I helped a girl get into the Adelphi – after she punched a bouncer
Festival favourite Beans on Toast drops by in Preston next week, en route for an outdoor date in Scotland. MALCOLM WYATT talked fracking, the great outdoors, love, social media and much more with him...
I’m not usually one for Wikipedia, but for today’s interviewee the entry starts “Beans on Toast is a British folk singer. He sings about sex, drugs and politics”.
Go to his Facebook and Twitter pages and you find the more succinct: “drunk folk singer”.
Yet this is no novelty act, as thousands of festival-goers either know already or will find out afresh this summer.
A busy itinerary includes dates at Glastonbury, Camp Bestival and BoomTown Fair among appearances across the UK.
And the man himself – his name’s Jay, so I’ll go with that – calls at Preston’s 53 Degrees next Friday (June 13), en route for Dumfries and Galloway’s Eden Festival.
Things are going well for this Essex-born, East London–based barefoot troubadour, and there’s his Next Album Tour from November too, celebrating his sixth long player.
“Never before have I announced a tour six months in advance, but it was a case of stepping up the game before the festivals kicked in.
“Half of the album’s not been written yet.
“But I kept referring to it as the next album tour, so stuck with that.”
Jay’s been playing Glastonbury since 2007, and his al fresco music habit is laid bare in the delightful Post-Bestival Festival Blues. Does he have any particular favourites?
“I’ve been playing Glastonbury a few years, going as a punter for years before that. I was 16 when I first went. It really was life-changing, a moment when I thought this makes more sense to me than … erm, PC World.
“That was 1997. I’ve never missed one since, so it’s always going to be special.
“But it’s not a competition, in the same way you shouldn’t put bands up against each other. They’re all great in different ways. I pretty much enjoy them all.”
I imagine Beans on Toast as the surprise festival act people might not know anything about before, but then come back raving about.
“Yeah, my music belongs to the outdoor experience. But I’m doing tours now and people are coming after seeing me elsewhere.
“That comes from playing stages for years where I wasn’t even on a line-up, presuming no-one was there specifically for me. You need to entertain the crowd.”
The band name may help. Not as if I know what his surname is anyway.
“Well yeah. I just call myself Beans on Toast, innit! I suppose it helps to stand out on a line-up.
“That said, I had a weird one last year when people started texting, and my Twitter went off, saying ‘Beans on Toast on Radio One … on the morning show!’
“Turns out they were doing a competition, going through the Glastonbury line-up, picking out silly band names, deciding whether they were real or not.
“As it was, the DJ said I was definitely real, so that kind of rescued the situation.”
Are you getting around by camper van this summer?
“Actually, I passed my driving test recently, so after having been driven round for years I’ve now got a Ford Fiesta and a pop-up tent.
“Bobby, who plays with me, works for a bell tent company, so I have a nice one.
“Last year I took a whole new approach, through sheer laziness and the fact I was doing so many festivals a week.
“I slept in car parks, in my pop-up, leaving all my stuff inside the car. But it didn’t really work out. Car parks aren’t quite as pretty.
“Preston’s en route for my next festival, so it’s a warm-up for Eden. It’s good to break the journey up, but also hit the ground running.”
How’s work going on album number six? Will you be writing on the road?
“The songs come as and when. I’ve a lot about America because I did a tour there. Generally, my writing’s about what I’ve been doing the last 12 months.
“I tend not to think too much about it. I can’t think of anything worse than trying to write a song.”
You’re obviously prolific – not many acts can boast a 50-track double disc debut album for a start (2009’s Standing on a Chair).
“There is that, plus the fact that more or less all the songs sound pretty much the same!
“The words come pretty naturally. It’s not like I’m trying to break boundaries.
“At the end of the day it’s just a three-chord folk song.”
So how is the ‘three-chord master plan’ mentioned in Things coming on?
“Well, it’s ok. I’m talking to you, aren’t I?
“People must be slightly interested.”
Ever have problems remembering all the words?
“All the time. But if I forget, I just play a different song or make them up. Yet there’s quite a large chunk of my back catalogue I can’t play.”
That brings me onto the press description as ‘drunk folk singer, barefoot troubadour and cult legend’. Is that fair?
“Yeah, although I hope it wasn’t me who said ‘cult legend’. There are people around me who help with press releases, I guess I must have okay’d it.”
Words like ‘unpredictable’ and ‘controversial’ are used about your songs and performances. How about that?
