Acker Bilk’s ‘Stranger on the Shore’ (October 1961)

With the death of Acker Bilk yesterday, the following post suggested itself. A West Country boy like myself (‘Acker’ is Somerset slang for mate) he died in Bath Royal United Hospital, these days an unfortunate, frequent haunt of my parents. Bernard Stanley Bilk was born in Pensford, Somerset, in January, 1929, the son of a Methodist lay preacher. His mother played the organ in the local chapel. After a spell working at the Wills tobacco factory in Bristol, he went off to do his National Service in Egypt where he learned to play the clarinet and formed a band known as the Original Egyptian Stompers.

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He always retained his affection for Pensford and never lost his Somerset accent. At one time he employed a road manager, Alan Cutler, known as Adge, who would go on to find success with scrumpy and western outfit, The Wurzels. 

The brief passage that follows is another section from sketchy autobiographical writings hidden away in my files. My earlier post (https://martyncrucefix.com/2014/10/14/telstar-august-1962/)

came from the same source. Perhaps there will be more . . .

Play this as you read:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsKTG30g3mw

On the radio a breathy clarinet with a lilting gentle melody climbing up and then immediately returning to a low sustained note like a human voice, deep, quivering, the melody so pure and simple there should be words. I try to put words to it.

That reedy, woody voice backed by a simple marking of time on string bass. As it rises a second time, thin violins accompany it as the notes leap up an octave to something like a cry set loose in a vast open space and the whole is bathed in the solitary, brooding mood that the title of the record hits with precision.

An unknown figure exactly as we all are unknown figures, this time walking beside the ocean, the flat, undramatic waters rolling in, chilled and colourless but for the warm tones of the artist himself, humble and quiet, even at the last hesitating before a defiant little spirited flurry and only then sidling away, the music diminishing into a flat horizon, no big finish.

It is nothing like you might have expected when you see the player on the grey television screen, the gimmicky bowler hat, silk waistcoat and jazzer’s goatie beard.

Dad explains the idea of a ‘gimmick’ to me: something you might adopt – an object, a voice, a look – in order to draw attention to yourself. Why would you do that?

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