As a kid growing up in Belfast, I really loved the old Western movies with the singing cowboys – Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, Eddie Dean; and the non-singing ones like Hopalong Cassidy, the Durango Kid and Lash LaRue; and their sidekicks – the Andys ~ Devine and Clyde; the Fuzzys ~ Knight and St. John; Smiley “Frog” Burnette; and of course the inimitable King of the Sidekicks ~ George “Gabby” Hayes.
And here’s a tip o’ the Stetson to their musical groups - particularly Bob Nolan and the Sons Of The Pioneers (who occasionally doubled as sidekicks), for their dazzling harmonies and instrumentation, and for all the classic Western songs like Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Cool Water and Way Out There.
And to Foy Willing And The Riders Of The Purple Sage, to Spade Cooley and to some talented groups performing that music today, such as Riders In The Sky with their great yodeler Ranger Doug (the idol of American youth!), and their very own sidekick – Sidemeat. Or the Sons Of The San Joaquin, or Prickly Pair… I could go on, but you’d be reading this all day.
Saturdays would find me and my friends at the Arcadian Picture-house, or maybe the Clonard or the Diamond, for a serial, a B-Western and a cartoon all for sixpence.
For our parents it was a bargain for a couple of hours of peace and quiet.
But in the movie-house, all was not peace and quiet. Far from it.
The shows were interactive, before anyone knew what interactive meant.
If the villain was sneaking up on an unsuspecting Roy or Gene, we’d scream our lungs out at the screen;
“Look out, he’s behind you!”
And when good ol’ Roy or Gene were fighting the bad guys, we’d start fighting and wrestling too, until an usher with his ever-present flashlight came and broke it up. But when he walked away we’d be at it again. Especially if there was a love-scene with kissing between the hero and the damsel in distress. First, there were the catcalls: “Ewww! Yuck!” And the wrestling would start anew.
But it was perfectly OK for a hero to kiss his horse.
Well, I grew up, went to college and got into Irish folk music.
However, those days were never far from my mind, especially when I’d recall the old Western songs from the movies; and when I started doing one or two during my shows I was astonished at how many people remembered them too.
So return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when the daring and resourceful cowboys of the silver screen – and their sidekicks – galloped on their gallant steeds into our hearts and memories.