Bernard (Acker) Bilk (1929-2014)

 
Tribute to Acker courtesy of BBC Radio 4's "Last Word" programme.



Tribute to Acker courtesy of Jazz Club - BBC Radio Ulster



Tribute to Acker courtesy of Clarke Peters who presented a portrait of the late jazz clarinettist on BBC Radio 2


The following item reproduced courtesy of The Telegraph Nov 2nd 2014

Acker Bilk, the legendary Jazz clarinettist, has died at the age of 85. The musician, who lived in Pensford, Somerset, died this afternoon at Bath's Royal United Hospital, his manager Pamela Sutton said.

Bilk, known for performing in a garish waistcoat and bowler hat, was the first UK act to top the US charts in the 1960s. His most famous hit, Stranger on the Shore, stayed in the charts for a year after it was released in 1961, winning him four gold discs. Born Bernard Stanley Bilk , he changed his name to Acker - Somerset slang for mate - after learning to play the clarinet while in the Army.

As a child, his parents tried to encourage him musically, pushing him to learn the piano, but he preferred to be outside playing football. It was not until his National Service in Egypt before the Suez Crisis, that he developed a love for the clarinet. "In the army you could borrow musical instruments on loan, and as I'd played recorder a bit as I kid, I took out a clarinet," he said in an interview to mark his 80th birthday. "Before long we got a little band going – the Original Egyptian Stompers."  He took the Ministry of Defence clarinet home with him and started playing in Bristol’s jazz clubs in the 1950s before his big break when he was spotted by a PR playing in a beer bar in Dusseldorf, Germany. It was as the Bristol Paramount Jazz Band that he and a couple of Pensford locals moved to London in 1951.  Bilk lost three teeth in a school punch-up and half a finger in a sledging accident, which he always maintained were the reasons for his distinctive style.

The musician spent much of his latter years fighting a series of illnesses. In October 1999 he noticed his voice had become hoarse and he suspected growths in the throat - a problem common to many singers.  But after seeking medical advice he was told it was throat cancer and he underwent six weeks of radiotherapy treatment which resulted in a number of shows being played by the band without him.  He also received surgery at least eight times for bladder cancer and had a small stroke in his early eighties.  However he still retained his passion for music and went on performing until 2013.

Mrs Sutton, who was Bilk's personal manager for 45 years, said he had "been ill for some time. He was my great friend and his music was legendary."  "He had a great sense of humour in every way," she added. "He just loved life."  She said that he died around 2pm with his wife Jean by his side, saying that "age caught up with him".  Poet Ian McMillan tweeted: "Goodbye Acker Bilk, creator of one of the great earworms. That shore was strange, but memorable." 

He leaves his wife Jean, daughter Jenny and son Pete.


03/11/14 - Sad to hear Acker has passed away.

A great old pal for many years, We met so many times on his regular visits to Ireland.

In my life time, I had the privilege of playing four concerts with him. In 2003 we played Birr Jazz Festival, together with the late Stan Greg, piano, my late brother Billy on bass, (Acker and Billy got on very well) Mike Henry, trumpet, Bob Hunt trombone, I played drums and of course Acker played wonderful clarinet. I hold dear a recording of that concert. I called him on a regular basis, most recently this summer. Telling me his latest jokes, he would say " tell them in Ireland, they will love that one."

RIP Acker - Des Hopkins
 


03/11/14 -

Very sorry to hear about Acker's passing. For me, his best band was the one with Ken Sims and the late Ron McKay. It swung like the clappers. I had the honour and pleasure of working with him twice. We traveled together and I found him to be a very friendly person. No Big Time! He remained one of the most creative musicians on the scene. I last met him in Chichester about 5 years ago when I was playing with the Gresty/ White Ragtimers. We opened the sell-out show in the theatre. I was struck by the rather restrained tempo the band played. Some great players, who I know can tear it up, but clearly Acker had to pace himself. He wasn't the Acker of 1960 - but like Wild Bill Davison, with whom I toured when he was 83, Acker's sound and creativity remained in tact and as interesting as ever but clearly he had to hone his style to match his diminishing physical capability. I heard bits of Pee Wee Russell in there - but it was always Acker - a true original voice of British jazz. The losses of the big hitters in traditional jazz have been very great in the past couple of years. Of the household names, only Chris Barber is left and he seems to be as busy as ever - and long may that be so. RIP Acker and condolences to his family in this difficult time.

John Petters


05/11/14 -

Sad to hear of Acker's passing. As a student in Liverpool in the early 60's I used to go to jazz gigs at the Mardi Gras at the bottom of Brownlow Hill. My fellow students from the then Liverpool College of Building at the top of the hill went to pull birds and I followed suit. I had a Mini (car that is) at the time and almost managed it once but I really preferred the jazz.

My then mate, Ken Chambers, was continuously berating me for standing by the stage listening to the music rather than helping him split a pair of likely conquests.

I saw many bands there but truthfully, the only session I really remember in any detail is Acker's. Maybe Ron McKay was on drums at that time and that's why.

Graham Martindale


05/11/14

It's always very sad when anybody dies; therefore, although I never knew him personally, I did recognise his genius, especially as he was a fellow clarinettist. I only met him once, to talk to briefly, during an interval from my Back O'Town Syncopators weekly residency at Jazzshows in the mid-1960s. We bumped into each other at the bar in the Blue Posts, behind Jazzshows - which was "dry" at the time if I remember rightly. He'd normally not know me from Adam, but he'd already been in Jazzshows in the first half and knew who I was. I can't remember what else we talked about, other than Jazz, but that was my first and last conversation with someone I had greatly admired since the earlier decade.

