On a cold December evening, The Verse met up with self-professed drunk folk singer; Beans on Toast (Jay McAllister), on the penultimate night of his biggest UK tour to date.
Jay offers a beer and invites me to take a seat in the space-age chairs backstage at The Haunt…
Hi Jay, how’s the tour been going?
“Almost been and gone. I mean, London tomorrow and then that’s it, quite sad really. The first bit was proper tour, not going home on an evening, all the way from Scotland to Nottingham. All I need is one night in my own bed and I just forget everything, so when we had 2 days off after hitting the south there was a lot of driving home, so when people asked how I’d been doing, I’d be like; day one fresh as a frickin’ daisy.”
You’ve got your biggest headline gig tomorrow, do you find you get nervous before a big gig?
“I never really get nervous about anything, especially not shows. The only thing playing on my mind is that on this tour I’ve been jumping into the crowd a little bit and I dunno whether I can do it tomorrow because of how high the stage will be and how many people there will be, it may just be annoying for like 95% of the crowd. So I dunno how I’m gonna do that. But otherwise you know, a gig is a gig. I had a few ideas, like we’ve had a brass band play on the album and originally I was like, oh come down and play at the ballroom, but all of a sudden it felt like I had to up my game or man up for the big show. So I was like, lets sack this all off, the only difference is that a few more people are coming to watch. I definitely don’t want to make people think I’ve risen to the occasion. I mean if there’re more people then there’s more people, we’re still gonna play the same old sh*t.”
Do you have any pre gig rituals? I guess we’ve got Stellas in hand…
“Yeah that’s it basically, I haven’t played many sober shows. We’ve been playing a lot of cards on this tour actually, it fills the perfect gap. If you can imagine, there are 3 dudes on this tour, sitting in the car all day, getting pissed all night every night for weeks, cards is the perfect way to have something to do in the pub rather than just be like, so what have you been up to?”
What games do you play?
“Just one game: Sh*thead. If you’re playing the one game everyday with the same people you turn into f*cking masters. Absolute masters. And I won tonight, King of Brighton.”
So as the King of Brighton, have you visited here before?
“Oh f*ck yeah. I used to go out with a girl from Worthing, way way back in the day. She was a Sagittarius too and we always used to go swimming in the sea on her birthday in like mid December. You know it might even be her birthday today, that’d be insane, may have to go swimming in the sea…[checks phone for date] ahh tomorrow. Erm but yeah, I’ve always loved it, considered living here for a while, it’s just one of the fun cities of the UK, it’s got its own kind of feel and its own attitude. It’s quite random, a little bit Mardi-Gras, but I’m well up for it.”
So obviously you finish tomorrow, will you be sad?
“Well y’know its not like its gonna be the last f*cking tour. If it was finishing and I didn’t know what I was going to be doing for the whole of next year I’d be a bit sad but there’ll be more to come.”
What are your plans after this then?
“Well I’m getting married straight away after the tour and then go off on honeymoon.”
Are you looking forward to it?
“Yeah man definitely, its great… and then yeah, next year got loads on. Back out to the states in March, which will be cool. Just sorted out going to AfrikaBurn, which is South Africa’s Burning Man festival. We’ve booked a couple of gigs that will cover the travel and then just get out there. A week in the desert!”
In terms of albums, you release a new record every year on your birthday. How did you get into that routine?
“When you start doing music you just invite all your mates to your gigs, but there’s a point where you have to stop inviting your friends and hope that people who like the music will come. Around the first album I was on the cusp of that and my mate said, look we’ve seen you 30 times now we don’t wanna come, we don’t wanna Facebook event, you’re a nice guy and all but we’re not coming. A handful of people had started to come to my gigs because they liked the tunes, I didn’t know them. So I thought what if I do a birthday party and a gig, my mates will come back and the people who are coming for the gig will come too; I’ll have more people in the room. So I did. About a year later there was another album ready so we put it out on the same day, and…”
The rest is history…
“Haha yeah. It makes sense, I mean if you want to play the festival circuit every year it’s quite a hard sale if they’re like, well you played last year. If you can say yeah but we’ve got a whole new album out since last year, then it’s like okay, fair dos.”
How did you get into writing? Was there something that happened and you just thought, I need to write a song about that?
“Not really, I used to play in a 3-chord grunge band and I wrote all the songs, which I think stemmed from not being able to play other people’s songs. It definitely wasn’t like, I think someone needs to hear this. As much as my songs can be quite opinionated I don’t think I am right in what I am saying or that anyone should agree with what I am saying, its just an opinion.”
You always refer to your 3-chord master plan, did that stem from your grunge band?
“Its just ‘cos they’re the only ones I know. I think I had a book where it was like, play all these songs with 3 chords. I thought surely if you can play all them songs with 3 chords you could do so many more.”
Jay’s phone rings and he excuses himself to answer. On the way back in he grabs another beer from the fridge, the pre-gig ritual going strong.
What happens after the gig then?
“That is one of the best things about touring; you get instant friends from every city you go to. If you do want a big night out, there’s a queue of people wanting to show you around town, certainly from touring America. We would be on stage and just ask the crowd if anyone is up for hanging out… I don’t know where I’d go in Brighton on a Wednesday night, I guess the Fishbowl is my favourite boozer in town.”
How do you go about choosing your support act?
“Will [Varley] and I played a show a few years ago and I became absolutely obsessed with him, he’s my favourite songwriter out there. I checked out some of his stuff before playing the gig and was like f*cking hell this is amazing, bought the album and became obsessed. I was in awe of him, getting all worried about what I was gonna say to him and my girlfriend was like f*cking chill out Jay this guy is opening for you man, what’s going on? We hit it off that night and I sort of forced my friendship upon him, think he just thought I was a p*sshead though. We did a bunch of shows on the tour last year, he’s on his 3rd album now, doing really well, I mean he’s no spring chicken to this touring malarkey anyway. We get on really well though, he was the obvious choice, and it has been the perfect choice. I like to think that when people come to the gig they can see we’ve spent time in planning and that goes the same with Joe Potter too [second support]. So we’ve put a lot of thought into the support but it’s also just helping each other out and getting mates on board.”
Its probably one you get asked a lot, and in saying that you can probably predict what I’m going to ask…
“Haha, is it why are you called Beans on Toast…”
I’ve watched a few of your previous interviews and haven’t found an actual reason…
“I think it’s quite descriptive. It’s English, it’s cheap, it’s easy.”
Obviously your songs are quite opinionated so I wanted to do a quick word association thing to end on.
“So what, you say a word and I just say whatever pops into my head? Sounds like I’m going to be terrible at this but go on.”
Quick and snappy…
“I’m gonna close my eyes for this.”
“… I’m gonna say gay”
Thanks very much for you’re time Jay, I really enjoyed it.
“It was the 90s set up that did it I think. *Looks toward the wall and the penis’ drawn all over it* I was once in a venue and on the back of a cubicle it had written; If you can’t draw a crowd, draw a cock. Best piece of advice I’ve ever had.”
Interview by: Gavin Jones