One of the last gigs I went to pre-lockdown, in November 2019, was the magnificent Holy Moly and the Crackers in York. On the merchandise table afterwards, alongside the standard array of CDs and T-shirts, was a solitary copy of a book called Drunk Folk Stories bearing the familiar name of Beans on Toast.
I didn’t buy it but, as a long-time fan of the singer born Jay McAllister, was intrigued as to what it was doing there – at a gig he wasn’t playing at, far from his London/Kent manor, propped in a corner with no apparent fanfare. (I can’t even be certain it was for sale – perhaps one of the band was just reading it at the time?)
I mention it here because, having read the newly released follow-up Foolhardy Folk Tales, I feel “Beans” would enjoy the chance discovery. Several of the tales told here revolve at least in part around merch stands – Art, in particular, and also The Key in which he notes “I could probably write a whole chapter about merch”. That story recounts a crazy experience on tour in America with Skinny Lister, another part of a close-knit group of friends and storming acts also bringing in Holy Moly and Frank Turner. The latter namechecked McAllister on ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ (“Jay is our St George…”) and contributes a loving foreword here while Kae Tempest, Scroobius Pip and Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison offer up quotes in praise of a much-loved member of the scene.
While this collection of nine stories, a rambling intro and a bonus game (Everyone’s a Critic) certainly delivers on the “Foolhardy” claim – from the preposterous pre-intro Great Tesco Robbery, which deserves to be made into a movie, to The Blag and most definitely The Key – there is also genuine heart to it. Anyone familiar with McAllister’s prolific musical output will know of his regular public professions of love for his wife Lizzy and in first No Such Thing As A Free Breakfast and then Art, we see both the genesis and the current status of their adorable relationship. In between those comes Beautiful Alice, a strange but moving tribute to a fan who died tragically young.
Messy, ramshackle, sometimes political, often emotional, always true to himself, this book is in keeping with the music and seemingly the man. If I ever see that first one at another random gig he’s not playing, I’ll buy it for sure.