Interview: Beans on Toast
Beans on Toast (or Jay McAllister) is an artist that can have you laughing one moment and then philosophically contemplating life at the change of a song. His folk-style music covers a range of topics including love, drugs and politics. With the upcoming release of his debut book ‘Drunk Folk Stories’; an upcoming UK tour and the re-release of his debut album what better time than to catch up with the man himself.
Gigging NI: Your music always follows a very simplistic style with the lyrics at the forefront. Why do you opt for this particular style?
Jay: It’s just kind of how it’s always been. For me it is all about the words as well and I guess by keeping the music simple it does make it more about that. I’ve played with various bands over the years and on recordings but whenever I do it’s still like turn the vocals up and let everything else kind of sit in the background basically. I think that’s just the style of music it’s always been. It’s kind of like if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
GNI: I have always loved that when listening to your music one moment you will be singing about a drunken night and the next you’re tackling serious political issues. Is there a decision process when it comes to your writing or is it pretty spontaneous?
Jay: I guess if you categorised all of my songs you could probably put them into Sex, Drugs and Politics which was almost a kind of blue print that started. It’s not that I feel I have to write about this and write about that. It just sort of comes out as a fairly even spread. I suppose when I’m playing live I’m sort of conscious that no one really wants five love songs on the trot.
So, you do kind of naturally bounce between the different subject matters and, sort of like, have a bit of a soppy one and then a more serious one afterwards. I guess its in order to keep the show moving and keep people entertained I’ll bounce between them. Song subject matter is all sort of stuff that’s happening in my life. Whether it’s on the world stage and I’m thinking about it or it’s in my own personal relationship. It’s just jotting down thoughts and feelings as they come through.
GNI: Moving onto your new tour, there are some differences with the Sitting on a Chair tour. What is it that made you change your performance style with this anniversary tour?
Jay: I play so many random gigs, over the years every now and then I turn up at a venue and it’s kind of seedy anyway and my general rule of thumb is if the crowd is sat down then I’ll pull up a chair and sit down as well. But, them shows I have done I have always enjoyed.
One that stands out actually, is I was playing in San Francisco and I had a spare day and I was trying to sort of put together a random gig. The booking that I had got was a bit confusing; the guy almost booked me to play at the Happy Hour. He just thought I was going to be sat in the background playing background music to normal people in the bar. I then promoted the show, quite a lot of people turned up, but it was a sort of sit down bar atmosphere, so I pulled up a chair.
Oh, another thing was the guy was like ‘can you play for three hours?’ which I guess people that do background music can do but that’s a f***** long time for a gig. I just said well we’ll see how it goes. So, it was a really nice crowd that turned up and it was early evening and I pulled up a chair. I’m always quite chatty on stage but normally I try and stop myself when I’m like “Bloody hell Jay you’re talking too much, just do the job.” Whereas this gig I was like f*** it I’ve got three hours, so I thought I may as well just let rip. Rather than stop myself talking just sort of let loose. I really enjoyed the show and my wife that was there was like wow that was best gig I’ve seen in ages just because it was so different.
So that sat in my head and my first album was called ‘Standing on a Chair’ so we thought well we’ll just do a seated tour. Then also the book also all ties itself in. It makes more sense if you’re doing something around a book and more about stories to then put it in a kind of theatre set up. We’ve tried to find venues that are suitable for it. It’s still not going to be serious – my worry is people fearing they can’t go to the toilet or to the bar. We’ve tried to find venues where the bar is in the room and it’s not like lines of people stood up awkwardly trying to find their seats. It’s still got to be fun and relaxed, it’s just the show will just be a bit more chatty and perhaps digging a little bit deeper into the songs I guess. I’m also not getting any younger. Good thing about folk music is old people are allowed to sing it so moving forward there might be more tours like this.
GNI: You played at Sunflowerfest last year and were named day three’s act of the day on the Gigging NI website. How do you find being in Northern Ireland and is there anything in particular that you like about it?
Jay: The Sunflowerfest festival booked taxis for me to get me to and from the airport and the chap that picked me up called Dan/Danny was an absolute hero. It started off funny as my name was down as Beans on Toast. Dan/Danny was just like I’ve had the strangest weekend; I’m picking up people with the most stupidest names from the airport. I’ve had Crazy P, Rubberbandits and now Beans on Toast. Me and him got on a treat; he drove me to the festival we got on and I got hammered afterwards and he drove me back.
Drunkenly I somehow convinced him to take me on a bit of a tour of Belfast the following day, as I believe a lot of taxi drivers do. He basically picked me up two hours before my flight and drove me round and took me through all the murals and all the history about it. He took me to where he got shot. It was strange because it was obviously quite emotional with the history, but he still had a beautiful attitude towards it and had sort of a hopeful angle on it all. Then he took me for a pint and dropped me off at the hotel.
One of the downsides of touring is places can sort of flash by in front your eyes and you don’t really get to see them so opportunities like that where you get the real deal are great. I’m not going to pretend I sort of understand all of the history there from one afternoon, but it was nice to see it and hear it sort of straight from the horse’s mouth. I also really enjoyed Sunflowerfest, it’s a very special event and a brilliant weekend.
GNI: Your shows always seem really relaxed and chilled and so I always wondered what your pre and post gig routine would be?
Jay: Drinking. As long as I’m drunk I’m alright. I think over all the years I’ve only played a handful of gigs sober and that was because like I had to drive or something.
GNI: So I’ll move onto the release of your debut book Drunk Folk Stories (released 1st May). What made you decide to write a book and is there anything significant with the timing of it?
Jay: It’s something I never thought I would do to be honest. Most of it was written last year, I was on a tour in Germany. I was travelling by myself and I was on the train so everyday I’d have like three or four hours on the train and I was just like I need a project to get stuck in to. All of the stories in the book I’ve been telling for years on stage or just down the pub with some friends or what not.
I didn’t really say anything to anybody else I was just like I’ll just see; I’ll write them down and see what happens. I found out things about the stories that I didn’t even know when I wrote them down. They had quite a lot of body to them, talking about where I was in my life at that point. I actually really started to enjoy the process of reminiscing and jotting them all down. I just got stuck into it basically and then once it was written I got my head around someone spellchecking the thing and turn it into a book and how you go about that.
This is literally the first opportunity that I would have had to release it since writing it I guess. It arrived in physical form yesterday. It’s not that I’m not proud of all of the albums I’ve released and the music I’ve made but because seeing my name on a book is such a surprise to me it’s different. The pre-orders have done really well; it’s certainly covered its costs which in my world makes that a success. So yeah, it’s an incredible feeling, it’s nice to surprise yourself and that’s definitely what I’ve done here. So yeah there wasn’t really a why as such it’s just because I could I guess.
Beans on Toast plays Black Box on Thursday 10th May. Tickets on sale now – buy yours here.