Beans On Toast interview: The importance of music venues

"If you want to get involved, just fucking do it" Henry Lewis caught up with Jay McAllister ahead of his epic run of gigs during Independent Venue Week.

Henry Lewis

Date published: 6th Jan 2017

Image: Beans On Toast

Self professed 'English drunk folk singer' Beans On Toast is a highly revered character in the world of British contemporary folk music. Tackling subjects like sex, drugs, poverty, political skirmishes through his jovial but melancholy tinged music, the singer-songwriter, real name Jay McAllister, is certainly a unique figure.

Continuing a tradition that began in 2009, Beans' latest record, A Spanner In The Works, was released in December of 2016. It delved into a tempestuous 12 months with 'I Think Everybody Should Be Terrified' setting the benchmark for tracks that attack the political monstrosity that was the year gone by. Jay's personable nature helps to create a feeling of togetherness throughout, and through tracks like 'Afternoons In The Sunshine', allows a chink of light to shine through some fairly dark times.

A true figurehead of everything that Independent Venue Week represents, Beans on Toast will perform a gig every night of the event. He will traverse the south of England and Wales to bring his all encompassing protest songs to some of the finest small venues on the circuit.

We caught up with Beans to find out how he is preparing for the shows, and to get his verdict on the benefits of Independent Venue Week.

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Hey Beans, what are you up to as we speak?

I've just finished eating a noodle soup, I'm sat in a music venue actually working on stuff for the Independent Venue Week tour.

Where is that then?

When I'm not touring I actually work at a venue called The Monarch in Camden where I help with the bookings and arrangements. For most of my adult life I've lived above music venues. I lived above a place called Nambucca in the 2000's for about five years. Me and a bunch of mates were living there, putting on shows, playing gigs there but also booking other people's shows but we sadly lost that in a fire and I've been involved with a couple of pubs too.

It's one of the very few jobs where if you want to tour a lot then you can get away with doing that. If your job is to book bands then by being on tour and playing at festivals, you'll meet a lot of other bands which you can bring back to play at the venue. It's lucky because in these tough times for music you'd have a struggle with just one, either touring or working at a venue, so I can make it work with both. So that's why I have a double vested interest in the whole thing because of being a promoter on the other side of the whole music thing.

You've got multiple dates during Independent Venue Week this year, but what have your experiences been like in the past?

I did one show last year for them which was the first time I'd heard about it and the whole thing just made an awful lot of sense to me. This time around it was like "well what shall we do?" and then when we actually looked around at the venues, and there's so many good venues out there, we thought "well we can either do one show, or we can do seven".

So we thought we may as well book in a little whistle-stop tour. I do like tours, but a week feels a bit short for a tour but it makes sense with the event. We just tapped up venues that we knew worked and that were good venues and pieced it together like that.

Do any of the venues you're playing stand out to you, do you have good memories from any of them?

The Smugglers Records gang, who are good friends of mine, I'm playing at their venue down in Deal in Kent. I was actually booked to play the launch of that venue, it must have been a couple of years ago now, and the venue wasn't ready to be opened in time so we moved it to the local village hall. We did quite an epic gig there and I've never been back to The Lighthouse, to the actual venue, so this will be my first time after a failed first attempt.

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Were you invited especially to play each night of IVW?

The thing I like about Independent Venue Week is that it is really DIY,it's not just one person. Obviously there's Sybil and Chloe who set it up but then it's up to the venues and up to the bands to sort their own shit out basically, which is what I like. But no, we didn't get asked specifically actually.

I worked with Adam, who books my shows, and he booked it up with the venues then we went back to the IVW bods and said "this is what we're doing" and they said "great, we'll help to promote it". That's another aspect of it that I really like, it's not someone with this grand plan and pushes it out, it's more like "here's an idea, if you want to get involved just fucking do it; if you've got a venue and you want to be part of it then come and be part of it, if you're a band and you want to be a part of it then book some shows".

You brought out an album in December last year, so I guess this is another good opportunity for you to play it in front of audience, away from your own personal tour?

Yeah, another thing that really spurred on the length of the tour is that there's a song on the album called 'The Drumkit' which is about music venues closing and highlighting the importance of music venues. Because of that there's a certain amount of "put your money where your mouth is" going on too. To be honest, I move pretty fast from one album to the next so I'm pretty excited to play some new tunes from the next album on this next tour.

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Do you bring out an album every December to round up the year, as it were?

It certainly wasn't the case to begin with, but it feels a bit like that now. You could also round up the last 12 months if you brought an album out every June I suppose. A lot of the material is written and recorded in September/October time so when it does come out, I will have missed the next big event! It's certainly a round up of the last 12 months of my life if nothing else.

It's such a good tool though for someone who wants to tour or play festivals, because there's always something in the pipeline and it keeps the wheels turning at a pretty fast rate which works for me.

Looking ahead to a December, what sort of things would you like to be singing about by then? 

As in 2017, the year where humanity sorts out all of its woes and we live in a utopia? [Laughs] A lot of people say "when shit hits the fan, at least it must give you lots of things to write about". I want to make it clear that I don't want the world to get fucking ruined and destroyed just so I've got something to write about. I can write songs about happy stuff as well where we're living without woes and high fiving each other all day, I can definitely write songs about that. Bring on utopia! 

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Guildford - The Boileroom, Monday 23rd January 

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Exeter - The Phoenix, Tuesday 24th January

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Cardiff - Clwb Ifor Bach, Wednesday 25th January

Deal - The Lighthouse, Thursday 26th January

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Brighton - Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, Friday 27th January

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Bath - The Nest, Saturday 28th January

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Reading - Rising Sun Arts Centre, Sunday 29th January

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