Live Review: Beans on Toast, Stereo, Glasgow – 22nd February 2024

Difficult. When you have a 15 year back catalogue and the same number of albums, chock full of smart protest songs, many of which are crowd favourites; not to look back at your younger self and perhaps adjust the sentiments expressed decades ago. For instance, in “The Chicken Song”, a 2014 ditty about an over-fed factory chick that never stops growing and eventually bursts out the building and starts consuming everything. In the last verse, the lyric goes: “Not saying that I’m a vegetarian. “ But tonight, Beans On Toast stops and makes an aside “I wasn’t a vegetarian when I wrote those rhymes but I am f*king now”.  Cheers from the crowd.

Stereo is an independent venue; AUK hasn’t covered that many gigs there but it’s the kind of place we like to encourage. A pub, a restaurant, and a gig venue. It serves vegan food and is part of a group that includes another AUK fave The Glad Café. It’s located in a building that was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The building’s white-tiled, bay-windowed façade fronts into an alleyway so few are aware of this fact. Beans on Toast has played Stereo in Glasgow before, not many of the general public are aware of him either. But he is content with that, happy to have a cohort of fans “who like to dress cool and come out in the week and listen to rock’n’roll”. He loves returning year-on-year, playing the same circuit. When he starts to dwell on the fact that he is now a forty-plus folk singer he reminds himself of Willie Nelson and his tour bus rolling on vegetable oil. He even wrote a song about it “What Would Willie Do?” from “Knee Deep in Nostalgia, 2020”, performed tonight. The audience don’t look like they like country music – but when, in the intro to the song, he asks, they collectively yell “yeah!”

Beans wasn’t always a folk singer, in fact even within tonight’s set he skips around the genres. In his teens he was into gangsta rap, not a surprise for someone born into the early 80’s. His dad was into country, and Beans considered that very uncool, but he ultimately embraced the genre and has several country songs in his catalogue. Beans On Toast is the stage name of Jay McAllister. He is generally ignored by mainstream media – AUK of course is different, a search on here reveals no less than thirty articles, so you could say he is a darling of the free press. “I’m not gonna play those venues sponsored by Coke etc.“ he drops in as an aside at one point. I’m a sucker for subliminal and I find myself thirsting for a cold can of Coke. I ask for one at the bar, they don’t have any.

Beans will say he’s not political, like all good folk singers do, he says he is ultimately optimistic: “Why be political when none of the parties that he could vote for want to stop the war(s)?” Ultimately his view is – we are in control, and we should all try to make a difference. Tonight, he tours with The Beans On Toast Band: the honky-tonk, houndstooth-topped King Killership on keys, Bassie Gracie providing uplifting bass and, Scot, Memphis Gerald on guitar, so McAllister can dispense with his acoustic for a while. There is also a new drummer. With such competence and funk in the band, and an Essex rasp in the singer’s voice, it’s hard not to go a bit .. Blockheady , but that’s not a bad thing in my book. The core of this gig is a nationwide launch of the new album ‘Toothpaste in the Tube’. The set includes the songs ‘Golden Lion’ (a tribute to another independent venue, in Todmorden), the self-explanatory ‘Back Out on the Road’ and ‘Work To Do’ – all from the album. Halfway through I’m thinking, with a band like this, how could you ever-ever possibly go back to being a lone troubadour, and then, as though testing himself, he does just that, a middle request segment, just Beans, guitar and audience singalong.

When the band return, supplemented by a piper (yes!) the air becomes even more light-hearted, with his anthem to a Scottish heritage on his country music loving dad’s side ‘Sunny Sunny Scotland’ Belladrum meets Braintree – there I said it! You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

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