Beans on Toast @ Tram and Social, London 28.05.15

Like the classic British snack, the croaky-voiced Essex-via-Hackney singer-songwriter is humble, unassuming and easy to love.

May 28th, 2015 at Tram and Social, London / By Ben Wood
Beans on Toast @ Tram and Social, London 28.05.15 Jay MacCallister, aka Beans on Toast, is an old-fashioned cult hero, a natural communicator who admits his (pretty basic) tunes all ‘have the same chords’ and ‘sound like Billy Bragg’. He’s not wrong - but these tales of love and social comment are full of heart, humour and attitude. And in an era when few musicians seem to comment on social matters, he has plenty to say on the Tories, factory farming, racism, religion... you name it. It’s all pretty basic liberal humanist stuff - but in an era of UKIP and ‘scrounger-bashing’, his decency and passion is refreshing indeed.

Six albums down the line, he has garnered a rabid audience who hang on his every word. They’re more like the crowd you might see at an Alabama 3 or Madness gig - a few old punky types, people of all stripes and a refreshingly low hipster count. This lot are here for the beers and the camaraderie, not the pose - and while he may have knocked the chemicals on the head, the self-proclaimed ‘drunk folk singer’ is a master at getting the party started.

A healthy-sized crowd has been nicely warmed up by the support act, Jay’s mate Benjamin Folke Thomas, whose charisma and guitar skills go down a treat - but there’s no doubt who the crowd is waiting for. When Beans on Toast comes on, he is confident enough to start, solo, with a song inspired by the Tory General Election triumph. One song, with the catchy refrain “I’m Gonna Kill David Cameron”, nails his colours to the mast alright - with this performer, you’re in no doubt where he stands!

Tonight he’s accompanied by the banjo and harmonica of Bobby Groves, and the duo begin with a song about the pleasures of playing gigs (“it’s not about the money...”). ‘The War on War’ sees the man who used to sing frankly about his fondness for Ecstasy and cocaine admit that he just sticks to beer and spliffs nowadays - while declaring that he regrets nothing, and suggesting that a war on war would be a lot more beneficial than the so-called ‘War on Drugs’. The anthemic, reggae-tinged ‘No More Charlie’ (sung in his ‘reggae voice’!), is pretty self-explanatory. But to confirm he hasn’t gone all straight-edge, Jay sings audience favourite ‘MDMAzing’, a tale of a loved-up Glastonbury hook-up.

Jay is a man of strong opinions, but he’s no ranter - while ‘Fuck You Nashville’, one of several audience participation numbers, expresses his disappointment at a flop gig at the home of country, he ends on a final verse thanking it for inspiring his song. Elsewhere, his old-school talking blues style covers such issues as playing Glastonbury and the madness of a fast food industry that charges 25p per chicken.

At various moments Beans steams into the crowd, microphone lead trailing, to meet his people; calls out religious extremists of all stripes in ‘God is a Terrorist’; and has a bizarre dad-rock moment when getting his mate Folke Thomas back out to play Dire Straits’ ‘Walk of Life’ (!). We are exhorted not to play the scapegoat game in ‘Don’t Believe the Bullshit’; and a certain royal personage’s man of the people credentials are questioned in ‘Harry in a Helicopter’.

The tone gets soppier towards the end as the recently married Jay sings several songs dedicated to his wife Lizzy Bee, and the crowd raise their glasses to her in tribute. The likes of ‘Keep You’ show this is a man head-over-heels in love, and it suits him. Ahh!

Nearly an hour and a half in, Beans is reluctant to leave the stage, and the crowd is reluctant to let him go. Eventually both sides must go their separate ways, thanks to the iron law of the curfew. But not before it has been established once more that everyone loves beans on toast.