Mr Acker Bilk died at the beginning of November aged 85. A lot has been written about him and his music and there is decent obituary on the BBC web-site.
Originally from Somerset, hence his nickname Acker which means mate or friend in the local dialect, he learned to play the clarinet doing his national service in Egypt and perfumed in a couple of bands before he formed the Paramount Jazz Band. He and his band, like the Beatles, honed their skills in Germany playing seven hours a day, seven days a week for six months in Dusseldorf.
He will probably be most remembered for “Stranger on the Shore” which he wrote and performed with the Leon Young Chorale. A far cry from trad jazz iIt was released in 1961, reached No 2 in the UK charts where it stayed for 55 weeks, and made him the first UK artist to top the US music charts in the 1960s. (Vera Lynn was the first one to achieve that in 1952, Stranger was followed by Telstar and then the Beatles invaded America).
Stranger On The Shore, originally named after his daughter Jenny, was used as the theme tune of a BBC TV drama series with the same name and was taken to the Moon on a cassette by the crew of the Apollo 10 space mission in 1969. Vocal versions were also made in later years.
I saw Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band perform at a Xmas party organised by Burnley & District Hospital Management Committee for its staff. These were big events in those days when public service staff weren’t well-paid but had good sports and welfare facilities (there was a crown bowling green at Burnley General Hospital as well as full-size snooker tables and table tennis equipment).
I can’t remember the exact date but I started working at the hospital in late 1961 and that was when “Stranger on the Shore” was released. This was in the brief hey-day of a trad jazz revival and Acker and his band had obviously been booked for some months.
When he achieved chart success we wondered if he would actually turn up for the party but he did and I remember it was a great night although I wasn’t a jazz fan.
So RIP an iconic clarinetist and if you haven’t heard the tune (statistically unlikely as it’s one of the biggest all-time instrumental hits) here it is:
(FYI We had Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen the following year when he had his hit with “Midnights in Moscow” so we were lucky. (Some well-known rock groups couldn’t be bothered turning up at venues once they had a couple of hits in the mid-60s)