You Can’t Spell Brantford Without B-A
The night BA Johnston deep fried The Ford Plant.
Tim Ford, November 18, 2022 // Brantford, OntarioThe Legendary BA Johnston at the Brantford Train Station. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
It was the early evening of July 31st, 2004 in downtown Brantford, Ontario. My friend CG and I stood in the middle of the intersection of King and Colborne Street, casually playing frisbee. We were flinging the disc in front of the music venue we owned called The Ford Plant, awaiting the arrival of the bands performing that night. Calgary’s Falcon Hawk arrived promptly at 6:00pm and joined in on the frisbee match. 10 minutes later, local favourites The Line, showed up and jumped in as well. The only performer we were waiting on was the mysterious one-man-band from Hamilton who went by BA Johnston. We knew little of him except from a vouch passed on by our mutual friend Wax Mannequin, assuring us that his stage show was incredible. A friend of Wax’s was a friend of ours, so we took a chance and booked him.
After retrieving a rogue throw that clunked the frisbee off Caesar’s window, I noticed a faint figure walking our direction down King Street with a guitar case and two bags bouncing over his shoulder. I watched that figure grow bigger until a man with a face sandwiched in mutton chops, and a physique draped in jogging pants stood at my feet. He extended his hand, introduced himself as Christian and immediately broke the ice by bluntly observing that Brantford smelled like French fries and chicken. After pointing out KFC and Admiral’s Diner as the culprits and recommending the poutine, I asked where he was walking from. When he told us that he took the Greyhound into town and walked from the bus station (with all his gear). CG and I jumped at his guitar and bags and carried them into the venue for him, expressing appreciation for the extra effort he made to get into our town.
The beginning of a BA Johnston set. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
We gave him a brief tour and ushered him into the band room for a quick soundcheck, asking if he had any specifications. He bent down and rifled through one of his bags, pulling out a discman armed with a burnt cd and a chord balled into a knot. He crammed one side of the chord into the player and one into the P.A. making a pop and crackle through the speakers. Then, with a thunderous high twitched beep that could be heard three towns over, he pressed a button on the discman, kicking off a deafening drumbeat that sharply snapped through the monitor. After a four count, it exploded into a strange menagerie of pre-recorded ooh-cha-cha midi music. Not two measures in, he thunder-beeped the discman off and looked up at us, nodding “should be good”. He unplugged them, balled them back in his bag and began to set up his merch in the other room. Though only heard for a few seconds, CG and I looked at each other and realized we were about to witness something truly unusual that night. I stood in the hall and silently watched BA pull merch out of his bags and set them up in the foyer. Even 18 years ago, his swag was second to none. Everything from tee’s, hoodies, cd’s, lp’s, toques, stickers, and patches were pulled from the seemingly bottomless bags he lugged off the Greyhound. He finished setting up just in time for doors, which had been postponed 30 minutes for Rodeo-related reasons.
The night soared on with each band rousing the crowd more and more. After The Line finished their ferocious set, it was time for BA to show Brantford what he could do. With one plug-in of the discman and placing his guitar on the stage floor, it seemed BA was ready to go. Then, in a moment of sheer anti-climax, BA Johnston ran off stage and disappeared downstairs, leaving his would-be audience darting their eyes back and forth and tilting their heads to their sides. He re-emerged in the hallway 5 minutes later in a change of outfit and signalled at CG to thunder-beep the discman to track 7. Moments later the ‘Rocky’ theme (or was it ‘You’re the Best Around’?) began to blare fuzzily through the speakers. The crowd looked around at each other in utter confusion as BA Johnston burst into the room with sparklers, a sailor’s cap, and pirate garb. He also adorned a two-sizes-too-small sweater (in late July heat) with a Hamilton Tiger Cats logo on it.
For a hilariously awkward amount of time, he zipped and zapped through the audience, high fiving anyone who could raise their stunned arms. He slithered through the crowd and snatched peoples’ soda pops from their hands and drank them/poured them over himself. When the joke ran well past its prime, he jumped up on stage and thunder-beeped Rocky off with a fierce abruption, revealing stunned stillness. A stray ‘woo’ from the back broke the silence and the crowd erupted in inquisitive applause. BA grabbed the mic and jumped on top of a chair, barely making it. “Thank you…” he paused, looked at the palm of his hand, (as if the city he was in was written on it) and looked back up, “Brantford...”. It was the first of many on-going bits BA would crack to folks in this town that would always get a laugh and that refused to ever get old.
Somewhere in the middle of a BA Johnston show. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
He grabbed his guitar and plopped down on the chair. “This song is about when you feel like your heart is blinking like a Nintendo, it’s called ‘My Heart Is a Blinking Nintendo’” he announced. Strumming on his shitty acoustic guitar with the ferocity of Propagandhi, he began to belt “you got my heart blinking like an old Nintendo, it’s never gonna work again” out into a room full of faces smiling from ear to ear. It didn’t even take until the end of the song for him to have every person in that room eating out of his pirate-hooked hand.
Throughout his set, he splitted and splatted in his evidently untearable white polyester pants, while flinging whatever liquid he could up into the air. In between each song he shed layer upon layer of the exact same tight sweater he had been secretly wearing, gaining louder cheers each time he peeled one off until pandemonium, when he inevitably stood shirtless in front of everyone. He bipped and bopped in and out of the audience who were dancing and squealing along with every move he made. When he sang a cooing ballad about a deep-frying kitchen appliance in his sleeping quarters, the fates were written, and BA Johnston greased his way into Brantford’s heart forever.
He began his grand finale by leading a pied piper-esque parade down the very small Ford Plant basement staircase and into the very small Ford Plant bathrooms, where he would sing one last song for the captivated Ford Planters. When he made his bow, everyone clambered upstairs and into a single file line at his merch table, waiting to buy up all they could see. Not even taking one minute to compose himself or wipe off after his toilet encore, BA Johnston climbed behind the table and began to sell his wears, still panting and soaked through. When the night finally petered out, Christian Johnston, sticky from sweat and soda pop, came up to CG and I and cordially thanked us for inviting him, proving himself to be the exact opposite from the madman with his foot in the crapper 20 minutes earlier. He confessed he needed to quickly head out, so he’d have enough time to stop at Admiral’s before the last Greyhound chugged down the mountain, back to his home in Hamilton. He picked up his guitar and bags (a lot lighter than before), we bid our adieus, and he began the journey back down King Street. It was a journey we were lucky to have him take time and time again at The Ford Plant.
BA Johnston finishing up a typical set. Photo credit Geoff Fitzgerald.
People from Dartmouth to Kelowna and everywhere in between have their own stories and territorial relationship with BA Johnston. We all hope our town is his favourite stop while on the ol’ proverbial Greyhound and boast that our local fandom is more loyal than the next town over. It’s a collective loyalty he’s earned. It's sometimes lost amongst the absurdity, but BA has been one of the hardest working musicians in the Canadian scene for two decades. He has remained rigorously active throughout the years touring, releasing records, performing in his TV show, and is constantly recreating his merch line. He continues to stain ceilings and farmer’s-blow snot across this country to this day, gaining admiration and that fierce loyalty at every stop. He is forever in our blinking hearts.
Here’s hoping BA Johnston’s bus always stops in… (looks at palm), Brantford.
Don't miss BA's return to Brantford this Friday, November 18th at Two Doors Down.
For Full event details please visit event page - HERE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Ford is freelance hobbyist who lives in his twelfth home in Brantford, Ontario…so…yeah, he knows a thing or two about aluminum siding.
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