Interview + Review: Beans On Toast @ The Bodega

Abby chats to Jay 'Beans on Toast' before the Bodega outing of his UK headline tour, while Cameron gives a run-down of the 'home-away-from-homecoming' for the indie folk stalwart.

After the release of his 11th album at the start of December, Beans on Toast joined us for a catch up before his Bodega show on Sunday 9th February, a week before the end of his mammoth 25-date tour.

The new album is based heavily around the concepts of social injustice, global warming and ‘the collapse of civilisation’ which, although often feature on a Beans on Toast album, don’t usually make up the backbone of the album like this one. “I’d never write such a depressing batch of songs”, Jay explained that it felt rude to be writing about anything else - “As much as I wanted to sit down and write flowery tunes, I feel like it was just there with me when I sat down”. However, due to the uncharacteristically bleak collection of songs, Jay took the decision to make the music more joyous and ended up doing a rock and roll album. “It went exactly like I imagined it was going to, which is always wicked when that happens”, so he called up Kitty and Lewis and suggested they work together.

As fans are aware, each previous Beans on Toast album has been released on Jay’s birthday on the 1st of December. This deadline doesn’t put any pressure on him though - “It makes it easier I think because I’ve been doing it for so long” and he went on to say “If it started feeling like it was a deadline I just wouldn’t do it”, forcing an album out for the sake of it doesn’t seem like Jay’s style, and if an album then didn’t come out on his birthday then it would probably become an even bigger talking point. The reason why he chooses to maintain the yearly releases though is because that’s what feels right for him; “It feels like my natural output for songwriting”. It enables him to work in the moment and jump at more opportunities such as introducing contributions from the New York Brass Band, whom he met at Glastonbury in the summer.

The release of his next album is set to fall on a special birthday for Jay as he will be celebrating turning 40. He said that ideas have already been floated around for who he wants to work with but nothing has been locked down as of yet, however assures us the celebrations around his big birthday will be reflected in the music so fans have a lot to look forward to towards the end of the year.

“It’s a real honour to have such beautiful musicians playing your songs.”

A Beans on Toast album can easily be divided into writing that features a population compared to specifically focussed on an individual or two. Jay confessed he hasn’t thought about it in that way before but when he writes he naturally switches between one thing and another which is why his albums always sound so varied, as “One song will push another one into existence”. He struggles to spend too long focussing on the deep and critical evaluations of the human population without wanting to write about something different.

On this tour, Jay was joined by Lewis and Kitty, the musical masterminds behind the rock and roll energy in the album, and expert pianist and old-time friend Tensheds, who learnt bass especially for the tour and managed to become a ‘legit’ bass player. “It’s a real honour to have such beautiful musicians playing your songs”, as Jay joked that he is quite a stripped down musician so working with them was a contrast to how he usually creates his music – “Half the time I didn’t know what they were talking about, but we’ve had a great laugh together”.

This interview marked the beginning of the final week of the 25-date tour which started back on 4th December in Reading and is due to finish in London on 15th February - “It will definitely be an emotional end because it will be the end of this chapter…it’s great and sad, it’s a beautiful mix of feelings”. However, as soon as the tour finishes, a second UK tour will be announced and will feature venues and places Jay has not played in before and following on from that is May’s European tour. He also wants to get another Australian tour in too so perhaps that’s a venture after the summer festival period.

“Nottingham has always been very kind with the amount of people who want to come and watch me."

Beans on Toast has been touring for a long time now, but Jay’s favourite place to play out of all of the shows has to be either Glastonbury or Boomtown. “They are a natural home for who I am and what I do and music festivals make a hell of a lot more sense to me than a lot of other things you see going on in this world”. Jay decided on Leeds for his favourite venue of the current tour as he loved both the crowd and the venue, but is most excited for his final London date as he will be playing a venue around the corner from where the album was recorded and across the road from where Kitty and Lewis grew up, referring to it as “Like a proper homecoming” which guarantees an incredible atmosphere for those in attendance.

