Live: Beans On Toast / Ann Liu Cannon

Norwich Arts Centre February 17, 2023

by Dave Stevens

Opener Ann Liu Cannon comes across as slightly nervous but she’s engaging and fun.

She recounts the background for most of her interesting songs, which helps those of us who are unfamiliar with her work.

Stranger In The Rain is a delicate song about her mother arriving in Swindon and being helped out by a policeman.

“It’s the only thing I have out so it’d better be fucking good. It didn’t go down well in my hometown,” she says, but she is pleased it does here.

Letters tells the story of how Cannon would write letters, deliver them and then run away, rather than talk to people because it’s “better with letters”. It’s a great song – and, fortunately for us, she can now talk to people.

Ann Liu Cannon shows that she's one to watch (Picture: Paul Jones)
Ann Liu Cannon shows that she’s one to watch (Picture: Paul Jones)

She introduces Mên-An-Tol, which is about the standing stones in Cornwall that may have been used in fertility rituals, with a huge wink to the audience. She has to stop part-way through and move to the side. “I had to burp,” she tells us. “I’ve never done that before.” Luckily, it wasn’t through the microphone “because I’m nice”.

This leads to more stories of bodily functions on stage before we’re given the option of the song restarting where she left off or being started afresh. The latter is chosen.

By now, Cannon is much more confident and working the audience – “I should really move here.”

Clever Rabbits documents the symbol of three intertwined rabbits (Tinners’ Rabbits) that is found around the world, and on Cannon’s tote bags. She wrote the song when she moved to London, because “clever rabbits need holes”.

Her 10 or so songs include plenty of variety, with careful picking on her acoustic guitar for some songs and more vigorous strumming on others. Cannon has a beautiful and strong voice, and she’s someone to keep an eye on.

It's an engaging performance by Beans On Toast (Picture: Paul Jones)
It’s an engaging performance by Beans On Toast (Picture: Paul Jones)

Beans On Toast sometimes plays with a band and sometimes just by himself. Tonight he’s solo, and he saunters on stage in jeans, T-shirt and baseball cap, clutching his acoustic guitar.

He starts with recent release Back Out On The Road, which is an uplifting song that celebrates his love of touring and live music. It’s particularly pertinent after the last few miserable years and it’s a great introduction. He’s at ease and happy to be on stage.

Essex-based Beans doesn’t take himself too seriously, and his heart is in the right place. He’s anti-war, anti-fascist, pro-peace, pro-love, pro-nature, pro-fun. He sings of drugs and finding love at a festival in MDMAmazing and his hatred of conflict in The War On War.

Much like seeing Billy Bragg live, the chat between songs is as entertaining as the music. He tells us that some of his songs have a very short shelf-life – for instance, he had one about Liz Truss who was gone before he had a chance to play it live.

We get a mix of classics and topical new songs. The setlist – a new feature as his gigs used to be more ad hoc – is scribbled on a table. The table also holds a drink, a vase with flowers and a troll, and is to be raffled off for charity.

I'm trolling you: Beans extols the wonders of repurposed churches (Picture: Paul Jones)
I’m trolling you: Beans extols the wonders of repurposed churches (Picture: Paul Jones)

Some songs are poignant and heartfelt while some are rousing singalongs, and much of the live experience is more entertaining than his studio recordings.

Beans’s music comes over with echoes of Frank Turner and Bragg, but with his own definitive style and passion.

He talks of his love of Norwich Arts Centre and independent venues in general. He doesn’t like religion and wants more churches turned into venues, or antiques centres (“another good use for churches”) like nearby St Gregory’s, which he visited earlier and which was the source of the troll.

But he tells us he doesn’t like corporate venues such as the O2 chain that rip off fans and artists alike, and he lets us know all about it with a rendition of Sold Out Shows.

Some songs are very personal. Nanny Mac is a tribute to his wild Nan who would sometimes look after Beans and encourage him to run riot in Toys R Us.

Beans On Toast: Great heart, great tunes, great banter (Picture: Paul Jones)
Beans On Toast: Great heart, great tunes, great banter (Picture: Paul Jones)

The Album Of The Day, meanwhile, is a cracking song about the joy he has spending time with his young daughter and educating her by playing whole albums, because “life also has album tracks”. (Her current favourite band is The Pogues, so the education is clearly going well…)

The Chicken Song, one of many highlights, talks us through the treatment and production of chickens, nailing it with a giant chicken eating humans with peri-peri sauce.

In a similar vein, new track AI tackles the excitement and fear of tools such as ChatGPT making songwriters redundant. Ironically, as Beans notes, it’s followed by Humans.

After more than 20 songs, he almost leaves the stage but decides it’s not worth the effort to leave only to return after the obligatory applause. He gives us one last song, the excellent On & On, which starts with the nightmarish line “So Donald is the King and Boris is the Queen”, but fortunately becomes more positive as we all sing along.

Beans On Toast is a live experience not to be missed: great heart, great tunes, great banter.

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