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living legend, B.A. Johnston. source: bajohnston.com

Be Nice or Leave

Written by
and
October 14, 2020
Be Nice or Leave
living legend, B.A. Johnston. source: bajohnston.com

Would you believe it if I told you Spanky was a real person? Spanky, of Spanky’s bar, is not just a legend, he is very much real and very much in charge of “definitely maybe the best bar on earth.” The bar has the biggest patio downtown this summer and also sells the cheapest Pabst Blue Ribbon in town at just $3.50 a can, so it is no wonder the patio is always packed. This summer, Spanky partnered with Paradise Garage to deliver live music all summer long in the backyard. During one of the last nights of summer weather, September 26th, Spanky’s hosted one of its last shows of the season.

On this night in the backyard of the famous Hunter St. bar rested a large metal frame tent with a plethora of tables, chairs, and music fans waiting to see one of the most legendary shows in Peterborough this side of the pandemic. This would be the night that Muddy Hack and B.A. Johnston took the reigns and casted upon our city their spectacular folk/rock/comedy tunes. Ever since the last consistent run of live shows in Peterborough, the approach of spring and the first wave of the pandemic, many people found themselves in a state of eagerness as to what the return of the scene would look (and sound) like. As tables were filling up, and neighbours were coming together over food and drink under the patio and strobe lights, the show was on a steady course to become a well-deserved reprieve.

Spanky's Bar, Hunter Street

Mike Wallace, the lead singer and songwriter of The Muddy Hack, took the stage with nothing more than a microphone, electric guitar, and a beer in hand. A hardcore folk punk act, no stranger to the Peterborough scene - this show was long since anticipated for myself as I'm sure it was for others. With a plethora of in-your-face folk punk ballads and songs of political and societal disparities and woes, Muddy Hack brought to the table a very inclusive aura that was sure to raise glasses and ring true to the folks of Peterborough. One song of particular relevance to today is “Livin’,” which speaks to the problems of surviving in a working-class society, with themes all too familiar to many of us. Compared to the original acoustic demo of the song released in 2014, this live arrangement accorded itself a very unique reimagining as it was played with an electric guitar - converging between rooted folk punk to hard rock. Wallace’s scratchy vocals, combined with an aggressive strumming style, gives rise to a very soulful, yet gritty performance.

Cover art for 'Bleeding' by The Muddy Hack

B.A. Johnston arrived wearing quite a few sweaters and shirts on, with a conductor's hat and bright yellow leggings. The stage was lined with keyboards and party props, including fireworks and confetti poppers. Right off the bat, the audience knew this was going to be an entertaining show. With songs from his discography like “Dayoff is a Dayoff”, which is about not being able to go to work due to inebriation, and “We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die),” about the whimsical prospect of seeing Van Halen live, B.A. delivers an exceptionally high-class comedy act with an impressive tonality and vocal range. He compliments his backtracks of 8-bit, synthy easy listening tunes, with intense, hoarse screaming. The level of attention he brings to the stage (and off the stage, when he is running around the tables and dancing on top of chairs and staircases) is spectacular beyond imagination. As far as acrobatics go, B.A. Johnston is practically a master of doing the James Brown split, the worm, and dancing around all while not missing a step or a beat.

I caught up with Mike Wallace from the Muddy Hack for a post-show interview about his solo set:

Spencer: I really liked the electric guitar variation of the folk punk strumming styles; I don’t think I’ve seen that in a long time.

Mike: Yeah, it's cool man. My gear is all bullshit, so I used what I had to use, haha. That’s pretty much it.

Spencer: Since the pandemic hit Peterborough, how have the shows been up to and right around that point?

Mike: Well I only played one, and it was around that time when we heard that it was coming over. I was gearing up to do a bunch of stuff this summer, and then the pandemic hit. Everything stopped, so I had to stop too. My kid was home - it was march break, and right after he was supposed to go to school, and he never went back. I made a video in that time, and yeah that’s pretty much all I’ve done.

