MR ACKER BILK & HIS PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND
START BPCD 5107 1988 9 tracks, 36 min
Sweet Georgia Brown, Riverboat Shuffle, Black and Tan Fantasy, Don't Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes, Blaze Away, Mood Indigo, White Cliffs of Dover, Stranger on the Shore, That's my Home
In 1987 Acker Bilk returned to New Zealand after an absence of some years, an advertisement at the local hairdressers told me he would be playing at the Founders Theatre, Hamilton. Should I take my beloved wife to the concert or no ? I wanted to hear quality jazz live, but did I want to here Acker ? You see I had got the sulks with Acker in 1966 or 67 when he put both an electric guitar and an alto sax into his line up. Well I solved the problem by going to the theatre and looking at some publicity photos they had on display; there was no electric guitar or alto sax, so I bought the tickets and we went. This CD I bought two years later when he came to Hamilton again. How often have you been somewhere, or heard someone, and bought a souvenir of the event ? How many times have you dug it out years later and wondered why you bought it ? Sorry to disappoint you, I can't say I regret buying this little reminder of Acker's return, even if a little later I was able to get another CD of his that contained many of the tracks and better recorded versions too.
The album starts off with Bilk's opening signature tune 'Sweet Georgia Brown', the heavy mainstream phrasing does not bode well, but soon Acker's magic clarinet has broken through and you are seduced. The tunes are all Bilk standards that he has had in his repertoire for years, and yes, even the jokes are his standard ones too ! Being live you get a bit of the intro to the tunes, which helps give the CD atmosphere, but there are times when the players get 'off mike' and that is not good. From the last time I had heard Bilk live in 1966 (before the change in line-up) the big difference is in the mainstream arrangements used. The trumpet player is Mike Cotton, and from my memories of him and his band in the 60s I suspect that most of the Paramount Jazz Band's present arrangements are either his, or heavily influenced by him. Mike's influence is very noticeable in the two Duke Ellington numbers (Black & Tan Fantasy, Mood Indigo), not just in the arranging but in the performance. Whatever else you say about Mike Cotton, he is a first rate trumpet player, particularly on mute. On the strength of these two numbers alone (and I have others) you must consider Acker's present band as being today's #1 performer of Ellington small band numbers. I would go so far as to say that their version of 'Black & Tan Fantasy' is the definitive one. Of interest to Kiwi's is the presence on this CD of Campbell Burnap on trombone (since replaced by Mike Cooke). A pleasant album, a bit short in duration, but pleasant. Do I have any complaints ? Well the pianist does seem to be featured a bit too much, and his style does tend to get 'modern' at times, nothing like Stan Grieg - ah now those were the days !
THE BEST OF BARBER AND BILK
1 PLUS 2 = 3
LAKE LACD73 1996 23 tracks 77 min
April Showers; Doin' The Crazy Walk; Hushabye; Everybody Loves My Baby; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Whistling Rufus; CRE March; Dardanella; Franklin Street Blues; Blaze Away; Easter Parade; Marching Through Georgia; Bugle Call Rag; Blaze Street Blues; Magnolia's Wedding Day; Petite Fleur; Bye & Bye; Louisian-I-Ay; El Abanico; Carry Me Back; Travelling Blues; Delia Gone; Under The Double Eagle.
In 1963, when the Beatles had just started to conquer the Britain, the cost of an LP was one pound three shillings and six pence, and the average wage ten pounds. Pye had, a year or so before, brought out the Golden Guinea series at one pound one shilling. Either way, as a young schoolboy LPs were for birthdays and Christmas (at six shillings and eight pence even singles were a rarely afforded extravagance). That Easter I had been given a ten shilling record voucher - too much for a single, and too little for an LP. Come the summer holidays and it was still not spent. Then, whilst at a mate's home with a gang of others, I saw my opportunity to spend it. Going through my erstwhile mate's record collection I found 'The Best of Barber & Bilk Vol I & II', and the dust on the covers showed that, like so many of the fashion conscious, he was no longer interested in Trad!