I first heard him at the Manchester Hippodrome in the Sunday session organised by the Lancashire Society of Jazz Music (Paddy McKiernan/Jack Gregory, and often funded by Marquess and Marchioness of Donegal). Those were magnificent Jazz sessions. Although I ended up on the Modern Dixieland/Frisco/Mainstream side of the sticks, Acker was at that time (1954-55) one of my greatest role models for the clarinet, when I was just learning to play the instrument. His Paramount Jazz Band was a tremendously fresh, unadulterated sound. They played great tunes that were seldom played; no "pot-boilers". It was an electrifying and exciting sound and it made a tremendous impression on me, a lad of 17. It was one of my main motivators for getting onto the Jazz band-wagon later. My other idol, apart from Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Barnie Biggard, Peanuts Hucko, was our own British Monty Sunshine, who had a completely different style from all the others, but who I loved to hear too.
.
Later Acker went solo, playing with Classical orchestral backings, and he sounded fabulous, completely different from his Traditional sound and style. It was majestic playing; it was hard to believe he was the same musician. So he accomplished everything that was possible as a Jazz clarinettist. My Fedora goes off to him, with a big "thank you Acker for that early inspiration and example".

May I offer my condolences to his wife Jean and children Jenny and Peter. May he rest in the Peace of the Lord.

Joe Silmon-Monerri


06/11/14 -

A long held memory .

Almost 60 years ago I was at R.A.F. Locking in Somerset when word came that Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band were to play an evening of ‘Trad Jazz’ at the camp.

As a National Serviceman still under the influence of the early 1950s Manchester Jazz scene, and cut off from all that I had come to regard as a natural way of life, the chance seemed too good to miss, so I went along, and what an evening Acker and his band gave us. The experience of that evening stays with me to this day. The wild enthusiasm plus accompanying applause and cheering are still in my memory.

The Paramount Jazz Band were new to me (this was 1955) it must have been one of the early steps in the career of this remarkable man and his team. I met regularly with Ron Mackay many years later when he was playing with Les Moore and the French Quarter Band, and he was always happy to share some of his stories of his days with Acker.

Regards,

Banjo Ron.


RIP Acker - Graham Leavey


19/11/14 -

I read the recent reports by Des on the Acker Bilk page and it brought back memories. When I was playing trumpet with the Pete Haslam Collegians we played any all-nighter at the Cavern Club alongside Ackers band. During the course of the night it came time for Ackers band to do another set but most of his band were missing (probably at the pub just down Mathew St, next to the Post Office which had a tendency to remain open all hours as did pubs near to the newspaper publishers in Manchester).

Acker asked Pete if we would back him for his set, which we gladly did.

After the set he told Pete that he was to do a Free Trade Hall concert the next weekend and that he would put us on the bill. Much to our surprise come Monday morning Pete got a call from Paddy McKiernan confirming that we would open for Acker and that Acker would pay our fee for the gig.

Denis Gilmore


22/11/14 -

I was just reading your news page and saw Denis Gilmore's remarks about Acker at the Cavern. I remember it very well, his band weren't capable of playing all of their set, and Acker sat in with us for a few numbers.  I didn't know he had paid our fee for the Manchester gig, but we started off the concert at the Free Trade Hall as I believed Acker played at the Granada studios first, so we opened the show. I did have a cutting from the Evening News, Jack Florins column, that said  "...Colourful Jazz" as we had our blazers and boaters and they had their bowlers and waistcoats.  They were a bit worse for wear that night too as I recall pushing their trombonist on stage!

Nice memories from over 50 years ago.

Brenda Canty-Forrest...was Tomkins
 


The Funeral of Acker Bilk
Des Hopkins

On Thursday last November 13th I boarded an early morning flight from Dublin to Bristol to attend the funeral service of my old friend Acker Bilk. I had known him for many years, in my life time played four concerts with him, and socialised with him on his many visits to Ireland. The funeral service was held at All Saints Church just outside the beautiful Somerset village of Pensford. The Church was packed with family, friends, and many, many musicians, for the somewhat subdued but lovely ceremony.

Committal in the church yard followed. In comparative silence, and apart from the howling gale, clicking cameras, and the strains of "Stranger on the Shore" beaming from strategically placed speakers, the sound echoed through the spectacular countryside.

Few know that Acker, in addition to being a wonderful musician, was a talented artist and poet. Growing up in the little village of Pensford, nostalgic memories of his childhood prompted him to write this poem, which was recited at the service.

THE RIVER
 (Acker Bilk)

ALTHOUGH NOT A BIG RIVER, T'WAS ENDLESS TO ME,
WE DIVED IN IT, SWAM IN IT, FISHED IT WITH GLEE.
WE FLOATED RAFTS ON IT, WATCHED ALL THE WHILE,
BY HERONS AND KINGFISHERS, DUCKS SINGLE FILE.
MARTINS DIPPING AND DIVING, THE SWIFTS FLYING FREE
WATER RATS DUNKING LIKE BISCUITS IN TEA.
REEDS FULL OF MOORHENS, AND A BIT FURTHER OUT,
WHERE THE CURRENT FLOWED SWIFTER, THAT GOLD BELLIED TROUT.
THE TREES ON THE BANK WERE THERE TO BE CLIMBED,
ELBOWS AND KNEES SKINNED, BUT WE DIDN'T MIND.
A THOUSAND AND ONE THINGS TO SEE AND TO DO,
A MAGICAL PLACE WAS THE OLD RIVER CHEW.
THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH, NOT NUMBERED OR PLANNED,
I GO BACK TO THE RIVER WHENEVER I CAN.

 

RIP Acker, your music will live on.

Des Hopkins 17/11/2014

 


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