.

Love stays true while the world goes crazy”.

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