The recordings are from 1957 to 59. The Bilk numbers are already available on Lake's 'The Nixa "Jazz Today" Collection', but many of the Barber numbers are not to be found elsewhere, even on the Kaz CD 'The Essential Chris Barber'. Acker is at his peak, with what many traditional jazz fans regard as his best line-up and playing in an essentially New Orleans style. Chris Barber is starting to move to Trad, but the quality of the jazz, even on the solo items, is still excellent. Despite having the 'Nixa' CD with all the Bilk numbers and having the Barber numbers on cassette and, indeed still retaining the original LPs, I still needed this one. Why? Well, it is nice to play the tunes in the sequence I remember them in, close my eyes and go back to the heady atmosphere of my mate's house in Wandsworth. On one side he had the Young's Ram Brewery with its overpowering smell of malt and hops fermenting into an odorous wort, on another side he had the gas works with its underlying taint of death and creeping destruction, whilst the third side of the triangle held the Salvation Army Citadel, with its perfume of sanctity. Add to that the fact that we were all experimenting with pipe smoking and the atmosphere was indeed 'heady'. Happy days, when all I had to worry about was passing my school exams and scraping up enough money to enlarge my embryo jazz collection. This is magic jazz. You don't have to buy it, like me, for nostalgia, but because it is one of the best traditional jazz sets ever issued.
MR ACKER BILK & HIS PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND
THE NIXA 'JAZZ TODAY' COLLECTION
Lake, 1995 LACD48 16 tracks, 50 min
Travelling Blues, Willie The Weeper, Delia Gone, Dardanella, Franklin St. Blues, Gladiolus Rag, Easter Parade, Marching through Georgia, Blaze Away, CRE March, El Abancio, Under The Double Eagle, Jump In The Line, Higher Ground, Carry Me Back to Old Virginy, Lousian-i-ay.
Another of Lake's wonderful re-issues. This collection is of the whole of Bilk's Pye "Nixa" recordings. Although put out originally on an LP and two EPs I, like most people, came to hear them when they were put out on the first of the 'el cheapo' labels: Golden Guinea. Despite all the moaning, the Trad Boom did have some good spin-offs, and the GG albums "Best of ......" introduced many to traditional jazz, and as they were from a period before Trad, the quality of the jazz was much higher. To me this is Bilk at his best; the rough edges had been knocked off, the band stabilised, and their style had yet to fragment into the string of solos that typified the band in the early sixties. The choice of numbers is unusual with few standards (for a definitive version of a jazz standard listen to 'Franklin St. Blues') the rest are a mixture of little heard jazz numbers and tunes not normally played as jazz. Included is 'CRE March'. I remember playing this at home once when we had an old service man visiting, he heard Bilk playing "CRE .." and said "Is that the quick march of the Corp of Royal Engineers ?" I told him it said 'CRE March,', he replied "Bloody hell." which I assumed at the time to be complimentary, though I now have my doubts. I have been listening to these tracks on vinyl, tape and now CD since 1961, and I still get excited when I hear them. Thank you Lake for getting them out on CD, and thank you for doing such a good job of cleaning them up.
MR ACKER BILK & HIS PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND
NEW ORLEANS DAYS
LAKE LACD36 22 tracks, 75min
Trouble In Mind, All The Girls, East Coast Trot, Breeze, Bye & Bye, Franklin Street Blues, Salutation March, Goodnight Sweet Prince, Gladiolus Rag, Careless Blues, St. Phillips Street Breakdown, St Louis Blues, Our Monday Date, darkness On The Delta, King Joe, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Sweetie Dear, Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, Postman's Lament, I've Found A New Baby, Savoy Blues, Climax Rag.
I must have been hearing Traditional Jazz since the early '50s, but I didn't catch the bug till 1959. When I did, I raided the record collections of my relatives for tracks to tape. One EP belonging to an aunt was an early Acker Bilk, which surprised me as I knew it was Bob Wallis' chainsaw voice on the track "Bye & Bye". Years later I bought an LP and an EP from the same period, This was despite Acker's attempts in Court to prevent their release - he said that the quality of the band at the time was not up to that of his current band, something that I and many others could not agree with as the New Orleans style '57 band was far superior to the messy mainstream outfit he was running at the time. This CD covers all bar one of the tracks on the LP and EP, though the recording dates are not always identical. The excellent sleeve notes that accompany the CD say "The music is lively, spirited with a few rough edges", and that sums it up well, except I bet that those in the band who are still around wish that they still had the drive and energy that they displayed then !
