Fans go 'Down the Pub' with Beans on Toast

- 01/06/2017 -

Photo by Jon Pugsley

Photo by Jon Pugsley

Beans on Toast tends to throw normal for a loop, like it's a boomerang destined to collect streamers on its return journey. He takes all the down-to-earth he has and sprinkles it with confessional confetti, salts it with uppers and takes the ordinary for a joyride.

It makes sense that the man who has run pubs, understands their importance in the British psyche and geography, and likes to go with the best idea he has that minute, would take on a tour of the nation's drinking holes. #SaveOurPubs is a campaign that highlights the spectre of closure, or these places being replaced entirely. Waystations removed from our own meandering journeys. Community cores hollowed out in favour of that ominous 'development' as if pretending we're moving foward. Removing a centrepiece of our civilisation isn't progress, it's deprival of a key identifier.

Beans took up arms (and his guitar in them) and visited 16 of these havens of drinking, despair and celebration throughout May 2017, bringing a blend of savvy politics, sensitive love songs and reminiscing of good and bad times. His work may as well be made from decades of pub conversations, and probably is.

Some dedicated and very fine Xtra Mile and Beans on Toast fans volunteered to send us back their reports of the pubs and the gigs, which is very lovely of them. Here they are published almost entirely in full. They had a great time by the sounds of it.

(Pssst. Don't forget that if you're a Beans fan, might be convinced to be a Beans fan, or are considering being a Beans fan, you can always buy his records and some special merch from us at the Xtra Mile shop here.)

The Dog and Whistle, Hertford 18.05.2017
Rob Hurst

It's such a simple idea really - take one very friendly folk singer and do a tour exclusively playing in British pubs of various shapes and sizes. It's amazing it hasn't been done earlier. Not to say that Jay (aka Beans) isn't used to playing in venues of dramatically differing sizes – from the smallest of clubs to Wembley Arena. Indeed, just days before he played at London's Roundhouse as part of Frank Turner's Lost Evenings four-day extravaganza.

Entering the Dog and Whistle pub in Hertford I knew this was going to be a memorable night. A tiny venue (at least inside) meant this was going to be one where you really were going to get to know your neighbour and true to form everyone is friendly and in good spirits. 

The 'stage' tonight is a bench that Jay stands on to allow those crammed in at the back or at the bar at least some view although I think the planning of setting up right next to the pub toilets was a little short sighted as a steady stream of pub and gig punters needed the use of them as the pints were drunk and the evening progressed. At one point Jay suggested that someone must have set up a huge line of coke for so many people to need to visit the gents so often.

As soon as Jay starts and before a note is played, the gig was halted by someone collapsing at his feet (and not in an idol worshipping way!). One first aider and some fresh air later and we're good to go again.

Jay is in good form and his usual self, playing the songs he feels, frequently stopping to tell a story, correcting something or generally acknowledging an unintentional fuck up. Opening with 'Folk Singer' (from The Grand Scheme of Things), he acknowledges at the end that inflation has rendered the line "you give me a tenner and I'll give you a t-shirt" slightly out of date! 

With a general election just weeks away, you might think that the evening would be a highly political affair and you know that will always be a down-to-earth part of a Beans show. Tonight he conducted an impromptu poll about which way we were considering voting at the end of new song "For The Sake Of The Children" which showed that most of us were well and truly in the "red" camp, but tonight Jay isn't a soapbox politician. He's feeling more romantic.

Maybe it's because Lizzie B is with him (and doing a fine job at the merch desk) that it seems that Jay is happy to be playing so many of his songs that celebrate their love. One of the sweetest, 'I'm Home When You Hold Me' (from Rolling Up the Hill) is followed with a new sequel that has yet to be released. Not all the new tracks played tonight will make the new album at the end of the year no doubt as the Trump tracks played live last year for instance seemed to be destined to remain as live tracks only. The real stand-out was the track about the proposed fracking of Sherwood Forest so I'm hopeful that will be one that many more folks will get to hear come December.

The absence of a structured set is both freeing but also restrictive as it wasn't until fairly late in the set that Jay remembers that he had intended to play some more tracks from last years A Spanner In The Works album and the childhood recollections of 'Nanny Mac' follows. 'MDMAmazing' (from Standing On A Chair) is nearly forgotten but Jay is gently reminded replying that "it wouldn't be a Beans On Toast gig without playing that song!". Weirdly 'Down The Pub' is absent despite giving it's name to the tour but that could have been another memory lapse!

