You are here: Books Monthly: The Sleeve Notes of gramophone records by Mr Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band
The genius of Peter Leslie… new this month: Stranger on the Shore
ACKER BILK ESQUIRE accompanied by the LEON YOUNG String chorale
STRANGER ON THE SHORE
I actually couldn’t wait for Stranger on the Shore to be released in the UK, so I paid for a US Import to be sent to my Home in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, and got it a few Months before it became available here. The Copy I have in front of me came from the British Heart Foundation Charity Shop and cost me £2.50 – Bargain – it matters not that I have no Vehicle on which to play it (yet)! Mine differs only from the one illustrated here in the matter of the word “mono” – mine says “stereo”. Here are the Track Listings and the superb Essay by Mr Peter Leslie for “Stranger on the Shore” LP:
Upon Side the First
Stranger on the Shore (Bilk & Young)
Lullaby (New music arr. Young)
Mean To Me (Turke & Ahlert)
Greensleeves (New music arr. Bilk & Young)
Take My Lips (Meravigliose Labbra)(Usuelli)
Sentimental Journey (Green, Brown & Homer)
Upon the Obverse
Nobody Knows (New music arr. Bilk & Young)
Is This The Blues? (Bilk & Young)
Cielito Lindo (New usic arr. Bilk & Young)
Deep Purple (De Rose)
I Can’t Get Started (Duke & I. Gershwin)
Carolina Moon (Davis & Burke)
The recording committed to Posterity upon the 12th Day of August and upon the 8th Day of November in the Year of Grace Nineteen Hundred and Sixty. Recording first published in Nineteen Hundred Sixty and One.
Those concerned with Production
At the Studio Controls: Mr Adrian Kerridge
Supervising: Mr Denis Preston
Photography of the Artiste: Mr Patrick Gwynne-Jones
The Album Decorations: The Mansell Collection
Cover Design and Commentary: Mr Peter Leslie
Mr. Acker Bilk, a taciturn Stalwart reared in the Welch Border Country, is a Virtuoso of the Clarionet. Customarily he heads a small Ensemble devoted to the Purveyance of that extempore Polyphony or “Jazz” associated traditionally with the Inhabitants of New Orleans – in which Guise (it would seem scarcely necessary to remind the gentle Reader) he looms as a Colossus over his raucous Contemporaries, overcoming by his Expertise and Dexterity both the Intricacies of his Instrument and any Claims to Parity which his Rivals might be foolish enough to advance. Since first the incandescent Brilliance of this Congregation of sonic Adventurers burst like a display of St Catherine’s Fire on a musical scene illumined previously only by the fitful Flickerings of lesser Talents, the Music so ably plucked, blown, bashed and thumped by Mr. Bilk and his Entourage has increasingly commanded the Plaudits of the Swells. Through the Media of Wirelss Telegraphy, the electrified Loud-hailer, the Concert Hall, the Cathode Ray Tube and others too numerous to list, they have startled great Shouts of Acclaim which ring ever more freely from each Corner of the Land. There are, however (as the Sage has aptly remarked), more ways of destroying a Feline than suffocating the Beast with Cream. And the gigantic Talent which sits so lightly upon the wide Shoulders of Mr. B. cannot easily be restricted to so confined a Channel. What more noble an Embodiment of Man’s most cherished Aspirations (thought he) than the dulect Cadences of that tender Instrument, the Clarionet! What more suitable a Vehicle for the rapt Expression of that Exaltation which burns the Breast, for the Lamentations of the Disconsolate, for the relation of a stirring Theme! And accordingly he presents here, in a Fashion never before essayed, a Collection of the more lyric Pieces illustrative of these distinguished Emotions, for the Edification of the Intelligent – what Time Mr Leon Young and his String Chorale achieve a seemly Display of Virtuosity in his Aid. The Results, as you shall hear, are splendid in the Extreme; in themselves sufficient for the consequent Elevation of the Artiste from the coarse “Mister”to the Style and Title of “Esquire”.