This CD contains tracks such as "All The Girls", "Franklin Street Blues", "Goodnight Sweet Prince", "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon", and "Savoy Blues" which must rank as the most poignant recordings of those tunes ever made. Bilk playing lyrical and with his renowned "swoops", shows the promise he was shortly to fulfil; Wallis playing his staccato trumpet, probably at, or near, his best: excellent both with and without mute; Johnny Mortimer with his raucous, rasping tailgate trombone. Oh what joy, what bliss, and what's more I have another old LP from a little earlier that shows that there are still more old Acker tracks out there waiting to be re-issued. I hope that Lake Records gets to them soon.
Mr ACKER BILK & his PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND
Lake LACD 186 2003, 21 tracks, 65 min
Summer Set, Tiger Rag, White Cliffs Of Dover, Lazy River, Snake Rag, 2:19 Blues, There’s A Rainbow Round My Shoulder, Milenberg Joys, Fancy Pants, Original Dixieland One Step, Goodnight Sweet Prince, Good Woman Blues, Bottom Of The Bottle, Corrine Corrina, Should I?, Coming For To Carry Me Home, New Orleans Stomp, Gatemouth Blues, Who Rolled That Stone Away?
There was always more to Mr Acker Bilk than his sound The outfits, the publicity yes, but certainly on stage the personality and the showmanship. When you went to see Acker you got a whole package and that was something that was missing from many of the bands who jumped on the Trad bandwagon. Acker was really the only one with the panache to do really cheesy things and get away with it because you could see he just wanted to share the joke with you. The sound? Magic, at least until around 1966 or so when, despite having put sarcastic poems on the back of the Acker LP about mainstream jazzmen, Acker went the same way.
This CD has tracks from 3 albums, The first two are from ‘The Seven Ages of Acker’ (if you weren’t around during the early 60s you will have to get used to the unusual titles of Bilk’s LPs) with the bulk coming from ‘Acker’ and the last 8 tracks are from ‘A GoldenTreasury of Bilk’. The band changes slightly for the ‘A Golden Treasury of Bilk’ tracks with Stan Grieg joining on piano and Colin Smith replacing Ken Simms on trumpet.
I have a problem with this review: I can either copy the fulsome sleeve notes of Mike Durham, who seems to have been from the same area of South London as myself and haunted the same jazz venues He has said all that I would say in delight and wonderment at the music, or I can go deep down the road of nostalgia, but then you would get to know me better than the music.
I will compromise. This CD contains a full platter of traditional jazz played in a lyrical, enthusiastic and melodic manner by some of Britain’s finest jazz men at a time when they could be said to have been at their peak. Acker is, well Acker, with the swoops and trills and that wonderful woody singing tone of his (darm, Mike Durham used exactly the same words). Johnny Mortimer plays a wonderful ‘raspberry’ trombone with mind blowing verve. Ken Simms is a thrusting forthright trumpet player and his replacement, Colin Smith, even better. The Paramount’s version of ‘Snag It’ is still my favourite one. I well remember playing it to a friend of my father’s who used to run a small dance band and who loved traditional jazz and could play a decent trumpet himself. When, after a muted trumpet break by Colin, Acker calls out ‘That’s nice’, old Arthur Goddard said ‘Oh, yes, oh yes, very nice indeed’. Then you have Ernie Price playing an intelligent bass, Roy James literally ringing his banjo and the irrepressible Ron MacKay on percussion (too many blocks and bits to be called just drums. If I remember rightly the original LP cover said ‘drums, traps and effects’). Top musicians and in Acker and Ron MacKay the band also boasts two vocalists of standing. Acker has a very pleasant and laid back voice (listen to ‘Lazy River’, oh yeh, in E flat) whilst Ron’s is a rasping chainsaw voice (rap your ears around ‘Good Woman Blues’ with Johnny dueting with him on trombone).
There are no duff tracks here and Paul Adam’s re-balancing of the music has made a marked improvement on them, bringing them much nearer to what you heard when you saw the band live. The only comment I would add is that, as it was done in those days, the tracks are not particularly long. If you saw the band live it was another matter and you found that they could explore the material fully given the opportunity.
All right, I have indulged in one bit of nostalgia mentioning poor old Arthur who has long since died. But I must mention ‘Summer Set’. This tune did well in the charts and it wasn’t just Trad fans buying it. My aunt Molly, who is 3 years older than me, taught me to slow jive using this single. The other side was ‘Ackers Away’ and she taught me to skip jive using that tune. I thought I was learning to dance, but in fact I was also learning to appreciate jazz.
