Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Van and Acker Bilk

Bernard Stanley "Acker" Bilk, MBE (28/01/29 – 02/11/14) was an English clarinetist and vocalist. He was known mostly for his standout 1962 hit Stranger on the Shore and for his eccentric appearance which consisted of goatee, bowler hat and striped waistcoat. 

Bilk was born in Pensford, Somerset, in 1929. He earned the nickname "Acker" from the Somerset slang for "friend" or "mate". On leaving school Bilk joined the workforce of W.D. & H.O. Wills's cigarette factory in Bristol where he worked for three years.  He then undertook three years of National Service with the Royal Engineers in the Suez Canal Zone. He learnt the clarinet there after his sapper friend, John A. Britten, gave him one bought at a bazaar. 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 returned west and formed his own band in Pensford eventually called the Bristol Paramount Jazz Band. Like the Beatles and Van Morrison they accepted a six month residency in Germany.  Bilk went to Düsseldorf, playing in a beer bar seven hours a night, seven nights a week. After returning from Germany, Bilk continued to play his version of jazz to increasing popularity.  

He wasn’t internationally known until 1962 when he released the instrumental called Stranger On The Shore.  The song took up residence in the UK charts for 55 weeks and became a US number one record in May 1962.  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 in 1952.) Stranger on the Shore sold over one million copies, and was awarded gold status.

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. Bilk continued to tour with his Paramount Jazz Band, as well as performing concerts with his two contemporaries, Chris Barber and Kenny Ball. In 2005 he was awarded the BBC Jazz Awards' Gold Award.

Van Morrison

Not much is known about the connection between Van Morrison and Acker Bilk. Van is a respecter of all honest musicians.  Bilk would have earned his respect simply because of his finely honed playing, his longevity and his commitment to doing things his way despite the ever-changing music trends.  Bilk appeared on three albums by Van Morrison: Down the Road (2002) and What's Wrong With This Picture? (2003). 

On Down the road Van took Bilk’s instrumental piece Evening Shadows and wrote some lyrics before the two recorded it together. Bilk’s clarinet work is distinctive on the track.  On What’s Wrong With This Picture? Bilk played clarinet and co-wrote Somerset.  Bilk was born in the beautiful English county of Somerset and Van resided there for many years.  Also, years earlier Bilk had recorded a song called Summer Set.  

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