Beans on Toast talks us through his new children’s book, life as a father, and much more!
Beans on Toast or known as Jay McAllister to his friends and family is one of the hardest working artists out there. As well as releasing an album every year since his 2009 debut ‘Standing On A Chair’, Beans on Toast is a mainstay of the festival circuit and gigs relentlessly to cement his status as a punk folk icon. This year’s annual album release however sees Beans on Toast tread a different path, children’s author. Collaborating with friends Jaime and Lily Adamsfield, Beans on Toast has helped write a collection of ten children’s books telling of the adventures of character Little Bee, with each book finding accompaniment by a track on the album. With such an interesting project, we were keen to find out more, so we caught up with Beans on Toast.
Luke: So I guess the first thing to ask is how did the Little Bee project come about and why did now feel like the right time?
Jay: Well it’s a combination of things really. My daughter’s four, coming on 5, and so for the last four years I’ve been reading loads of kids books and I’ve become a huge fan of Julia Donaldson (author of kids books such as Zog and The Highway Rat), she kind of became the new Bob Dylan in our house! There’s a massive similarity between kids books and folk music with the simple rhymes and the morals, which is maybe why I was so drawn to it. Since I started getting into them, I thought “maybe I’d like to write some kids songs or a kids book”. In a meeting with my friends Jaime and Lily (Adamsfield), they presented a character they had created called Little Bee and asked if I had any ideas. So I wrote the songs, Lily illustrated them and the three of us put the project together.
“There’s a massive similarity between kids books and folk music with the simple rhymes and the morals“Jay McAllister (Beans on Toast)
Luke: Do you find it hard to juggle being a father and Beans on Toast?
Jay: No, not at all! Quite the opposite. My daughter Wren has been a huge source of inspiration. For songwriters, what you’re looking for is an interesting life full of emotion and being a father is that by the bucketload. I often think it’s seen that being a touring musician might not be the easiest job for a family but I tend to disagree. Yes I do tour a lot and sometimes I’m lucky enough to take my family with me but when I’m not touring, I’m home a lot. I’m also in charge of my own diary so Wren’s needs can come first. Wren’s been a blessing to me as a musician rather than a hindrance.
Luke: When you were writing the music for ‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ was it hard shifting your mindset to write the music bearing the books in mind?
Jay: Yeah, I saw the character of Little Bee and came up with the concept that in each book she’d go to a different place and learn a different lesson. I was using the same rhyming phrasing throughout and so once the concept was there, I wrote most of it in one sitting to be honest. I wrote the lyrics first then put the music to them afterwards which isn’t the normal way I do things, so it was slightly different than sitting down to write a song as I had to come up with the concept first then follow it through with the words.
Watch/listen to ‘Little Bee Goes To The Rainbow’ here:
Luke: How was the collaboration process between yourself, Jaime and Lily Adamsfield?
Jay: We’ve been friends for a long time and when you undertake a creative art project with someone, you always get closer to them so from our work on ‘Little Bee’ we’ve become even closer. They’re both extremely talented and it was nothing but fun working on ‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’. Having an illustrator as good and receptive as Lily and to be able to imprint my ideas on someone with such a talented hand was really wonderful.
Luke: I remember discovering you at a festival once singing loudly on top of an upturned monitor. Can we still expect this kind of gig or are you going to have to have a softer side?
Jay: Depends which gigs you come to! We’re doing the children’s gigs at the moment…I mean an upturned monitor doesn’t sound too child unfriendly! Nothing’s really changed. After these four special family gigs I’m going to draw a line under being a children’s entertainer. I’ll be releasing some more of the usual Beans on Toast material early next year and the tour in March will be what everybody has come to expect from a Beans on Toast gig.
Luke: The special live shows you’re putting on to showcase your new album sound like events not to be missed. Could you talk to us a little bit about what to expect from these shows please?
Jay: The children’s gig will be on stage with Lily, Jaime and my daughter Wren and we’ll be performing all of the songs from ‘The Fascinating Adventures of Little Bee’ live with crowd interaction in between. As part of the show, we’ll perform a song and then we’ll talk a little about the lessons that Little Bee has learned on their journey. With that we’ll have kids coming up on stage to draw rainbows, there’s a bit of beatboxing and we’ll finish it off with a dance party where the kids can come up on the stage and dance to some rock and roll. I’d like to think of it as a short and easy introduction for young people to come and see a gig and see that there’s more child friendly entertainment than just someone standing on stage singing. Hopefully it’ll get kids into the idea of going to gigs when they grow up.
Luke: You’ve released a new album every year since 2009, do you find it hard to keep creative for that long?
Jay: Not at all! I only release albums every year because I have an album ready to go. I’m actually in the studio now recording songs for next year because, with the kids album, I had a bunch of songs about the current day which might not last a year! I come from the mentality that you can write a song about anything so I never struggle for inspiration. The world is a wild and crazy place!
Luke: Finally, we always like to finish by asking if you have any funny stories from your years on the live scene?
Jay: I’ve actually released a book called ‘Drunk Folk Stories’ which is just that! Whenever somebody asks, off the top of my head I struggle to remember. The strangest thing that ever happened was when I was playing a gig in Cincinnati. I was playing a gig with a band called Skinny Lister and a live chicken appeared out of nowhere. It was a venue in the middle of a major city and no one knew where the chicken came from. No one knew what to do with it during the gig, or indeed after the gig. We managed to get it into the dressing room and then we had to find a home for it. It just seemed to appear from the aether. That was some time ago and still nothing quite as strange has happened to me since then.