So: ‘Should I’ ‘Snag It’, ‘Coming For To Carry Me Home’, ‘Pretty Boy’? Yep, and if you can’t ‘Snag It’ from your local music shop, then ‘Snag It’ from Lake’s Web site.
Mr ACKER BILK & his PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND
MR ACKER BILK’S LANSDOWNE FOLIO
Lake LACD 195 2004, 21 tracks, 68 min
Buona Sera, Imperial Echoes, Lord Let Me In The Lifeboat, Club Foot, Stomp Off Let’s Go, Perdido Street Blues, Papa Dip, My Hear Belongs To Daddy, Gospel Train, Maryland March, Stars & Stripes Forever, That’s My Home, Go Tell It On A Mountain, Creole Jazz, House Rent Stomp, My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It, Tishomingo Blues, Sing On, Frankie & Johnny, In A Persian Market, High Society
It is hard for me to review this CD without lapsing into nostalgia. The first tune is ‘Buona Sera’. Now firstly when I read that I remember the lady on the radio requesting Acker’s latest hit ‘Bony Sarah’, secondly I get a visual flash back of the band performing it on stage. The intro is: dah dee dah dah, dah, dah de dah, dah dee dah dah daah. Stan Grieg would then leave his piano, walk slowly to the mike, say, ‘Ole’, and then slowly walk back. Once he was seated the band would continue playing. Now I know it sounds silly, and I know they did it every time so you knew what would happen, but, as with Benny Hill, Ken Dodd and others, it was knowing what was to happen that made it funny – call it audience participation. I could waffle on endlessly with anecdotes about live performances of Acker and his boys, but only I and others who saw them in the 50s & 60s would really appreciate them.
This CD is from the LPs ‘A Golden Treasure of Bilk (see Lake LACD 186 for the other tracks) and ‘Lansdowne Portfolio’ and tracks from the film: ‘It’s Trad Dad’ (ok so now it is cringe material but at the time me and my schoolmates thought it neat and some even saved up and bought the LP, which the rest of us then pirated onto reel-to-reel tapes). The tracks are the standard 3 min used for 45s. The advantage at the time was that they could therefore be issued as a single for the charts. The disadvantage, of course, was that you got just a taster of what you heard when watching the band live.
For those of my age and older the nostalgia alone would compel us to buy the CD. I have these tracks already, carefully and patiently burnt across from the vinyl and time consumingly edited using clever software, but I still bought the CD as these are from the pristine masters and cannot be compared with my rather worn LP tracks, no matter how much time and effort I put into cleaning them up on my computer.
For those younger than me, and the bulk of the population now is, I regret to say, this CD will give you an insight into just how good British Traditional Jazz was in the early 60s. Ok, so Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band was a nicely packaged and well marketed ‘product’, but they were also top class jazzmen and jazzmen who were not scared of using tunes that were far from being ‘classic’ jazz standards.
I think this CD is packed with wonderful music. I have always felt Bilk’s ‘Perdido Street Blues’ was the definitive version and always had a tingle of excitement when ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ came on, and who cannot smile when, on ‘That’s My Home’’, Colin Smith’s muted trumpet fades out only to have Acker’s clarinet come back in on the same note? How about the duet between Stan Grieg’s piano and Roy James’ banjo on Club Foot’? No I must stop it, or all I’ll do is a track by track ‘Isn’t it wonderful’ review.
Mike Durham is the leader of the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings. It was he who wrote the notes. I think it best to quote this world class jazzman when he says: ‘this was about the hottest of the professional trad bands, and this was not achieved by frantic temp or exhibitionist soloing but rather by the full, rich tones of the front line and their dense, interweaving contrapuntal patterns in ensemble, allied to a rocking rhythm section’. I can only nod in agreement. Buy it and find out for yourself just why Acker and his boys were such a powerful force both in jazz and popular music during the early 60s.
