These days the word “gig” appears to be the conventional name for a smaller musical performance, as opposed to “concert” which connotes to something a lot more stadium-sized and mega. Beans On Toast at the Phoenix certainly wasn’t a concert, but it also wasn’t a gig either; I would call it more of a musical narrative in an intimate and safe space. Did it merit the £10 I had to pay for admission? I would say it did! It was a pleasing – if not a little unconventional – night, and here’s why…
Foremost, when you’ve paid for a ticket to see a political, folk songwriter called Beans On Toast, you immediately begin to expect what you’ve paid for. I’ve seen other folk artists such as Jake Bugg, but Beans On Toast was something else; expressing policies he feels strongly about such as legalising marijuana and Trump’s strong-willed stances on abortion and immigration. Jay McAllister, the man who is Beans, never shied away from his beliefs and neither did his audience. It was magical to be part of a group of spectators that were so like-minded in domestic affairs and were also so laid-back and friendly! No mosh pitting and throwing pints at the stage for this gig; it was just a community of people from different backgrounds, ages and professions forming a troupe against Trump and austerity.
A fairly-drunken Jay shared many anecdotes with us. These included the time his home burnt down whilst he was sipping coconut milk from a coconut whilst relaxing on a hammock; about all of the love notes he kept under his bed in a shoebox; about a time where he was in a bar in Bedford when a fan approached him and told him that Jay had “inspired” him to start taking drugs. It was at this point when Jay did something I have never seen any musical artist do before – he performed what he called a “sandwich song”. He began playing M. D. M Amazing (a song about doing MDMA at a festival). At its halfway point he stopped playing the song and started playing The Children of Bedford, a song about how the former was written not to glorify drugs and encourage others to try them, but instead to disclose a story of when he did drugs himself. After the latter was performed, Jay continued straight into the end of M. D. M Amazing and – I must say – it was quite an amazing idea. Even if he did forget the words to his most prominent song, the exceptional performance meant that he was easily forgiven.
Speaking to him about his latest album A Spanner in the Works during an interview two months beforehand, we discussed how of all the songs on the album (apart from 2016) were all made on a laptop, talking about its software capabilities in comparison to an actual studio. The songs on the album don’t feature any pre-recorded guitar, which is what Beans is traditionally recognised for. What surprised me is that the songs on this album were performed on the night actually using the guitar – it was nice to see them transcended onto six guitar strings. Having said that however, I would have liked to have heard the songs as closely replicated to how they sound on the album, as it would have made things a bit more familiar.
Beans On Toast was an unusual but enjoyable night. I would recommend his work to musicians and political activists alike. Left-wing, though, probably not so much to those on the Right!