Foolhardy Folk Tales is a new collection of stories by singer-songwriter Jay McAllister, who goes by the name Beans on Toast.
The follow up to 2018’s Drunk Folk Stories, it’s a semi-auto-biographical ramble, loosely tracing Beans’ journey from teenage Braintree stoner to 40-year-old professional folk musician and father.
There’s no straight narrative, more a series of anecdotes, sketches and musings on life, love and happiness.
He even throws in a game designed to make long drives – an essential part of the life of a touring artist – that bit more bearable.
The first and last chapters are the strongest – one is true, the other – a tounge-in-cheek account of a meticulously planned robbery of Tesco’s, is not.
Other chapters, are by their very nature a bit uneven, but what comes over in spades is Beans’ honesty, fearlessness and openness to new people and experiences – and I’m not just talking mind-altering substances here.
By taking chances, refusing to plan and being prepared to engage with, well, just about anyone, he seems to have made his own luck.
There’s a sharp mind and real entrepreneurial spirit, behind his easygoing persona.
Sure he’s got talent, but what’s kept the wolf from the door is his nous, ingenuity and eye for the main chance.
A master of the blag with the gift of the gab to back it up, he’s also, as he says “worked his ass off” to get to a level of relative – and I mean relative – comfort.
Told in a conversational style – you can easily imagine him sat beside you at a late-night lock-in, or around a flickering fire at some festival or other – his stories provide real insight into the life of a solo performer.
But what elevates these tales beyond the scribblings of just another Camden hipster, is his generosity of spirit, enthusiasm for life and determination to make the best of any situation.
His account of how he survives the pandemic by creating a cottage industry with the help of his partner and parents is genuinely inspiring.
He also has some smart things to say on the contradictions of being an anti-capitalist folkie working in the endemically grasping money-mad music business.
And while Beans’ accounts of Herculean boozing, cocaine and weed binges can get a bit wearing, his vignettes of life on the road and encounters with the likes of Grandaddy more than make up for these indulgences.
You don’t have to be a fan of his music to enjoy Foolhardy…, but it might inspire you to check out his back catalogue, along with those of friends and tour mates like Skinny Lister, Will Varley and Frank Turner, who contributes a foreward to this volume.
At a slim 167 pages, this is not a book that outstays its welcome, but you could do a lot worse than spend a couple of hours in the company of The Bard of Braintree and his words of wisdom.
- Released by Play on Words Publishing, Foolhardy Folk Tales is available in hard-back and audio editions (narrated by the author) from most good book shops and from Beans’ own website here.