Review: Beans on Toast – Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast

Beans on Toast is known for his ‘drunken folk’ style, his hilarious stories and his down to earth style of performing.  His Sitting On A Chair tour marks not only the release of his debut book Drunk Folk Stories, but also the re-release of his 2009 album Standing on a Chair.  Beans (aka Jay McAllister) performed an intimate gig at The Black Box as part of the Cathedral Arts Quarter Festival.  He is one of the rare artists that can sing one song about getting drunk at a festival and then move onto a touching love song and it all comes together as one whole set.

The evening started with singer/songwriter Daniel Lucas (Boss Caine).  His husky and raw voice mixed with songs about whiskey, cigarettes and general stories from his life made for a fantastic beginning to the evening.  He was incredibly interactive with the crowd as he explained the origin of his songs; a particularly entertaining one was the precursor to “Dead Man’s Suit”.  Lucas continuously injected humour into his performance as he regularly plugged his merch whilst drinking his pint inbetween songs. He did a brilliant job of setting the tone for the evening and creating a chilled and relaxed atmosphere.

Beans on Toast continued the chilled-out vibe that Daniel had created as he nonchalantly walked onto the stage, said hello and then started playing “Afternoon in the Sunshine”.  Straight away we were exposed to the interpersonal and relatable lyrics that we love.  It was difficult to find someone in the room that wasn’t instantly smiling once he started to play.

The venue itself was a fantastic set up for a sit down and personal gig.  Tables were filled with tea light candles and pints and most people were sitting comfortably (it was a very full gig). As most people were sitting down Jay was able to go into more detail with his stories that have become synonymous with his live performances.   He frequently started his songs with narratives describing the origin of the song or the memories associated with them.  We were even gifted with one of his ‘Drunk Folk Stories’.  He opted to not do a formal book reading (which would have felt out of character) but reminisced and chatted as though we were his mates down at the local pub.

The mixture of anecdotes and a topically diverse setlist was a wonderful throwback to traditional folk music.  His musical topics varied between political musings, love songs for his wife, drunken memories and social injustices.  He played so many songs including “The War on War”, the classic “MDMAmazing”, “The Chicken Song” (which will definitely have you questioning your next trip to Nando’s) and the wonderfully captivating “I’m Home When You Hold Me”.

The entire night was incredibly personal and felt like one of your mates had grabbed a guitar and started to sing as opposed to an organised gig.  A stand out moment for me, that showed the laid-back nature of the performance, was when Jay took a quick ‘wee’ break in the middle and urged everyone to go and use the toilet before we all sat down again.  The constant checking of the time and asking what time we went on stage also added to the fact that we were not simply watching a planned out setlist, but it was personal and specific to Belfast.  It felt like you could go to every gig on the tour and no two performances would be the same.