Live review: Beans on Toast

Bootleg Social, Blackpool, 7 May

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Jay McAllister, aka Beans on Toast, is playing Blackpool for the first time. Bootleg Social has firmly established itself on the small gig circuit and artists like Beans are now realising there’s good reason to head across the M55. He does so without fanfare, gracing the stage with just a guitar and bare feet, but the crowd are less laid-back about it. They chant his every word back to him. They don his merch. They’re local fans but they follow this man with his message of peace, love and a good laugh everywhere he goes.

Beans is playing his People and Places tour and there is another reason he’s come to this place – as well as Grimsby, Weston-super-Mare, Ramsgate, Frome and other seaside spots. In 2020 he moved to the Kent coast and became aware of the extent of the acts of environmental pollution being carried out by Southern Water. In response he wrote, and recorded with the Kentish Folk collective, new track Swimming In It. The result, “a fun party tune, about why it’s a bad idea to put shit into the sea”, sums up Beans well.

But Not Everybody Thinks We’re Doomed, Beans points out on one track, from his 14th album, 2021’s Survival of the Friendliest, setting out his stall early in the night. Even the hardest of hearts can’t help but grin and dance along to the infectious good vibes emanating from the punk-poet-musician. Much like his moniker suggests, Beans on Toast writes easy, tasty, wholesome songs that are both comforting and familiar. Musical motifs include love, drugs, the environment and politics, though he never takes himself too seriously – to the benefit and entertainment of this Saturday night crowd. His protest songs, although meaningful, aren’t too stodgy. The War on War, for example, points out the futility of the war on drugs – in a world that is so obsessed with war, what else should we do than love one another and light up a spliff? It’s not exactly breaking new ground, but it is common ground and the crowd are fired up enough to follow Beans into his peaceful revolution. They even pretend to be trees when he asks them to during Tree of the Year.

Sometimes he plays with a small band, others with an extra musician, and although Beans may be playing solo tonight he’s anything but lonely – standing just two metres away from the people at the front. The evening becomes a good ol’ singalong that would be complemented perfectly by a campfire, but after a year and a half of isolation, we’re all happy to be back indoors and this kind of intimate event seems like the balm we all need.

You might not call him a lyrical genius, but Beans’s appeal lies in his storytelling and relatability, which come across in both his lyrics and his anecdotes between songs. His heart’s on his sleeve as he shares stories of his past loves, of his daughter, of how he met his partner. Before playing Let’s Get Married Again he announces that a couple in the crowd had emailed ahead of the gig to tell him they are in fact getting married again and brings them to the front for a “first” dance. The crowd cheer and clap as the pair spin each other around. Beans On Toast’s message of peace and love is clearly having an effect.

Beans has a knack for getting his audience on his side, sweet-talking Blackpool locals with such compliments as “Why are the seagulls so much more polite in Blackpool?”. You sometimes become more engrossed in his comedy than his music – a bit of reorientation and he could easily do musical stand-up.

All this is to say that Beans on Toast is every bit a man of the people. The whole night felt like chatting in the local with likeminded folk. In fact, that came later. Before wrapping up his set Beans announces he’ll be going to a karaoke bar after and wants everyone to join him. Of course, they all do.

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