British jazz great Acker Bilk dies aged 85

Acker Bilk during his time in Singapore in 1963. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Acker Bilk during his time in Singapore in 1963. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (AFP) - British jazz clarinettist Acker Bilk, who became an international star with his 1961 single Stranger On The Shore, died on Sunday aged 85.

The first British act to top US charts in the 1960s, the goateed musician came to personify the jazz revival of the period, with his signature outfit of a waistcoat and bowler hat.

“He was a brilliant musician. He had a great sense of humour in every way. He just loved life,” his manager Pamela Sutton said. “Age caught up with him.”

Bilk learned to play in the army in the late 1940s, borrowing a marching clarinet on his posting to Egypt and copying records in his spare time in the desert.

At the end of his service, he smuggled the instrument back to his home village and formed a band. Bilk changed his name from Bernard Stanley to his nickname Acker – slang for “friend” in his native English region of Somerset.

He rose to fame playing as Acker Bilk And His Paramount Jazz Band, and began to write his own music to fill up an LP that was a couple of tunes short.

A piece written for his daughter Jenny and originally named after her became his defining hit, Stranger On The Shore.

The lilting instrumental was to become one of the most popular singles of the 1960s, outselling several classics by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and The Rolling Stones.

Bilk credited his distinctive playing style to several teeth lost in a fight at school, and half a finger lost in a sledging accident, and played his last concert in 2013.

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