Sticking to such a strict schedule and releasing an album a year for the last ten years means that Jay has an incredibly busy schedule which a lot of musicians would find difficult to maintain, especially now that he has a two year old daughter that he has to leave behind each time. However, Jay explained “If you added it up, the amount of time I do spend with her it would be more than if I was working nine till five”, and he was very lucky to have three months off when she was born, although he did also confess that it was nowhere near enough time with her.

When asked what he plans to do when the tour finishes, he replied “Definitely hang out with my daughter”, he explained how he has got the art of a hangover sorted when it came to his daughter as he now turns the mornings after into a game in which her role is to bring him blankets and water, and assures us that he will be doing precisely that after the final night of his tour. Despite the distance, he praised touring assets such as Facetime which enable the two to stay close, and they have breakfast together every morning.

Image courtesy of Ghandi! Photography

Historically, Nottingham has been a special place for Jay as it consistently sells out faster than other places he plays, “Nottingham has always been very kind with the amount of people who want to come and watch me”. This time, he decided to mix up the schedule and stray away from the usual Saturday night show at Rescue Rooms and instead decided to play Sunday night at The Bodega. He also spoke about his connection to the vegan fast food restaurant Mocky-D’s, as owner Ben’s mother went to school with Jay’s, so they grew up together as practically cousins, and Nottingham shows always gives them a chance to get together and catch up.

As well as the planned catch up, Jay has also been involved in the creation of a brand new burger at the outlet, which was the focus of a naming competition over the week leading up to the gig. The final name which Jay decided on was the ‘Friar Turk’ and he described the burger to have Turkish tastes to it as well as being very spicy.

Leaving the interview, Jay expressed how excited he was for the show and that he knew the energy would be brilliant as it always is, and that he was then off to meet Ben and his friends to grab some dinner before the show. It’s always a pleasure speaking to an accomplished musician who is also so down to earth and humble, and it proves that the lyrics and music are just as genuine as the man behind them.

The show itself was typical Beans on Toast fare – high energy, feet-moving folk music with the kind of topical variety to strike the nerves of every audience member at some point in the setlist - yet with a communal, pseudo-homecoming Nottingham twist that stood the Bodega show out beyond recent outings at larger venues.

Opening with Money for War from eighth album A Spanner in the Works lived up to the title of the record it can be found on, yet proved to be an effective, galvanising opening to a show loaded with left-leaning grassroots tunes from latest effort The Inevitable Train Wreck. And in line with the canon of Beans on Toast records and the plight of the world as we know it, the Spanner in the Works album and its 2016 release date can almost be said to mark the start of the perceived downfall of civilisation, culminating in the swan song sentiments of Jay McAllister’s most recent full-length. Sure enough, Train Wreck’s opening two tracks followed, bringing the more riotous sonic chemistry of Jay’s latest live band to the forefront of the show, tapping feet and drawing thoughts with equal energy.

"The first chords of breakout tune-turned-indie folk cult anthem M.D.M. Amazing shifted the atmosphere in a way only Jay’s songs can."

The departure of the band following a string of tunes from McAllister’s most recent studio recordings, including deep cuts from the emotionally contrasting A Bird in the Hand, brought the show back to a more familiar Beans on Toast set up – one man stood in the centre of the stage with a guitar, all ears glued to his off-beat, from-the-heart observations. The first chords of breakout tune-turned-cult indie folk anthem M.D.M. Amazing shifted the atmosphere in a way only Jay’s songs can, as a word-perfect singalong with full crowd participation proceeded on cue for the following two-and-a-half minutes.

The likes of The War on War and A Whole Lot of Loving from standout release The Grand Scheme of Things, I’m Home When You Hold Me from the Truckstop Honeymoon collaboration Rolling Up the Hill and Things from 2013’s Giving Everything brought the kind of flickering sense of community which has defined Beans on Toast shows, with Jay seeing the latter as fine excuse to climb The Bodega’s speaker system, only to find the descent to be more challenging than the way up.

What really brought the 9th February outing into its own was the participation of Jay’s friends, including a piano mime session from none other than Mocky-D’s owner Ben. Consolidating the show as a true home-away-from-homecoming was a special performance of the ode to family friends Flying Clothes Line, with its subjects – Ben and his brother – soaking in every moment. The three exchanged hugs in a tear-jerking finale.

Abby Clarke and Cameron Chadwick