Anyone who’s seen Beans On Toast before will know his act isn’t one for corporate arenas, making him the perfect champion for Independent Venue Week, which he’s supporting with seven days of gigs across Southern England and Wales.
That’s not to say the Braintree singer-sonwriter can’t hold his own on the big stage. He’s a regular at festivals all over the country and over the past few years has supported Frank Turner many times during his friend’s rise to fame, culminating at Wembley Arena in 2012.
While he used to stand on a chair during performances, to get a crowd’s attention, these days – while you are still likely to catch him playing back rooms of pubs or dirty downstairs venues – his fanbase is big enough to ensure regular audience interaction.
And indeed it’s an intimate venue where Jay McAllister, aka Beans On Toast, finds himself tonight in Brighton’s Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, playing to around 150 people. Support bands come in the form of Pog, a local punk/folk band with chirpy accordion and violin accompaniment, and Gecko, a North London singer-songwriter with comedic lyrics and plenty of on-stage charisma.
Having watched both bands from the crowd while selling his own merchandise, Beans On Toast soon arrives, in a rare surprise, early to the stage. It’s apt that he kicks off with ‘Folk Singer’, a self-referential song about his career as an independent artist with a “three-chord masterplan” and his love of music and freedom over making money.
In truth, all his songs are introspective, and he’d be the first to admit it. “You’re left to roam and travel round / Making up songs about the stories that you’ve found”, he sings. And, of course, he has plenty to say. His anti-Trump anthem ‘I Think Everybody Should Be Terrified’ couldn’t be clearer with its message, albeit without any of the anger of similar protest singers.
Indeed, it’s the underlying truth in his performances, both lyrically and during between-song banter, that often forms the most interesting part of a Beans On Toast gig. “The only way out of this shit is love”, he astutely says before dedicating romantic ballad ‘I’m Home When You Hold Me’ to his wife Lizzy B, who’s watching alongside the stage.
While it’s true he’s found a soppy side with age, what follows next is genuinely adorable, as he sings a special tune penned especially for young couple Jamie and Lily – a nurse and a teacher, although Jay can’t remember which – who he met last time he was playing in Brighton, and both separately emailed asking him to play a song for the other one tonight.
The main reason we are here though isn’t forgotten, with a trio of songs celebrating independent venues – ‘The Pub in Holloway’ about the fire at Nambucca, ‘Sold Out Shows’ and its anti O2 Arena message, and ‘The Drum Kit’ from new album ‘Spanner in the Works’ detailing small venues’ struggle to stay open against a world of housing development.
The night continues in its usual oscillation between sublime and ridiculous in that fine line that only Beans on Toast can tread. A later highlight sees new song ‘The Unlikely Gymnast’ debuted in which Jay imagines – following a meeting with a family of gymnasts in Scarborough – his potential athletic career, and one-man mission “to make gymnastics sexy again”.
In a short hour-long set there’s just about time for fan favourites ‘Dirty Paki’ and ‘Price of Rice’, although the latter is abruptly halted when Beans remembers he wants to end – as a tribute to Brighton’s stoners – with ‘It’s Only Natural’ instead.
A final fan request follows for ‘Junk Food Sex’, and in typically brilliantly shambolic fashion ends early as Jay can’t remember the words. But, then again, that’s exactly what nights like this – at Independent Venues rather than slick corporate arena shows – are all about.