Beans on Toast performing at The Portland ArmsEMMY WARR WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

“I’ve got a lot of songs to sing and a lot of things I want to say”, declares folk-punk singer Jay McAllister (aka Beans on Toast), as he climbs on stage at his sold-out show at The Portland Arms, equipped with an acoustic guitar, a setlist written on a table in permanent marker, and his trademark yellow flower tucked behind his ear.

The room is packed to the brim with a crowd that, for fans of an artist who so loudly and proudly discusses his adventures with drugs and alcohol, seems to be remarkably sober.

“It might even be called intimate, were the audience more involved”

Earlier, on a Zoom call from his sunny kitchen in Whitstable, the singer told me that Cambridge is the first stop on this tour to sell out. It’s not far from home for McAllister, who hails from Essex; and on stage he shares a story from his teenage years about taking ecstasy and being refused entry to Junction. This sets the tone for the rest of the performance: laid-back and familiar. He occasionally forgets lyrics, but laughs it off and the show goes on. It might even be called intimate, were the audience more involved.

There is some reticent singing along to his older hits, particularly his festival staple “M.D.M.Amazing”, and the occasional shouted request, but otherwise, the crowd watches on: captivated, but silent and unmoving, necks rigid to prevent heads accidentally nodding along. Earlier, he told me he’d like to think that the crowds at his shows look like “any other pub in England”, and this would be true in this case, if the pub were showing a football match where the local team was losing.

It’s a shame really, because it’s not McAllister’s fault, and if there’s one thing he brings, it’s energy. Between songs he tells stories about trespassing to save a pregnant sheep and his grandma taking him to Toys “R” Us. He criticises the government, and he jokes about Liz Truss and the Pope. He won’t be getting a Netflix comedy special anytime soon, but it’s entertaining and engaging.

His raw and unschooled vocals translate unexpectedly well to the live stage, and when they are coupled with his gentle acoustic guitar, McAllister’s sound fills the room easily. He has told me that “singing songs on the guitar is about as timeless as you can be”, and it’s true — you could imagine him playing to a circle sitting around a campfire; it’s comforting and draws the audience in. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to be drawn into.

His music is political (when it’s not about drugs), but there’s no deep insight. He condemns the war in Ukraine (“we’ve been led down the fucking garden path”), before playing his latest single, “Against the War”, which he describes as “a protest song about all the horrors that are going on [there]”. The song states proudly that he is “against killing and against invading” — it’s not exactly going to put Bob Dylan out of a job, but it receives a few shouts of approval from the crowd nonetheless.


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Elsewhere the political statements are more light-hearted and optimistic: he plays “The Chicken Song”, a fun ditty about the factory farming industry. Earlier he told me about “Swimming In It”, a condemnation of companies dumping waste off the Kentish coast, featuring 37 local musicians playing “everything from tuba to guitar”. McAllister says: “It’s a very uniting subject. No one thinks you should pour raw sewage into the sea. No matter where you are on the political spectrum you can agree that’s a bad idea.”

By the end of the set it’s clear that Beans on Toast is a man of his word: he has sung a lot of songs and said a lot of things; but that’s about it. He does it well, working the stage with the kind of relaxed confidence that only comes with natural charm and plenty of experience, and the audience (in its own static way) seems to thoroughly enjoy the show. It’s not the revolution he might be aiming for, but it’s certainly a fun way to spend a Thursday evening.