Skinny Lister and Beans on Toast brought their ‘Double Trouble’ tour to the 1865 venue in Southampton for a truly sublime night of music and raucous revelry.
There was a huge crowd assembled to experience these two acts, and, I have to say, the excitement was palpable. Before either of these musical powerhouses took to the stage, I was milling about in the crowd and I got talking to many of the other revelers. ‘What? You’ve never seen Skinny Lister before?’ was the incredulous query levelled at me. And, I’m now ashamed to admit, this was true. The lady then added ‘You are going to LOVE them! They’re probably the best band I’ve ever seen live!’ And, during the exchange, I found out that she was involved with organising ‘Festibelly’, a festival held in The New Forest, so I thought she must know what she’s talking about. Well, did she? I’ll let you know…
First up was Beans on Toast. Now, I have seen Jay McAllister – or Beans as he is artistically known – before. I saw him playing solo and was won over by his affable charm and his gravelled voiced songs of love and life to soothe us through these trouble times. So, how would these bittersweet acoustic folk songs translate to full band arrangements, was a question that occupied my mind. And the answer is: well! Bloody well, in fact.
The band are incredibly tight and accomplished musicians, and each member (including Max Thomas – the accordion player from Skinny Lister) had plenty of time to shine on their respective instruments. None more so than piano/keyboard player Matt Millership, whose bluesy/jazzy/boogie-woogie piano style added much energy to the songs, and Jenna Jones, the fiddle player, whose dextrous fingers contributed an oft upbeat irish-jig-feel to proceedings, juxtaposed with some beautiful, more subtle arrangements to the more acoustic tracks.
But underpinning the whole thing is Jay/Beans and his warmth as a performer: he really engages with the crowd and communicates with a genuine charisma that feels, as trite as this may sound, ‘real’ and, whether you like it or not, you end up totally engaged and on board the Beans On Toast train.
One of my favourite things is about Jay is how he manages to create beauty and convey deep meaning and evoke emotions with his songs, but juxtaposes this with his aforementioned gravelly voice and song titles like Smells Like Bullshit and Blowjobs For The Blues. This is no mean feat and, personally, I love it, and it seemed the massive crowd filling the 1865 agreed.
If you get the chance, then definitely go and see Jay/Beans On Toast as soon as you can, whether solo or with a band, and, in no time, you’ll be both laughing along to his stories and lyrics and dichotomously moved by his bittersweet songs of love and life. I guarantee it.
At this point in the evening I was genuinely thinking that I’d have been happy with it ending there, so much did I enjoy Beans’ set. But then I remembered my enthusiastic new friend’s ebullient words about Skinny Lister, so I excitedly maintained my position at the front of the stage to see if she was right. And, boy, was she! And then some.
I actually feel I should write a disclaimer here, that, enjoy the show so much, did I, that, at times, I actually forgot I was there to write a review! I mentioned this to the band afterwards and they said ‘well, surely that’s the most flattering review of all?!’ and, thinking about it, they’re probably right, hence my inclusion of it here.
From the moment they took to the stage I was struck by the almost immeasurable energy that the band exude. From the first rambunctious chords and pounding drums it was obvious to me that I had been hideously late to the Skinny Lister party, but that mattered not one iota, as anyone with an open ear and passion for music was invited; in fact ‘invited’ is probably the wrong choice of words, more accurate would be: slapped in the face and your attention demanded!
This punk-folk band from London know how to grab a crowd, and as a collective they dominate the stage with confidence and musical talent. As I say, from the first chord to the last of the night, the full-to-the rafters 1865 seemed to know every syllable and every note, and sang along with gusto equal to that of the band; it truly feels like a mutual thing: the crowd love the band, the band love the crowd.
As eye and ear catching as the band are, I’m sure I’m not the only one to point out, though, that you can’t help being specifically drawn to Lorna Thomas, the co-lead singer (along with handsome singer and acoustic guitarist Daniel Heptinstall). She just has that ‘something’ that draws your attention, be it when she’s singing, dancing, sending the flagon of ale into the audience, or jumping into the crowd herself, she gives it all 100% and it’s entirely enthralling to behold. As I say, I’m a convert.
As I mentioned earlier, the accordion player for Beans On Toast is the accordion, and mandolin, player for Skinny Lister (and, I have since found out through becoming slightly obsessed with the band and doing copious amounts of YouTube binges and Google searches, is the brother of Lorna). His energy levels are also turned up to 11 (it must be a family thing!) and typifies the diverse range of instruments the band play, and most of the members take turns in swapping to a different instrument at certain points throughout the show. The double bass player needs a mention here for not only being a phenomenal bass player, but for hoisting the huge instrument above his head on multiple occasions throughout the show, just another example of the band giving it their all; they all must be exhausted after every gig!
There’s not just boisterous punky-folk on display either, and there’s an incredibly diverse range of songs on offer, all the way from the Scottish folk tinged Bonny Away to the more pop sensibilities of Devil In Me passing through the full on sea shanty John Kanaka, all tied together with a cohesive Skinny Lister ‘sound’ but showcasing the diversity the band are capable of. It seems to me, and I’m admitting to being late to the game, but the earlier songs have more of a raw punk-folk sound, whilst the newer material showcases a more streamlined, honed and ‘refined’ sound, and this is best exemplified in the song Geordie Land – this, by the way, is when Lorna jumped into the adoring crowd, who held her proudly aloft like a punk goddess.
Throughout the gig I can hear a magnitude of musical influences from, the more obvious, like Flogging Molly, The Pogues, Frank Turner et al, to some not so obvious (on one song I could hear some off-beat guitar chords that made me think Roxanne!) and it all adds interest to their immense sound.
By the time the gig is coming to an end I hear the words ‘Southampton – it’s you; it’s us; it’s we!’ and that’s exactly how the gig felt, like I said earlier, a mutual love of band and audience and, DAMN, it’s infectious! And just when you think the energy couldn’t get any higher, Beans On Toast, and the others from his band come onstage for a passionate, contagious and climactic encore and it’s just one big party as the band perform Six Whiskeys.
So, I said I’d let you know if my ebullient friend was correct in her assertion that Skinny Lister are the best live band. I don’t know if I can say they are THE best, but, damn, they’ve gotta be right up with the best, and I truly can’t imagine someone who loves live music not having the time of their lives. To be honest, I’m amazed I wrote any of this, because, as I say, I was just having too damn good a time!!
Review: Mike Vaughan / Photos: Ant Penny
Skinny Lister – Six Whiskies