'Yoohoo, I'll make you famous!'
The Wild West Midlands
By Scott Faulkner
Every week parts of the Midlands turn into ‘bandit country’ for cowboys and cowgirls with trigger-happy fingers.
The jingle of spurs ricochets across the room as Montez’s heels thud into the wooden floorboards.
The ‘stomp, chinka-ching’ stops at the bar.
Woody rises from his chair and 'draws' in a blur of movement, but smiles, not bullets, are fired across the saloon at the laughing Mexican.
'Dyin' ain't much of a livin', boy...'
This isn’t a showdown in the American Wild West but a fast draw ‘meeting’ at West Bromwich’s Rockin’ D club on a Friday night.
“I got involved with the fast draw scene after going on a caravan holiday to Western-super-Mare,” explains Malcolm Ellis, 64, whose ‘handle’ (his nickname in Western-speak) is Montez.
“There was a group of people who used to do a cowboy and Indian night and we really enjoyed it and looked into joining a club in the West Midlands.
“We got together some equipment and clothes about 20 years ago and we haven’t looked back since.
“Meeting people from different walks of life who enjoy the same scene’s the best thing about it, but it’s also bit of escapist fun, too.
'Leave justice to me!'
“We tell the neighbours we’re going to fancy dress parties because it’s easier than trying to explain.”
Authentic dress work
Malcolm and his wife Angela, 58, have helped to raise thousands of pounds for children's charities through their popular ‘Alamo’ balls.
The Halesowen couple attend clubs operating in the Midlands – West Bromwich’s Rockin’ D, the Redditch Westerners, Smethwick’s Oak Ridge club and Oldbury’s Circle W Country and Western Club, which all raise thousands for good causes each year.
Angela, known as Angelena, has built up a reputation in the scene for her authentic dress work.
Ladies at the Welshpool meeting
She makes all her own clothes for the club meetings, using historical patterns from America sourced using the internet.
She says each one of her intricately detailed cotton lawn or satin dresses can take up to three weeks to finish.
Underskirt and long knickers
“I’ve always been a dressmaker since I was young and went to art college and it’s great when we have a ball because everyone makes a real effort and the women wear the most beautiful satin gowns.
“I think we all act very much like proper ladies and it makes you walk tall rather than slouching around.
“It’s hard work being a lady though – try sitting in a car with an underskirt and long knickers on!”
Meltin' a cowboy's heart
Chris Bridgewater, known as Woody, has been involved in the scene with his wife, Jenny, for more than a decade.
Strict safety rules
The 60-year-old from Pedmore’s ‘packing’ a specially adapted replica 1873 Colt Peacemaker. “The gun that won the West,” he says, sliding it across for a closer inspection.
Like all of the guns members use for their fast draw competitions it’s Home Office approved. Strict safety rules govern the use of blanks-firing guns in the clubs.
They’re all ‘single action’ handguns, which means you have to pull back the ‘hammer’ by hand before each shot, unlike modern revolvers which are ‘double action’, and involve only squeezing the trigger to fire a round. Typically a gun and 'rig' (the belt and holster) costs £500.
A shoot-off at an event in Welshpool
World's fastest draw
“The gun has a perforated barrel preventing a bullet from going down it but the blast can buckle a beer can so they’re not toys,” explains Chris.
He says he can draw and fire at a target in half a second, which sounds quick, until you learn that the Guinness Book of Records credit the world's fastest draw (open style) to American Ernie Hill in 1982 with a time of 0.208 seconds!
“My wife prefers the dancing but for me it’s more about having a bit of fun and socialising with people.
“Some people take it more seriously than me and try to be as authentic as possible, even making their own clothes to original designs.”
Craig wears the trousers but Marie's the fast draw
One couple who have taken their love of the Wild West to the next level are Craig Evans and his fiancé Marie Eagleton. They met at the Rockin’ D club and have been together for four years.
The Willenhall couple are planning a Wild West wedding on 24 July 2010 with most of their 350 guests in period costume, and horse-drawn carriages replacing Rolls-Royces.
Cowboy Craig, known as KC, will be wearing a ‘West Point’ US Military uniform and cowgirl Marie, called Muskrat, who is one of the country’s fastest women on the draw, has had a shimmering period dress made specially for her by a friend in America.
The couple are even in discussions with the authorities to allow guests to bring their ‘pieces’ to the ceremony.
'Too bad you had to die...'
Stepping back in time
“When I met Marie at the club she lent me my first rig and gun and I’ve been hooked ever since,” says locksmith, Chris.
“When I’m in costume it makes me feel like I’ve just stepped back in time – you never grow out of wanting to be a cowboy!”
last updated: 27/07/2009 at 09:46