Thursday, January 15, 2015

Missed 2014 Necrology: Mr. Acker Bilk

While some of the missed necrology from 2014 was just because I didn’t get around to authoring a post at the time, I completely missed other deaths. That includes the passing of Mr. Acker Bilk on November 2, 2014. He was 85 years old. Some may not remember the man with the bowler, goatee and strange name, but I do. His real first name was Bernard, but used the nickname “Acker,” which comes from his native Somerset, England dialect for friend.

The song “Stranger on the Shore” evokes fond memories of early summer 1962 when the single was released in the US and it quickly became a #1 record. In fact, it was only the second time a British artist had a number one record on this side of the Atlantic, and it had been ten years since Vera Lynn’s hit. “Stranger on the Shore” was certainly not the last record by a Brit to reach the top of the charts, and two years later it was quite a common occurrence.

Billboard named “Stranger on the Shore” as 1962’s record of the year; it was certified gold for selling in excess of a million copies. The keynote instrument is Acker Bilk’s clarinet. Bilk’s interest in this member of the woodwind family was spawned a friend’s gift of a rather rough, second-hand instrument. Having no reed, the friend fashioned one from a piece of wood. Acker Bilk later procured a better instrument and the rest is history.

Although billed as Mr. Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, it doesn’t appear that the band was present on this recording. The backing instrumentation was provided by the Leon Young String Chorale. Both Bilk and Young were credited with writing the tune. Later, publisher Robert Mellin added lyrics to this already charming instrumental and vocalists could tackle “Stranger on the Shore.”

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