A fantastic evening of great music and with friends old and new. Til the next time...whether that be down the pub again remains to be seen but rest assured I'll be there! 

The Swan, Rayne – 19.5.17
Caryn Himsley

In Jay’s own words: “I come from a village called Rayne next to a town called Braintree near the city of Colchester in the middle of the Essex county” – 'Peter Pan’s Playground' (from Trying To Tell the Truth).

Photo by Caryn  Himsley

Photo by Caryn  Himsley

The free gig at The Swan in Rayne was billed as a hometown show, and never has a truer word been spoken as Jay moved from Epping to Rayne with his family when he was three-years-old and spent his formative years in the area. He attended nursery in Rayne, went to school down the road at Notley High School and during the gig alluded to experiencing many “firsts” (the nature of which was mainly left to the imagination) in Rayne Park. A few days before the gig I had caught up with Jay to ask if there were any anecdotes from his youth that he wanted included in the review, however he was rather coy and implied they were not suitable for public consumption.
The Swan was an inspired choice of homecoming location on the 'Down The Pub' tour as teenaged Jay and friends frequently used a back room of this venue to practice with his first band. The pub is an old Grade II- listed building, full of character, featuring Essex weatherboarding and a quaint, thatched, outside toilet. As it was a lovely evening, Jay had earlier tweeted that he had decided to play the gig in the garden so everyone was gathered outdoors.

There is a fantastic, large beer garden with a seating area and permanent BBQ which was in full swing although it appeared the only vegetarian option was salad in a roll. 

Many of Jay’s family, friends and neighbours were in attendance, including Lizzy Bee, his parents Derek and Pauline who provide unfailing support and follow him, and brother Kez who has moved on from his “Mark 2 Ford Escort” ('Peter Pan’s Playground') and this, coupled with the BBQ gave a family party atmosphere to the evening.

At around 9pm, everyone moved down to a gazebo under the canopy of trees which is where Jay had decided to play barefoot in the grass. He opened with 'Folk Singer' which includes lyrics about selling merch, so he took that as a lighthearted opportunity to explain that his teeshirts had increased in price and joked this was because there was writing front and back, and he was pleased to get that subject out of the way early in the gig. 

It was a well-balanced set, including the ever popular 'MDMAmazing' and 'The Children of Bedford' (from Fishing For A Thank You), and a trilogy of drinking songs: 'Beer and a Burger', the singalong 'Down the Pub', and a thought provoking new song about who from history you would choose to go drinking with. Given the upcoming general election there was just the right amount of political songs, including the new track 'For the Sake of the Children' which Jay has recently published on social media, and being under the trees gave Jay the perfect opportunity to segue into a protest about private companies planning to frack in Sherwood Forest by singing 'Major Oak' about one of the oldest and most popular trees in Britain. I must admit to having a soft spot for Jay’s love songs to Lizzy Bee so I was delighted that he played 'We Made It to the Waterfall' (from A Spanner in the Works), 'I’m Home When You Hold Me', and 'A Whole Lot Of Loving' (from The Grand Scheme of Things). Given the location it was inevitable that Jay played 'Peter Pan’s Playground' and that he reminisced about his childhood with 'Nanny Mac'.

Jay appeared very relaxed and seemed to enjoy the gig, toward the finish improvising a lullaby to a toddler who was oblivious to the show and running circles around a flowerbed. It was a quiet, family-oriented show with limited audience participation, which I assume to be because many of people were local friends/family and would not necessarily have attended a gig. However, the attraction of live music meant the gig lost nothing for that as Jay does not need to feed off the crowd for him to put on a great show and Jay was clearly at home in all senses of the word.

Photo by Alistair Clifford-Jones

Photo by Alistair Clifford-Jones

The  Palace, Hastings – 20.05.17
Alistair Clifford-Jones

The Tub is a pub restaurant with a separate room for music, with craft ales on tap and a great bottle beer selection (any pub that does Duval gets my vote) as well as an American-themed menu. The owners, who also own the Albion, are really supporting a vibrant music scene. They are also responsive for Fat Tuesday. The music room had a 3ft high stage, so good visibility from anywhere. There’s an interesting painting in the room featuring our very own Lorna (of Skinny Lister). It’s a local haunt for both Lorna and Dan who were there.

