Acker Bilk; Kenny Ball: Alan Smith Goes Sailing With Two Of Britain’s Top Disc Stars

Acker’s Happy With His Vocal Success

BRITAIN’S trad kings Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball had an unusual way of celebrating their respective hit discs at the weekend – they went for a boat trip. But it was no ordinary jaunt round the light-house! Instead, they contributed nearly four hours of swinging trad to the famous “Merseysippi Jazzboat” between Liverpool and the Isle of Man.

Said Acker, whose ‘Gotta See Baby Tonight’ is this week No. 30 in the NME Chart: “Dad, these jazzboats are hard work! But I still enjoy doing them – I got my sea legs some time ago.

“It’s great to have a vocal in the charts again, although I wouldn’t say it gave me more satisfaction than an instrumental. After all, it’s always a thrill to get a disc in the best-sellers, no matter what kind of number it may be.”

Bearing in mind the continued success of ‘Stranger On The Shore’, I asked him if he’d done any music writing lately.

“Not too much,” he said, as the ship rolled against the swell of the Irish Sea, “although I’m still hoping that one day I’ll come up with another number that will do half as much for me!

“Actually, the last songs I wrote were for Band Of Thieves, the comedy in which the boys and I make our film debut. I did these in conjunction with Norrie Paramor. I expect there’ll be an EP of some of the numbers when the film comes out. We may appear in another film next year; we’re still talking about it at the moment. Another comedy. And I might write some songs for that.”

He was wearing a white cap in preference to the customary bowler. He pushed it to the back of his head thoughtfully.

“You can take it from me that the boys and I are sticking together,” he told me. “I’m stunned by the success I’ve had on my own.

“But that doesn’t mean I’d want to spend the rest of my career performing as a solo act.

“I’ve had a lot of offers from the States and when I go over later this year I’ll be appearing with the Leon Young String Chorale. The Paramount Jazzband could go out on their own in this country when I’m away – they’re over 21! But as I say, solo appearances are only one part of my career.”

I asked Acker if the band felt rather out of things since ‘Stranger On The Shore’ had done so much to further his career. “No,” he said, “because they realise that if I’m getting on well then they’re getting on well, too.

Relieved

“We’re all pretty happy to have a hit together again, although I don’t mind telling you I was a bit worried about whether ‘Gotta See Baby’ would make the charts or not. After all, ‘Stranger’ has been around a long time now. I thought some of the fans might have forgotten my other style!”

Incidentally, his love of jazz doesn’t mean that Acker is a square when it comes to other kinds of music. He’s an avid record collector and has a variety of discs by singers, including Frank Sinatra and Matt Monro.

He doesn’t follow the “jazz purists,” who say that trad is on the way out, either. “Trad’s music,” he said, “and music will go on for ever.”

Incidentally, when I asked Acker if he had any particular personal ambition, he told me! “Yes, to have a holiday!” He’s taking his wife and family to Portugal next month.

After that comes his long-awaited trip to the States, in which he’ll be making an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. This promises to be a rare treat for the U.S. audiences, for up to now the famous beard, bowler and waistcoat haven’t been fully exploited on the other side of the Atlantic.


HAVING MET Acker – he later had a delighted audience as he and the Paramount Jazzband swung into action below deck – I wandered round the boat to see and hear the music of the eleven other trad bands on board.

It was certainly a value-for-money cruise! Kenny Ball was swinging ‘So Do I’ in the lounge. On another deck, Bob Wallis was singing ‘Come Along, Please’. Elsewhere the fans were twisting and jiving to the Monty Sunshine Jazzband, Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen, Mike Cotton’s Jazzmen, Mick Mulligan, Bruce Turner and a host of others.

The dancers had come from all parts of the country, too, by coach, train and air. In fact, the variety of accents was matched only by the assortment of clothes worn by the more ” beat” personalities on board!

I saw one wearing a knee-length potato sack and a bowler that proclaimed “Bilk Is Best.”* * *

Kenny Ball Thinks His Voice Horrible

HAVING A welcome drink in his dressing cabin on the way back was a tired but happy Kenny Ball, equally jubilant about HIS new vocal disc ‘So Do I’ (the week’s chart sensation, opening at No. 15!).

“It was recommended to me by a BBC producer,” he told me. “It’s not a new tune, by any means. In fact, I think it’s something around 20 years old! It’s an old German melody and was formerly called ‘Bel Ami’.

“We recorded it quite recently, about two months ago I think. We thought it would be a good choice just now, bearing in mind that I haven’t had a vocal disc out for about a year.

“To be honest, I think I’ve got a horrible singing voice. The fans seem to like it, though, so I have to oblige! And it certainly isn’t my last vocal disc by any means.”

Challenge

Kenny is particularly knocked out by his forthcoming world tour; but there’s another topic that brings more of a gleam to his eye when you mention it – the five-a-side football team formed by his Jazzmen.

“We had our first game at Southampton recently,” said Kenny, “although I have to report we lost 9-6. Still, we’ve got a replay coming up and we hope to trounce ’em next time. We’re also trying to line up some other matches here and there.

“Actually, we’re open to offers from teams anywhere we might be on tour. I suppose the only snag is we have to play soccer during the day.”

Professionally speaking, Kenny also has another goal ahead of him: To write a hit number. Already he’s made some pretty good tries with ‘Lotus’, which was the coupling to ‘Someday’, and another item called ‘Fleet Street’.

Like Acker, he has varied tastes in music. He likes modern jazz, for instance, particularly the work of Clifford Brown. But if there’s one thing he doesn’t like it’s to be referred to as a “trad” player.

It was night and we were heading into the River Mersey and back to Liverpool, as he told me: “I don’t like this ‘trad’ label. It was latched on to me, but I don’t think it reflects the kind of music we perform. Swinging music… I think that’s what you should call it.

“If there’s one thing we’re really grateful for, it’s the loyalty of our fans. Do you know, some of them go to the most fantastic lengths to follow us about the country.

“There was one young chap, just recently, who followed us to five consecutive dates in the Midlands. About five minutes after we’d gone into the theatre he’d approach the doorman, a stethoscope peeping discreetly from under his coat, and say, ‘It’s all right, I’m the band’s doctor. I travel with them.’ They all believed him and he’d walk in, hide the stethoscope and watch the show for nothing!

“I saw him about a few times but I didn’t tumble until one night a stage-hand said: ‘You’re doing all right, aren’t you, having your own doctor on tour?’

“‘What are you talking about ?’ I said, ‘we’re all as fit as base fiddles!’

“Anyway, since then we haven’t seen our Ben Casey. We’d be annoyed at him sneaking in like that, but it’s difficult to get angry when a fan shows such devotion and ingenuity. Besides, it’s a bit posh having your own Dr. Kildare…!”

© Alan SmithNew Musical Express, 24 August 1962

Leave a Comment