MR ACKER BILK & his PARAMOUNT JAZZBAND
THE NOBLE ART OF MR ACKER BILK
LAKE LACD213 2005, 21 tracks, 65 min
Missouri Waltz, Marie Elane, Jelly Bean Blues, My Ragtime Baby, Tailgate Ramble, Dixie, Liza, Down By The Old Millstream, Acker’s Away (Over The Waves), Blues For Jimmy, Lastic, East Coast Trot, In A Persian Market, I’m Going Home, Ory’s Creole Trombone, Let The Light From The Lighthouse, Berliner Luft (The Gay Hussar), Lucky Rock, Cushion Foot Stomp, Run Come See Jerusalem, Old Comrade’s March
The foolishness of youth can be a source of either amusement or embarrassment when recalled from a mature age. The bulk of this CD is from the title album. I had heard many of the tracks from other people’s collections and loved them but the cover had Mr Acker Bilk without his beard! Given the constant lack of funds and the huge choice in traditional jazz LPs at the time I didn’t buy it. It was re-issued later on the Encore impress at a reduced price. Now 20 years old, I was wiser but still poor (saving to come to New Zealand). By the time I had a bit of spare cash the LP had sold. I didn’t manage to get the album until the late 80s when I took to trawling the second-hand record shops. The balance of the tracks come from the EP ‘Acker’s Away’ and the LP ‘The Seven Ages of Bilk’, excepting ‘Summer Set’ which was on the earlier Lake CD ‘Acker’.
Since Lake started to re-issue the EMI Landsdown jazz series I have tingled with anticipation waiting for these tracks to come out. They are the earliest tracks that EMI put out after Bilk switched from Pye’s Nixa label and to me are some of the nicest and, dare I say it, ‘prettiest’ jazz items around. Ok, so just hearing them stirs memories for me, and that will colour my judgement. I mean, being taught to skip jive by my aunt Molly (just 3 years older than me) in my Nan’s front room with ‘Acker’s Away’ on the turntable with the arm in repeat mode; spending a birthday gift record voucher on an EP with 4 tracks from The Seven Ages of Bilk, because I could only afford to get the music in installments; having my uncle Frank borrow another Seven Ages EP because he loved ‘Old Comrade’s March’ and In ‘A Persian Market’. But …… nostalgia apart, these tracks are from the time when Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazzband were, arguably, at their musical peak as far as New Orleans style traditional jazz went. There are tracks here which literally have me move to the edge of my seat in eager anticipation when they are due such as, ‘Jelly Bean Blues’, ‘Blues for Jimmy’ and ‘Berliner Luft’. Then there are two brilliant gospel tunes ‘Let the Light From the Lighthouse’ and Acker’s own composition, and my all time favourite, ‘Going Home’. Oh, I could wax lyrical for hours given the chance.
It is not just me that is bubbling over with enthusiasm for this CD. The full and very interesting sleeve notes are by Mike Durham, leader of that excellent band, The West Jesmond Rhythm Kings, and he overflows with admiration and enthusiasm too. Buy this CD now, Mike and I did: trust us, we know what we are doing!
MR ACKER BILK & HIS PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND
Lake, 2006 LACD231 18 tracks, 55 min
Grandpa Spells, Creole Love Call, I've Found A New Baby, This Town, Bula Bula, Sentimental Journey, Tell Em About Me, Chattanooga Stomps, Sneak Away, Wilbur, Oh Marie, Ole Miss Rag, Gotta See Baby Tonight, If You We The Only Girl In The World, Song Of The Volga Boatmen, Sipping Cider, Lonely, All I Want To Do Is Sing
At last, the final tracks of Bilk's efforts for Lansdown that I want. Most of the tracks are of the same 'must hear' as on the CDs 'Acker', 'Mr Acker Bilk’s Lansdowne ' and 'The Noble Art of Acker Bilk', but on 'Bula, Bula' and 'Volga Boatmen' you can hear the mainstream element sneaking in that turned me from listening to Acker for many years. There are also some very commercial tracks from the film 'Band of Thieves' that complete the album; pleasant, but light weight.
Again Paul Adam’s re-balancing of the music has made a marked improvement on them, bringing them much nearer to what you heard when you saw the band live. The quality and warmth of 'Gotta See Baby Tonight, If You We The Only Girl In The World', which was issued as a double sided single, shews just how much influence the recording engineer has over this issue. Those two tracks are how all the tracks should be.
Now, having finally gained professionally produced recordings of all my favourite Acker music, I can relax, pour me some cider and enjoy life, n\know that all is well.
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