The place was sold out, predominantly to see Beans. The furthest-out punter I met was from Manchester,

The gig was great, support was brilliant ‘Funke and Two-Tone Baby’ which really warmed the crowd up. Jay was solo, and did some new material (very similar to his Lost Evenings Roundhouse set earlier in May). The best response from the crowd was for the new song 'For the Sake of the Children'.
Rating, out of 5 pints:
Pub: 4/5
Night out:4.5/5

Worth the two hour drive!

The King Arthur, Glastonbury – 23.05.17
Sarah Green

After the horrific and tragic attack on young concert goers the previous night in Manchester, it was always going to be difficult to square returning to a live music event so soon. However, as part of the wider gig-going community, our way of showing respect and defiance was to carry on as planned.
So, on 23rd May, the Beans on Toast gig at The King Arthur in Glastonbury went ahead, the room was full and the show sold out. There was a slightly subdued atmosphere which is only to be expected. But we all sang along and cheered.

The King Arthur is a quirky and quaint boozer, which is not surprising for Glastonbury, where crystals, fairies and Arthurian legends permeate the very walls of the town. The clientele were no less quirky, sporting boho-hobo chique attire that's sort of a local uniform. The bar had a good choice of cider, and as the county's official beverage this is a given. There was also a decent choice of West Country ales on offer, and a nice selection of lager too. The bar staff were professional and efficient.

Nick Parker and Beans on Toast - Photo by Sarah Green

Nick Parker and Beans on Toast - Photo by Sarah Green

Karl Ficarotta opened the proceedings, a talented singer-songwriter from my home town, Taunton. His songs are beautiful and melodic, and he's supporting Beans at The Cobblestones in Bridgwater on 26 May too. His songs 'Gone' and 'Rejected' particularly resonated with me. Next up was Nick Parker, a local artist from Street. He is an amazingly innovative singer-songwriter, his lyrics paint pictures that will make you laugh and cry. He opened with ‘Never Been to Dublin’, then ‘Down with the Yoof’ a song written from the perspective of his son, in which he pleads with his dad not to be the kid with the double-denim dad. It would be funny enough without the mortification and hilarity that ensued when we realised a lovely guy in the audience was dressed to impress in all over denim. Luckily he saw the funny side of it!

‘An Open Letter to My Human’ came next followed by ‘Es tut Mir lied’, ‘Terry and June’ and ‘Departures’. I won't give away any of the details, you'll just have to seek him out and see for yourselves.

When Beans on Toast took to the stage he addressed the elephant in the room. We all had Manchester in our thoughts and many of the audience had questioned themselves if they'd be up for a gig so soon after the atrocity. But our worries were eloquently expressed by Beans. He vocalised our reason for attending because we can be defiant and respectful by carrying on with what we love. It's also our duty to keep poking fun at the powers that be, because we live in turbulent times.

Beans opened with ‘Folk Singer’, a brilliant way to kick the set off, with the wonderful storytelling easy-style Beans has. He cut off mid-song to apologise that the lyrics are out of date and that his t-shirts now sell for more than a tenner. The barefoot, wise-cracking folk singer has an endearing persona. For example, before the show he mingled with the crowd, chatting, doing bespoke artwork and posing for pictures. His next song ‘The War on War’ (from The Grand Scheme of Things) demonstrates his strong beliefs and pokes a critical finger at those in charge. ‘It's Only Natural’ (from A Spanner in the Works) followed, a song dedicated mainly to the ‘stoners’, calls for cannabis to be legalised and rather disconcertingly chimes in with the Liberal Democrats new policy promise!

Beans then mixed it up by singing a couple of songs about love and strong relationships. The song dedicated to "Jamie and Lily" was particularly romantic. A new song ‘For the Sake of the Children’ switched proceedings back to political comment. It's a scathing attack on Mrs May, and urges the listener not to vote for her in June. This was greeted by many heartfelt cheers, although it did seem to flummox some of the audience.