“If anything, the unpredictability comes from the lack of a plan and a mission statement of trying to have as much fun as possible.
“As for ‘controversial’, I wouldn’t really say that, it’s just that I speak my mind.”
What will we get at 53 Degrees?
“It’ll be me and my main man, Bobby Banjo. Him on banjo, harmonica and a bit of guitar, which is cool, because now and again it allows me to bust out my dancing moves.”
“I’ve put a few small crews together before now. It’s easy to get a band together in summer when it’s a case of free tickets for festivals. Then we tend to record an album, then disband.
“Last year, I did it completely solo, just me and my girlfriend driving around. This time it’ll be two of us.
“If you expect to do the same festivals every year, you’ve got to bring something different – in my case a bunch of new songs and a different stage set-up.”
Jay’s profile was raised by touring with rising star Frank Turner too. Is he good to be around?
“Fantastic. What he’s done to help me out is second to none. He extends hands and favours everywhere.”
Jay’s also had links with Mumford & Sons, not least with Ben Lovett producing the first album. Do you keep in touch?
“Not as much, when someone’s schedule becomes that busy. But I compered their Gentlemen of the Road show in Lewes last year.
“I did a couple of songs and spent the day introducing bands like Vampire Weekend and The Vaccines,
“It was a beautiful thing to be part of, and raised over £2m for local businesses and the economy.
“People complain about festivals, moan about the noise and rubbish, but on the flipside – £2m raised!”
Anyone with a guitar and a bit of attitude is deemed something of a Billy Bragg figure. Is that someone you look up to?
“Big time, from when I first went to Glastonbury. Since then I’ve worked with him on projects like Jail Guitar Doors, getting guitars into prison, and played with him at Glastonbury.
“He’s gone from being a huge inspiration to someone you meet and can talk to. He’s a good guy and lives up to it.”
How did Jay end up making that step up from being a regular festival-goer and member of a band obsessed with Placebo to what he does now?
“When that came to an end I kept on writing. My intention was to start another band.
“Then I played a few of those songs at an open mic slot at Glastonbury.
“It was preaching to the converted really, doing a bunch of songs about being wasted at a festival. It soon became clear that I didn’t have to start another band.”
You’ve visited the North-West a bit in recent years. Has that included Preston visits?
“Yes, I played an event for a Strummerville charity about two and a half years ago, in a weird cider brand-sponsored tour, upstairs in a screen pub next to a roundabout.”
That sounds a bit like the Adelphi.
“That’s it! The tour was a bit hit or miss, but that was a really good show. Fond memories.
“I recall there was a girl who spoke to me on Facebook, saying ‘I don’t think they’ll let me in’. I said I’m sure it’ll be ok, thinking she must be under-age. I spoke to the manager and made sure it was ok.
“But when this girl turned up, the whole place was on lockdown.
“It turned out that she’d knocked out a security guard and been barred for life. Hopefully though, she’ll be allowed in to 53 Degrees.”
Fracking is a big issue in Lancashire at present, and something you covered in the wondrous Things.
“I can’t claim to know a hell of a lot, but certainly don’t feel safe about it. It’s just part of the whole problem we’re being spoon-fed.
“Stopping fracking would be amazing, but it’s just a smaller part of a giant problem. Maybe it is a case of all concentrating on that, getting the message across.
“The only people that seem to be positive about the prospect are those who’ll earn money from it. The same old problem.”
As well as the political, there are the simple but effective love songs like Keep You, its video the latest featuring Jay’s partner Lizzie Bee. Is she joining you on the road?
“Ah, the wonderful Lizzie Bee! Every now and again she’s out and about and people will say ‘it’s Lizzie Bee!’ I’m not sure if she loves that or hates it.”
Ever wonder if you should have just kept her under wraps and not shared her with your public?
(laughs) “I dunno. We’ve always done the videos together, but so what? The songs are about her, after all.
“She has to work, but she is coming to Glastonbury. It’s her birthday just before, so it’s almost like the party’s just for her.”
There are a lot of ‘First World concerns’ in your songs too – like gripes about flashy phones or social media. Is that a conscious effort to hook the younger generation?
“I certainly don’t do it purposely! But I’m not like some kind of Mr All High and Mighty who doesn’t check his Twitter feed every two minutes!”
To buy tickets for Beans on Toast at 53 Degrees, go to http://www.53degrees.net/listings/beans-on-toast14.php
And to find out Jay’s festival schedule and details of his November/December tour, go to http://www.beansontoastmusic.com/