In the 1960s we had political poets like Bob Dylan, speaking out about the problems with society, the suffering of the world and how it could be changed. Today our world is poxed by war, there is a huge financial divide and our environment is suffering through global warming, yet, where are the protest singers and songs?
One artist answering the call is UK-born Jay McAllister, aka Beans on Toast, who has opened every Glastonbury Festival since 2005 and is prominent in the UK festival scene. This alt-folk troubadour is known for tackling contemporary concerns and politics through his lyrics. With songs like “I want to Kill David Cameron” and “MDM-Amazing,” he follows the traditional folk route, one man and his guitar, with a middle finger on the pulse of modern pop culture.
Does Beans refer to himself as a political singer? “No, I’d call myself a drunk folk singer. But I’m not gonna hate on anyone that wants to call me that. I can see where they’re coming from. I have a fair few protest songs.”
In 2009 he released his debut album, a fifty-track double album entitled Standing On A Chair, produced by Ben Lovett of Mumford and Sons and featuring guest vocals from Emmy The Great, The Holloways, and Frank Turner. This album earned Beans his street cred into the UK music scene, as well as new fans, who loved his coarse, croaky tales of festival escapades, ways to fix the world, and general humorous nonsense, sometimes with barber shop acapella, sometimes with electronic distortion, and often with simple guitar riffs.
His latest album, Spanner in the Works, released in December 2016, preserves the same tongue-in-cheek approach to serious issues. The first track “2016” covers the deaths of Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali and the rise of Trump, while “Fear Mongering Clap-Trap” and “Money For War” flag up the dangers we are causing the planet through our modern lives. Not every song is political, however. “Nanny Mac” and “I Can Be That Tree” are heart-warming odes to his grandmother and wife.
Does Beans refer to himself as a political singer? “No, I’d call myself a drunk folk singer. But I’m not gonna hate on anyone that wants to call me that."
The album contains powerful lyrics like, “When you blow up people’s houses, what do you think they’re gonna do? They’ll come looking for salvation, they’ll come looking at you,” alongside, “I’ll be down the pub, putting the world to rights, propping up the bar on a couple of pints.” The contrast in these lyrics shows his playfulness and ability to change the tone.
For Beans, the goal of his work isn’t just to point the finger at responsible (or irresponsible) powers. “I’m more than happy to tell people how I feel about a whole range of subjects, but that doesn’t mean I’m right and someone else is wrong. I guess I’d be happy if some songs got people talking and thinking.”
Soon to be embarking on “The Salty Dog” cruise from Miami to the Bahamas, joining the line-up of Flogging Molly and NOFX, this punk poet and modern day political troubadour is one to see in the flesh.