Photo by Sarah Green

Photo by Sarah Green

This prompted an improvised song, especially for Glastonbury, which followed a strange tale of zombies and fairies (don't ask)! The popular ‘MDMamazing’ got the audience singing along, while the story told in the middle of the song ‘The Children of Bedford’ (a kind of song within a song) was funny and sad, but I'll not go into details as I am sure it's better heard first-hand. Religion then got a slating in ‘God is a Cartoonist’ (from Rolling Up the Hill), straight talking and pulling no punches. But the sentiments are heartfelt and profound, and make you think. Which all good art should do, right? ‘We Made It to the Waterfall’ is a beautiful love song about tickling toes and making love, which strangely doesn't seem at odds with the previous song, and then a song about fracking, ‘Major Oak’, swerves back into political commentary.

The true story of ‘The Pub in Holloway’ (from Standing on a Chair) – when Nambucca burned down, along with all of his possessions – has an uplifting twist, ‘A Whole Lot of Loving’ is profound as it is bitingly critical of racism and society. He's even got a song all about that game we've all played ‘Who Would You Want to Have a Drink With?'. 

After 'The Chicken Song’ (from The Grand Scheme of Things), about animal cruelty, ‘Open Door Policy’ is simply a perfect way to sum Beans up, an eternal optimist and pacifist. We were sent into the night with an unplugged love song dedicated to his lovely wife , Lizzy Bee.

Photo by Jon Pugsley

Photo by Jon Pugsley

Pebbles Tavern, Watchet – 25.05.17
Jon Pugsley
In life there are two types of pubs, those i’ve been to and those I haven’t. Now the same can also be said of gigs, so Beans on Toast at the Pebbles Tavern promised to be an evening of firsts. Nestled on Watchet high street on Somerset’s north coast, the Pebbles is a literal stones throw from the sea (trust me, I checked) and what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in character. To those not familiar with Watchet, it’s beautiful in a slightly rugged way while as picturesque and quaint and seasidey as you’d expect. I arrived early to check the town out and, had Shakespeare still been writing, he would’ve described it as ‘a bit too hot really,’ so I set off in search of the Pebbles Tavern.
A chat to some of the locals around the town revealed one very important fact about the pub, a fact that – as a proud west country boy – made my heart sing and my liver wince a little bit: the Pebbles Tavern specialises in cider. The staff took a real pride in the cider selection on offer, evidenced by the extensive list I was recommended at the bar. I plumped for ‘Secret Orchard,’ a medium/dry from five miles down the road which put hairs on the hairs on my chest but slipped down very (very, very) well indeed.  
The Pebbles Tavern is unassuming from the outside but, to the uninitiated, stepping through the door can knock you sideways in the best sort of way. Inside is a veritable treasure trove of pub memorabilia with all manner of trinkets and signs and bottles leading back to a very well illuminated bar (think a tasteful Blackpool illuminations and we’ll leave it there). It’s a small space, but a thoroughly welcoming one and somewhere I will happily come back to time and again.

Photo by Jon Pugsley

Photo by Jon Pugsley

The gig itself was a sell out, and had been for ages as far as I could tell. But in a venue that would generously be described as cosy, we were informed sell outs are fairly commonplace. Although judging by the enthusiasm of the crowd, the venue could’ve been much bigger and still sold out comfortably. Despite being an all-ticket affair, the night was well attended with locals who were only too familiar with the ‘Oi, you better Watchet’ jokes from Beans straight from the off.

Opening was a man called Alex. That’s how he was introduced and that is all I know about him but he had a voice with enough gravel to lay a driveway and his raw, passionate vocals were a great leveller for the audience #whoisalex #huntforalex #ilovealex. Come 9.25 it was time for Beans on Toast and this is a man who’s been doing this long enough to be able to hit the ground running in this unfamiliar town. Jay’s a troubadour and the freeform, ‘choose your own adventure’ nature of the show was incredibly endearing, to the point that he broke off from the first song to clarify the price of his t-shirts. In a set that featured an entire song list reversal, a three-song sandwich (song within a song within a song), a mid-show toilet break and a low stakes game of pop trivia, the night was nothing if not unique and one that went down very well with the 45 strong audience. There was a mix of crowd favourites, new songs that are becoming more familiar and works in progress which we can look forward to ('Entschuldigung, the Cookie Monster of Hannover' in particular) all of which delivered in Jay’s inimitable half tongue-in-cheek, half biting-wit style.   

All in all, what Beans lacks in breadth of audience he more than makes up for with depth and for 90 minutes or so we sang, we drank, and we danced like nothing else really mattered.
Rating out of 5 pints:
Pub: 5
Crowd: 5
Night Out: 4