Yesterday, 4th April 2018, I found a copy of this album, simply entitled “Acker” in the Sue Ryder shop in Cromer, Norfolk, priced £2 – I had all of the albums in the 1960s, of course, and this one dates from 1960. Here goes:
White Cliffs of Dover (Kent)(Vocal; Mr Bilk)
Snake Rag (Oliver)
Fancy Pants (Bilk, Berkwood)(Solo clarionet: Mr Bilk)
Lazy River (Carmichael)(Vocal: Mr Bilk)
There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (Rose)
Original Dixieland Onestep (La Rocca)
Good Night, Sweet Prince
Good Woman Blues (Vocal: Mr McKay)
Bottom of the Bottle (Bilk)(Featuring Clarionet and Trumpet)
Milenberg Joys (Rappolo)
Recorded on the 5th, 7th and 13th days of April 1960
Mr Acker Bilk (clarionet and titular head); Mr Jonathan Mortimer (trombone); Mr Ken Sims (trumpet); Mr Ronald McKay (traps); Mr Ernest Price (double bass); Mr Roy James (tenor banjo)
And here are the sleeve notes:
Inscribed by Mr Peter Leslie
Like, what gives with this gear on the words from times past?
Should, Sir, this curiously phrased Query, with its ill-judged Syntax and coarse idiom, refer to the circumlocutory Nature of much of Mr Bilk’s textual Stuff, then we must offer – albeit reluctantly – some Vestige of Explanatory Matter. In a word, he would be Oafish who could deny a certain Use of the Devices of Ellipsis and Hyperbole in the Rhetorical Structure of the Master’s Blurbs.
Dig. So what IS with this spiel?
It has been felt (no less by Mr B and his Myrmidons than by those Others qualified to pronounce an Opinion) that it might not be inapposite for expository Paragraphs pertinent to Mr B’s Art, together with those Eulogistic Phrases which alone suffice to describe it, to be couched in Language bearing some Relevance to the period initially producing the Music itself.
You feel, Daddyo, that all this jazz like goes with the mad trad music?
That, indeed, is a vulgar sequence of Terms approximating to our meaning.
You drag up some corn like she’s spoken by some mug he had his chips two, three, four score ago – and that puts Daddy Ack in there for percent?
Perish the Thought. Before Mr Bilk’s gigantic Talent could properly be digested and appreciated by a Lay Public unconditioned to such Pyrotechnics, it was naturally necessary that this display of unmatchable Virtuosity should actually be drawn to their Attention. This, the Rhodomontade of the Leader’s written Material – plus, of course, a certain Relevance in the Question of his Attire – sufficed to do. And, despite a preternatural Tendency to scoff at the Flippant, those Enthusiasts for New Orleans Music most attracted to Mr Bilk’s Variety of it have made no Complaint. Thus it has been decided to Retain the Idiom. It would be unwise in the Extreme, nevertheless, to assume that Mr Bilk’s Popularity devolves in any Way whatsoever either upon his choice of Haberdashery or Millinery, or upon an aptitude for the rotund Phrase.
You saying this is no gimmick outfit, then? It’s not the corn that sells the group?
Assuredly. It is the pluterperfect Assonance of empathetic Artistes creating in an Atmosphere of refined and balanced Relaxation which alone can produce Success as astounding as that of the Paramount Jazz Band. Those matters to which you allude, as has already been stated, merely focused attention upon this.
Yes? So? If the noise speaks for itself, what’s with the bookies’ lids?
If lesser Mortals can be both symbolized and recognized by such items as Umbrella, a Calabash, an Havana Cigar or an Infelicity in the styling of the Coiffure, then towering Genius of the Order of that enjoyed by Our Hero must needs require the employment at least of a gaily caparisoned Vest, sober Headgear, pristine Shirtings and a thinly elegant Cravat; to symbolize respectively the Brilliance, sincerity, Purity and Style of the Music; and in toto, the Period whence it derives.
