Acker Bilk: Legendary jazz clarinettist dies aged 85

Media caption,
'Stranger on the Shore' stayed in the UK chart for one year.

Clarinettist Acker Bilk, who personified the trad jazz revival of the 1950s and '60s, has died after a lengthy illness at the age of 85.

His most famous song Stranger on the Shore was the UK's biggest selling single of 1962 and made him an international star.

Born Bernard Stanley Bilk, he changed his name to Acker - Somerset slang for "mate" - after learning to play the clarinet in the Army.

His last concert was in August 2013.

Pamela Sutton, who was Bilk's manager for 45 years, said he had "been ill for some time", adding: "He was my great friend and his music was legendary."

Image caption,
Stranger on the Shore was the UK's biggest selling song of 1962

Born in Pensford in Somerset, Bilk tried a number of different careers before borrowing a clarinet and copying recordings of famous jazz musicians while in the Army.

He formed his first band in Bristol after his demobilisation.

Known for his goatee, bowler hat and fancy waistcoat, Bilk was awarded an MBE in 2001 for services to the music industry.

He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2000 but recovered and continued to play concerts, the last of which was at the Brecon Festival last year.

US number one

Bilk told the BBC in a 2012 interview that when he wrote his biggest hit Stranger on the Shore, he did not immediately realise it was special.

The instrumental made him the first artist to have a simultaneous chart-topping hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Bilk formed his first band after leaving the Army

"I didn't think it was much different from any of the rest of it," he said.

"It was just a thing that came out of my head, that's all. I didn't sort of work on it or do much at all with it."

Besides Stranger on the Shore, Bilk also had hits with tunes such as Summer Set and Buona Sera.

He sold millions of records and won an Ivor Novello award.

'One of the great earworms'

"RIP ol' liquorice stick," tweeted broadcaster Danny Baker on hearing the news, describing Bilk as a "good jazzer & eternal answer to question: 'What UK artist had 1st number one in USA?'"

Poet Ian McMillan also paid tribute to the musician, describing him as the "creator of one of the great earworms. That shore was strange, but memorable."

Kenny Ball Junior, whose father Kenny Ball played alongside Bilk, said he had fond memories of the two of them playing together.

"He was such a wonderful player," he told the BBC. "He conquered everywhere. He was such a lovely bloke, a very genuine guy."

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