Spotlight on ……
March 2001 Acker was honoured with an MBE for his services to the music industry, well deserved, I feel, and maybe a little overdue. January 2004 saw Acker’s arrival in Who’s Who, although Acker and I are not sure what exactly this signifies ! 2005, and Acker was awarded both the BBC Jazz Award for his unique contribution to Jazz in the UK; and then Acker was proud to receive an Honorary Master of Arts Degree from the University of Bristol. It shows how far Acker has come from his humble beginning.
Acker was born in Pensford, Somerset 28 January 1929. His actual names are Bernard Stanley, but were short-lived as he was soon nick-named Acker, Somerset for friend or mate, and all who meet Acker agree this name is apt, his friendly nature and wicked sense of humour endears him to all. His youth was spent in Somerset where his parents tried to teach Acker the piano, but the practising restricted him from being in the countryside, playing football with his mates, or even a little poaching! It was while sledging that he lost half a finger, and then Acker lost two teeth in a school punch-up – Acker claims these are the reasons for his recognizable style of clarinet playing!
Before Acker became a musician he worked in the Bristol Wills Tobacco factory for £1.4s per week, he also dabbled in Boxing as we said above. He married his childhood sweetheart, Jean, nicknamed Ging because of her lovely red hair. Then in 1948 he started playing the clarinet and whilst in the Royal Engineers in the Canal Zone he borrowed a military clarinet and began copying records. He was sent to the Glasshouse for sleeping on duty and endured the boredom by practising. Demobbed Acker formed his first Band in Bristol, then he and Jean moved to London so he could become the clarinetist with The Ken Colyer Band, but he hated London and returned to Bristol to form the Bristol Paramount Jazz Band. In 1951 this Band returned to London and Jean and Acker survived in a factory attic in Plaistow until the Band got their first big break – six weeks constant playing in a beer bar in Dusseldorf, Germany. This really disciplined the Band musically and they never looked back
Back in London hit jazz records started Creole Jazz and Summer Set. Then in 1961 Acker recorded Stranger on the Shore, which was originally called Jenny after his daughter, but the title changed when it became the theme tune for a BBC TV series. This was the first-ever recording to be number One simultaneously in the UK and USA charts, although there is a slight dispute over the UK Charts as there were so many different charts. The Guinness Book of British Hit singles stated it was No: Two, whereas Twenty Years of British Record Charts states it was UK No: One. Both agree it was 55 weeks in the Charts, so in 2002 when it was The 50th Anniversary of the start of the official single charts Acker was delighted when Stranger on the Shore was acclaimed 58th in the all charts since all charts began. Acker has received many many awards, including platinum and gold, for many of his numbers, including Aria and of course, Stranger On The Shore.
Over the years Acker varies his recording; Jazz with his Paramount Jazz Band; romantic melodies with string orchestras; and guesting with other prominent Jazz and rock musicians such as the late Humphrey Lyttelton, Van Morrison, Dutch Swing College Band, Papa Bue. “As Time Goes By” was his last live Jazz recording with his Paramount Jazz Band produced by Les Squires, Acker Tour Manager of some 34 years. Acker's current Paramount Jazz Band are Ian Bateman, Richie Bryant, John Day, Enrico Tomasso and Colin Wood.
Having just reached his majestic 80’s Acker has become very keen on painting his beloved Somerset countryside, often with friends all coming from his childhood days and his very first Band, so has lightening his touring. (One of his paintings is on the sleeve of “As Time Goes By”. He still performs regularly with his Paramount Jazz Band. Acker gets many offers to return to Australia and New Zealand where he remains very popular but these he regretful refuses – the journeys are just too long and boring! In the 21st Century double and treble bills are the flavour of the month – “Back to Back” Acker and his Band with Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, started in 2005 every concerts has been a sell out; then there was “Humph ‘n’ Acker” with the late Humphrey Lyttleton and his Band; and then the ultimate “3B in Concert” Acker and his Paramount Jazz Band, with Kenny Ball and Chris Barber and their Bands.
Coming more up-to-date in November 2008 Acker was awarded The Worshipful Company of Musicians Silver Medal for Lifetime Achievement, and April 2009 saw the Variety Club honouring Acker with a “Tribute to Acker and his Music”.
Believe it or not Acker's music has been enjoyed in Outer Space. A cassette belonging to Gene Cernan was flown around the moon in Apollo10. This cassette featured the likes of Doris Day, Kingston Trio and Acker Bilk, the music that Gene and his friend Al Bishop thought was best suited for his forthcoming journey in that time. This cassette is still in existence and is owned by Larry McGlynn who lives in USA and collects items that have been flown in space. Acker music seems to be everywhere, his fans are from all around the World and the Moon!
Having toured the World for nearly 60 years and seen most of its wonders it is typical of Acker that he is back living in Somerset with Jean, whilst his daughter, Jenny, and son, Pete, both live in Hertfordshire. Pete is an accomplished Sound Engineer, Photographer and Musician in his own right. Acker supports many charities including Cancer charities. He also campaigned vigorously for recognition of the troops who served in the Suez Crisis in the Canal Zone and this resulted in recognition and medals being issued in 2003. The irony of it was Acker did not get a medal for the time he was there - he was there either too early or too late!
Acker lifestyle is music and painting. Acker’s enthusiasm for painting helped him over a hard time in 2000 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent radiotherapy. His throat was so sore and tender it was hard, almost impossible, for him to swallow, but he is a fighter and recovered, and his quick recovery was through his willpower and good medical treatment. All he could do at that time was walk, sleep and paint.
Although Acker will always be synonymous with the famous Bowler Hat and Waistcoat, Acker is a serious and dedicated musician, and exceptionally professional. Last word from Acker “I still find it hard to believe I am getting paid for doing what I love most in the World” - This Great Master of the Clarinet has a style, which is unique.
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