So what are we supposed to do, Man? Stand up and cheer?
It would be more seemly (for you, as for those Critics, Dwarves whose Pleasure is the Denigration of the Art of their own Countrymen, but whose puny Equipment forbids them to experience that which they decry) just to listen to the Music. There are plenty who cheer already.
Sleeve Design: Ian Bradbery, MSIA; Recording Engineer: Philip Clarke
Engraving: Mansell Collection
Sleeve Notes: Peter Leslie; Recording Supervision: Denis Preston; Recording first published 1960
Net month: Stranger On The Shore LP, which I first owned way back in the 1960s. Next month I will be featuring this ground-breaking album, with its exquisite sleeve design and notes, again by Peter Leslie.
The second EP (Extended Play) record by Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band I’ve managed to get hold of is Acker’s Away (Columbia 45 RPM extended play record SEG 7940). Here’s the track list:
Acker’s Away (Bilk and Leslie)
Blues for Jimmy (Ory)
East Coast Trot (Cobb)
Recorded: 10th July 1959
Mr Acker Bilk (clarionet and titular head); Mr J Mortimer (trombone); Mr K Sims (trumpet); Mr R McKay (traps);
Mr E Price (double bass); Mr R James (tenor banjo)
And here are the sleeve notes:
Inscribed by Mr Peter Leslie
The truncated version of that mammoth Tome, The Encyclopaedia of Mr Webster, lists the Clarionet baldly as ‘a Reed instrument fashioned of Wood, with Holes and Keys’ – a saucy abbreviation of what should have been more properly an Encomium, a Penegyric in praise of the Effulgence of that melodically Anastomose Instrument. Certain it is that this slender Engine of chromatic Concordance, this symphonious ebon Shaft, this suave Insinuator of Melodies to convolve and wreathe their Way to the very Centre of our pleasure-loving Souls, cannot have justice done to its Elegance in the mere Employment of Words. ‘To hear’, as a celebrated French Divine has truly remarked, ‘is to know’ – and of no Sound is this more veritable than the sonorous, reedy depths of the Clarionet.
Add to this (in point of the Phonograph Recording to which these poor Aphorisms apply) one fact: that the Airs – Ay, and the Graces, too! – in this especial Example devolve around the person and the Craft of no less able an Exponent than Mr Acker Bilk!! This realized, the Initiate will subside against the Cushions of his Chesterfield and await the Ultimate in musical Enlightenment. He will not long remain disappointed. Mr B is a very Toff of the Entertainent World. Hereupon, encouraged in his Endeavours by that most antic Ensemble, the Paramount Jazz Men, the doughty Leader bends to his Will the exigencies of four titillating Trifles. Of these, the First and the Last would seem to be informed with a Nautical Flavour; Mr Bilk proving himself in the former (if the Conceit be allowed) a true Swell. The remaining Duo comprise a Variety of Folksong deriving from the Southern among the United States of America, and a Novelty from the Pen of the late Parisian Master, Monsieur Sidney Bechet.
The Numidian Princess Sophonisba (in the Tragedy written in 1762 by Mr James Thomson), despite the fact that
‘Soon the remorseless Soldier comes, more fierce
‘From recent Blood, and ‘fore her very Soul,
‘Lays raging his rude sanguinary grasp’
was able to console herself for the Fall of Carthage by ‘burying her sorrows in the mufick of the fpheres’. Who can doubt that the Musick of the Spheres, along with the Syrynx Pipes of the God Pan, the Melodies of the Immortals even on Olympus itself, all sound in their ineffable, reeded Harmony akin to the Clarionet of Mr Acker Bilk?
