Review: Beans on Toast at Wedgewood Rooms (09/12/2014)

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Following a very busy year of touring the USA, appearing at many major festivals and supporting Frank Turner throughout his tour in February, Jay McAllister (better known under pseudonym Beans on Toast) has been travelling the length of the UK following the release of his new album The Grand Scheme of Things. True to form, the album was released on 1st December which, this year, marked his 34th birthday. But this new age was not the only change the album seems to mark; where before his songs were a mixture of often explicit criticisms of society and a celebration of drug-taking, The Grand Scheme of Things sees this drunk folk singer appreciate the finer and somewhat more domestic things in life, such as new fiancé Lizzy’s cooking skills and the importance of a Whole Lot of Loving.

However, his gig at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth did not stray from tradition; while his wilder days and cocaine habit may be behind him, a Beans on Toast gig is still a far cry from a formal or organised event and remain as politically incorrect as ever.

Beans has been accompanied throughout his tour by Will Varley. His Portsmouth gig also had an appearance from long-time friend and local artist Sam McCarthy who played a short but well-received set. Varley played for a fantastically varied 40 minutes which were also highly appreciated by the crowd. His folk music ranged from touching songs discussing love, life and family such as Weddings and Wars to the rather comic ramblings with which he closed his set in the song I Got This E-mail. Each and every song he played was well written and engaging, his presence on stage unshakeably comfortable and his classic guitar sound a constant pleasure.

The main focus of Beans on Toast’s own set, as perhaps expected, was his new album The Grand Scheme of Things. However, a rigid set-list is never a feature of a Beans on Toast gig and, as is his custom, McAllister had soon left the stage and was performing from within the crowd, calling for song requests. As a result the crowd were treated to a series of old favourites as well as new-album highlights including The War on War, A Whole Lot of Loving and Lizzy’s Cooking. McAllister seems very much at one with his audience, even after a potentially atmosphere-ruining moment in which security guards threw out a man who had been invited onto the stage. The gig’s friendly atmosphere was nevertheless soon revived with The Chicken Song, McAllister returning to the crowd and making his position regarding the incident implicitly clear. The show ended in a rather unusual but particularly memorable fashion when, just as gig attendees began to filter out of the venue, the self-named drunk folk singer began to call for further requests, creating an impromptu camp-fire style circle on stage to deliver his final song, Flying Clothes Line.

It was clear that the crowd had thoroughly enjoyed the gig and its light-hearted, playful atmosphere. Not only are McAllister’s songs thought-provoking and original, but his performance is open and warm, an approach which always ensures that the audience goes home happy.

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