Spencer: Up until the last month, the city started to see more bills and social media posts for shows coming up, with the start of the academic year as well. What can you tell us about the things you guys have been up to for the past couple weeks, with the resurgence of live shows?

Mike: We’ve been trying to get organized to do this show - it was supposed to happen in March with BA, and he texted me and said “Do you think we should cancel?” and I was like “I don’t know, man. I don’t think anyone is going to be comfortable.” So we cancelled it, and everything just got put on the wayside, everything happened. Then he texted me probably a month or so ago and he said “the show is on” so we rebooked the show, and everything was good. We played it, but it's been weird though. It's awkward for everybody; nobody knows what the hell is going on, ya know?

Spencer: After that hiatus, what was your first reaction to hearing that shows were starting up again?

Mike: Nervous, haha! I was so out of shape, out of practice for all of it; I had to relearn most of my stuff and then I rewrote it. So somewhat disappointing, I guess.

Spencer: I would say you sounded really on-the-ball for this set. I may not be an expert in music or anything, but for what I saw - and I’m sure the audience can attest for this as well - you’ve got the crowd raising their glasses (and PBR’s) and tapping their feet so I think that would be regarded as a success.

Mike: Haha, thanks

Spencer: On the topic of that folk punk element, a lot of your lyrics have a sense of political dissonance and general disdain – what can you say about that style you take on?

Mike: I sing about what pisses me off. You see, the political climate is crazy, and I don’t even REALLY understand what’s going on in the world right now. It's just a big mess that needs to be sorted out, as opposed to ignored, ya know what I mean?

Spencer: It's like airing that confusion.

Mike: Yeah that’s it. Some days I might sing about how my kid pissed me off, or how the government does, or the establishment, or whatever bullshit I want to say. I don’t even really like talking about myself to be honest. It's my personal feelings at the time of writing that song, work my shit out in that song. If they dig it, that’s cool. If they don’t dig it, then well… that’s my song for me and I take it with me.

Spencer: You’re definitely in the right audience, nobody was rolling their eyes to this kind of stuff, and there were plenty of folks singing along too. Here in Peterborough too, I think we really resonate with the whole “folk” dynamic.

Mike: The idea of Folk in Peterborough is a pretty well-rounded thing. I don’t want to say all the hardcore bands, but everyone’s kinda got the same kind of idea: Be kind, do good things, help people instead of shit all over everything. Which seems like the general state of the world, everyone's shitting on everything.

Spencer: It's an unfortunate circumstance, but at the same time, you’ll never run out of stuff to talk about in your songs.

Mike: No there's never a shortage of stuff that’s pissing me off these days, haha. It’s a mess.

Spencer: I’d like to ask what are some of the things you guys got lined up for us in the future?

Mike: Nothing yet, haha. I think we were kind of gifted with this show, especially since last night they announced the regulations that we got to play this show. I can’t see the future, know it, but this might be the last show depending on how things work out.

Spencer: We can definitely hope for the least that this is the start of good things to come, that Peterborough gets a little more creative with the way they host shows, so we can see acts such as you guys come around here again.

Mike: Thanks man! Hopefully, it happens. I would play again, this was fun! It was nice to get out of the house and do something, but it's hard to say where all this pandemic stuff is going to go, where it's going to be, next week they might cancel everything. I don’t know, haha. I’m not in charge of Doug Ford, haha. He's made that abundantly clear.

Spencer: I think now would be a good time to knock on some wood once the reader gets to this part of the article, haha. Is there anything you would like to leave us off with?

Mike: Yeah, all I know is that we were really lucky to play this show, I'm grateful that I got to play and that people showed up. It was a good time.

Spanky did a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure that live music continued on in Peterborough. There was a lot of staff training, cocktail making and public health calling to make sure everything was in place to make sure everyone was safe but still had the pre-pandemic feeling. From comedy shows, to Saturday night concerts, to full music festivals, Spanky and his staff pulled off a great summer and proved that no matter what, the show must go on.

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