Bernard Stanley Bilk, MBE (28 January 1929 – 2 November 2014), known professionally as Acker Bilk, was an English clarinettist and vocalist known for his breathy, vibrato-rich, lower-register style, and distinctive appearance – of goatee, bowler hat and striped waistcoat.
Bilk’s 1962 instrumental tune “Stranger on the Shore” became the UK’s biggest selling single of 1962: it was in the UK charts for more than 50 weeks, peaking at number two, and was the first No. 1 single in the United States by a British artist in the era of the modern Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.
Bilk was born in Pensford, Somerset, in 1929. He earned the nickname “Acker” from the Somerset slang for “friend” or “mate”. His parents tried to teach him the piano but, as a boy, Bilk found it restricted his love of outdoor activities, including football. He lost two front teeth in a school fight and half a finger in a sledging accident, both of which he said affected his eventual clarinet style.
On leaving school Bilk joined the workforce of W.D. & H.O. Wills’s cigarette factory in Bristol; he stayed there for three years, putting tobacco in the cooling room and then pushing tobacco through a blower. He then undertook three years of National Service with the Royal Engineers in the Suez Canal Zone. He learned the clarinet there after his sapper friend, John A. Britten, gave him one bought at a bazaar and for which Britten had no use. The clarinet had no reed, so Britten fashioned a makeshift one for the instrument from scrap wood. Bilk later borrowed a better instrument from the army and kept it after demobilisation. After National Service, Bilk joined his uncle’s blacksmith business and qualified in the trade.
Bilk played with friends on the Bristol jazz circuit and in 1951 moved to London to play with Ken Colyer’s band. Bilk disliked London, so returned west and formed his own band in Pensford called the Chew Valley Jazzmen, which was renamed the Bristol Paramount Jazz Band when they moved to London in 1951. Their agent then booked them for a six-week gig in Düsseldorf, Germany, playing in a beer bar seven hours a night, seven nights a week. During this time, Bilk and the band developed their distinctive style and appearance, complete with striped-waistcoats and bowler hats.
After returning from Germany, Bilk became based in Plaistow, London, and his band played in London jazz clubs. It was from here that Bilk became part of the boom in trad jazz in the United Kingdom in the late 1950s. In 1960, their single “Summer Set” (a pun on their home county), co-written by Bilk and pianist Dave Collett, reached number five on the UK Singles Chart, and began a run of 11 chart hit singles. In 1961 “Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band” appeared at the Royal Variety Performance.
Bilk was not an internationally known musician until 1962, when the experimental use of a string ensemble on one of his albums and the inclusion of a composition of his own as its keynote piece won him an audience outside the UK. He had composed a melody, entitled “Jenny” after his daughter, but was asked to change the title to “Stranger on the Shore” for use in a British television series of the same name. He went on to record it as the title track of a new album in which his deep and quavering clarinet was backed by the Leon Young String Chorale.
The single was not only a big hit in the United Kingdom, where it stayed on the charts for 55 weeks, helped by Bilk being the subject of the TV show This Is Your Life, but also topped the American charts. As a result, Bilk was the second British artist to have a single in the number-one position on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. (Vera Lynn was the first, with “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” in 1952.) “Stranger on the Shore” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. At the height of his career, Bilk’s public relations workers were known as the “Bilk Marketing Board”, a pun on the Milk Marketing Board.
At the height of his international fame in 1962, he appeared in two theatrical motion pictures. It’s Trad, Dad! (released in the United States by Columbia Pictures as Ring-a-Ding Rhythm) was a Richard Lester musical combining dixieland and rock-and-roll specialties; “Mr. Acker Bilk” and his band were the best represented, with three songs and a speaking role for Bilk. The second picture, Band of Thieves, was a comedy starring “Mr. Acker Bilk” and his group as musicians in prison.
Bilk recorded a series of albums in Britain that were also released successfully in the United States (on the Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco), including a collaboration, Together, with the Danish jazz pianist and composer Bent Fabric (“The Alley Cat”). Bilk’s success tapered off when British rock and roll made its big international impact beginning in 1964 and he shifted direction to the cabaret circuit. (by wikipedia)
Another nice album from this period is this album (In UK: “Great Themes From Great European Films”in US : “Great Themes From Great Foreign Films “) .. A sweet and gentle mixture of soundtrack tunes …
And Mr. Acker Bilk … celebrates this music with his very unique way he plays he clarinet … what a beautiful sound …
Listen and enjoy … and yes, heré´s another sentimental journey …
Acker Bilk (clarinet)
01. The Good Life – ‘The Seven Capital Sins’ (Reardon/Distel) 2.27
02. More – ‘Mondo Cane’ (Oliviero/Newell/Ortolani) 2.32
03. La Ronde (Straus) 2.38
04.Non Dimenticar – ‘Anna’ (Redi) 2.45
05.Canto D’Amore – ‘Divorce Italian Style’ (Rossi/Rustichelli) 2.40
06. Theme from Billy Liar (Hart/Bennett) 2.23
07. Warsaw Concerto – ‘Dangerous Moonlight’ (Addinsell) 2.40
08. Firestar – ‘To Bed Ot Not To Bed’ (Piccioni) 2.45
09. La Strada (Rota) 2.43
10. From Russia With Love (Bart) 2.51
11. Autumn In Rome – ‘Indiscretion Of An American Wife’ (Cicognini/Weston/Cahn) 2.27
12. Never On A Sunday (Hadjidakis) 2.42
- (coming soon)