Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Quiet Storm: Mr. Acker Bilk and the Leon Young String Chorale: "Stranger on the Shore"

And so after the party, the quiet contemplative night ride home. It is in this case a walk by the seaside; the night's energies have yet to disappear, the sky is clear and starry, the air is warm, the salt tang in the air refreshing after the closeness of the jazz club. Ahead, just visible, is another figure, a person - no doubt also going home, returning in a thoughtful, soulful mood after a night of who knows what. There is no rush to get anywhere, the night is too good to hurry through on a bus or a tram. Peace is what is needed after such a raucous night.

But this is only one interpretation of this song; a song that was written by Mr. Bilk for his daughter and then used as the theme to a young people's tv show; it works equally well as a lullaby, a reassurance, that everything is well in the world, that eventually everything will indeed work out as it should; it is warm and cozy in the best possible way, which is odd - odd because when I think of the clarinet, warm and cozy are not the adjectives I would use to describe the sound it makes. But Mr. Bilk's playing is mellow and post-midnight reverie-ish, backed up by strings as silky as the moonlight itself.

That the song was such a success is what remains the real surprise - even with its tv exposure, "Stranger on the Shore" was and is a huge record, the highest selling instrumental to this day in the UK, and the first UK #1 on the Billboard chart; and Bilk became a household name overnight, spawned a rather odd book wherein he is dressed as famous men throughout history, and inspired (along with Kenny Ball) a whole bunch of young people to get into jazz, including Keith Tippett, a fellow southwest England native and jazz/free jazz legend and bandleader in his own right. That he didn't take up the clarinet (a rather more difficult instrument than you'd expect) wasn't the point; the point being the warm and inviting tone of Mr. Bilk's sound inspiring others to do something equally as powerful and memorable, in a period when rock seemed to be waning on the inspirational side domestically. That this would change soon wasn't evident...not yet, at any rate.

And so a clarinetist calmed a world that wasn't sure what was going to happen next, reassuring it that some things would not change, that newness was nothing to be afraid of, but something to embrace.

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