Sleeve Design: Ian Bradbery
Sleeve Photography: Patrick G Gwynn-Jones
Recording Balance: Joe Meek Supervision: Denis Preston
During my youth I collected anything and everything I could to do with Acker Bilk – it was the era when “trad jazz” ruled the Hit Parade, and Acker Bilk had recently transferred from the Pye Jazz label to EMI Records, and a new photographer, Patrick Gwynn-Jones had been appointed, along with a publicist, Peter Leslie, who came up with the idea of dressing the Paramount Jazz Band in smart, fancy waistcoats and bowler hats. Overnight, the sleeve notes became something quite extraordinary – while most EPs and LPs simply carried the track listing – two tracks on side A, two on side B of an EP, for example, now Acker’s EPS and LPs carried long, beautifully written essays. I have searched the web for many years trying to find examples of Peter Leslie’s writing, and the only pertinent reference that I can find is my own review of The Book of Bilk, a collection of essays by Leslie featuring various characters from history, like Johann Sebastian Bilk, Pithecus Ackerectus etc., etc. It is a work of genius, the work of a genius, and it is important that these sleeve notes should be available to read on the web, which is why I have started to collect Acker’s EPs and LPs, the first of which you see above. I don’t have a record player to play them on, but they are things of beauty, and of great joy, as you will discover. Below are the sleeve notes for Acker Volume One, the track listing of which is as follows:
Snake Rag (Oliver)(a)
Fandy (sic) Pants (Bilk and Berkwood)(b) [Should be “fancy” pants]
Original Dixieland One Step (La Rocca)(b)
Good Night, Sweet Prince (b)
Mr Acker Bilk (Clarionet and Master Mind). Mr Kenneth Sims (Trumpet). Mr Jonathan Mortimer (Trombone). Mr Ronald McKay (Tambours, Traps and Effects). Mr Ernest Price (Double Bass). Mr Roy James (Tenor Banjo). (a) Recorded 7:4:60; (b) Recorded 13:4:60.
MR ACKER BILK, in expressing the fond and pious Hope that the Listener has enjoyed, read, marked, learned, inwardly digested and, indeed, profited from the gentle Ballads performed hereon, begs leave to draw the Attention of the Same to others of his Works obtainable under the same distinguished Trade Mark, viz.:-
Discs designed to revolve at a Speed of Thirty-three and One-Third Revolutions the Minute and of One Dozen Inches Diameter:
The Seven Ages of Acker (33SX 3321 stereo), A Golden Treasury of Bilk (33SX 1304 Mono); SCX 3366 stereo), Clarinet Jamboree (part only)(33SX 1204).
The Same, restricted to a Diameter of but Ten Inches:
The Noble Art of Mr Acker Bilk (33S 1141)
Discs to revolve at no less than 45 Revolutions the Minute, yet possessing a Diameter of no more than Seven Inches:
Acker’s Away ! (SEG 7904), The Seven Ages of Acker – Volume One (SEG 8029), The Seven Ages of Acker – Volume Two (SEG 8076).
I had all of these Gramophone Records and many more besides. I followed Mr Acker Bilk around the West Country from 1960-1963, when we left Brockworth Gloucester, and went to live for six months in Prittlewell, near Southend-on-Sea, and thence to Stevenage New Town. I had them all, and divested myself of them when new Audio Technology manifested itself in the form of firstly, Cassettes, and secondly, CDs. I now own all the main Acker Bilk CDs that are available, but transference to CD, whilst enhancing the Quality of the Sound Reproduction, has omitted to reproduce the Sleeve Notes. In recent days I have managed to get hold of a copy of the Acker’s Away ! EP, and the Stranger On The Shore LP, and the Sleeve Notes for these two will appear in the next two Issues of Books Monthly. I hope you enjoy reading the amazing Words compiled by Peter Leslie – his idea it was to dress Acker and his players in smart, fancy Waistcoats and Bowler Hats. It was an act of Genius, matched only by his Genius with words. I still have my copy of The Book of Bilk, by the way, bought for me as a Christmas present in 1962 by my sister, Jean. It, too, is a work of Genius, and I will never part with it.