On this day in history….2nd November 2014

On this day in history : 2nd November 2014 – The death of English clarinetist and vocalist Acker Bilk – who has in the past been described as ‘the Great Master of the Clarinet’….

Image credit : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

Bilk’s most famous track, instrumental Stranger on the Shore, reached No.2 and stayed 55 weeks in the charts…. It was kept off the No.1 position by Cliff Richard’s The Young Ones but was to become the biggest selling single of 1962…. However, it did reach No.1 in the USA; Bilk always claimed that it would be his pension fund….

Image credit : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

Born Bernard Stanley Bilk in Pensford, Somerset on the 28th of January 1929, he acquired the nickname ‘Acker’ as it is Somerset slang for ‘mate’ or ‘friend’….

He learned to play the clarinet whilst doing his National Service with the Royal Engineers in the Suez Canal…. His first clarinet was one a friend had bought on a bazaar – it had no reed so they made one from a piece of wood…. He later ‘borrowed’ a clarinet from the army’s orchestra – and managed to keep hold of it after being demobbed…. After completing his National Service Bilk joined his uncle’s blacksmith business and became qualified in the trade himself…. He married his childhood sweetheart, Jean Hawkins, whom he had been at school with – and they went on to have two children, a boy and a girl….

Bilk began to play on the Bristol jazz circuit with a group of friends…. He then moved to London and joined the band of trumpet and cornet player Ken Colyer…. However, he didn’t care much for London and so returned to Pensford and formed his own band The Chew Valley Jazzmen…

But to achieve success meant having to return to London….which the band did in 1951, renaming themselves The Bristol Paramount Jazz Band…. They landed themselves a six week job in a Düsseldorf beer keller – and it was during this time that the band developed their own unique style and image, complete with bowler hats and striped waistcoats…. Along with his goaty beard this look stayed with Bilk throughout his career…. The band returned to the UK and the London jazz circuit and became part of the traditional jazz scene that was so popular in the late 1950s…. In 1960 their first hit single Summer Set was released and reached No.5; a string of hit singles were to follow….

Mr Acker Bilk & His Paramount Jazz Band – Image credit : Hans-Michael Tappan via Flickr

In 1962 Bilk composed Jenny; a melody he named for his daughter – he reputedly thought it up whilst travelling in the back of a taxi…. He was then asked to change the title so it could be used for a BBC children’s television series about a French au pair living in Brighton – the series was entitled Stranger on the Shore…. He then recorded it as the title track for his new album – it made him an international star, selling over a million copies and earning a gold disc…. The track was so successful that it had no need for lyrics…. Soon he had become such a big star that his PR operation became known as the Bilk Marketing Board – a humorous play on the work ‘Milk’….

Fair use

Bilk’s last chart appearance was in 1978 with the album Evergreen…. He continued to tour with his band and was awarded an MBE in 2001…. He said, in 2012, that after 50 years he was fed up with playing Stranger on the Shore…. However, I don’t think we, the public, will ever tire of hearing it….

Bilk died in Bath in 2014 at the age of 85… He had been treated for throat cancer in 1997 but had then developed bladder cancer and suffered a minor stroke….

Image credit : Bradford Timeline via Flickr
Acker Bilk performing in the Duke of Clarence Assembly Rooms during the 1960s – Image credit : Marquisofqueensbury at English Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….21st April 1978

On this day in history : 21st April 1978 – The death, at the age of just 31, of singer-songwriter Sandy Denny, lead singer with British folk-rock band Fairport Convention….

Sandy Denny, 1972 – by David Bailey – Fair use

The tinged-with-tragedy life of one of Britain’s finest vocal talents – cut short….

Sandy had been born on the 6th of January 1947 in London…. She studied classical piano and learned to play the guitar at a young age – and sang in her school choir…. On leaving school she was to train to become a nurse at the Royal Brompton Hospital – but this was to be short-lived and instead she took up studies at Kingston College of Art…. It was here that she became involved with the campus folk club and then started to play in London’s folk clubs and writing her own material…. Within a year her popularity had grown, to the extent that she was getting regular work – and so she left college to pursue a career in music….

It was after she was featured on a BBC radio broadcast that she was to land a deal with Saga Records – which in turn led her to join the band ‘The Strawbs’….albeit for a short period…. She stayed with them just six months and recorded only one album….

In May 1968 Fairport Convention held auditions for a replacement singer after Judy Dyble left – and Sandy was the obvious choice…. She was to go on to make three albums with them before leaving in December 1969 to concentrate on her own songwriting…. This was to result in her forming her own band, the somewhat short-lived ‘Fotheringay’ – which was to include her future husband, Australian born Trevor Lucas…. The band made one album before Sandy once again turned her attention to her solo career – with Trevor now producing her records….

Fotheringay, 1970 – Fair use

Sandy and Trevor married in 1973 – and he became a member of Fairport Convention – in 1974 Sandy rejoined them…. But it was not to last….towards the end of 1975 the pair left again to record what was to be her final album – ‘Rendezvous’….which was released in 1977…. Only it was not to be well received – with low sales Sandy was dropped by her record label, Island Records….

Trade ad for Fairport Convention’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ 1974 – Public domain

It was in July 1977 that Sandy gave birth to her daughter, Georgia…. She had not handled her pregnancy well…. By 1976 her mental health had started to suffer – she was experiencing bouts of depression and had started to abuse both alcohol and drugs…. She continued to do so whilst pregnant and her baby was born premature…. As a mother she was sometimes over anxious and obsessive – other times she appeared disinterested…. Her marriage was beginning to suffer….

Sandy started attention-seeking….even as far as intentionally throwing herself down flights of stairs…. As her drinking increased these ‘accidents’ became more frequent…. In late March 1978, whilst on holiday in Cornwall with her parents and daughter, she fell down a flight of steps and hit her head…. Severe recurring headaches were to follow….

In early April she was to have another major fall at her home…. By now Trevor was concerned for their daughter’s safety – and so he took Georgia to Australia…. Sandy went to stay with friend Miranda Ward – and it seems as if she was making an attempt to sort herself out…. She had apparently arranged to see a doctor about her ongoing headaches and her alcohol abuse…. On the 17th of Miranda, having to go out early in the morning, had asked another friend, Jon Cole, to look in and check on Sandy…. He did so at around 3pm, only to find her unconscious at the foot of the stairs….

Sandy was taken to the nearby Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton – then on the 19th ofApril she was transferred to the Atkinson Morley, Wimbledon…. She remained in a coma – and when Trevor arrived back from Australia he was told that she was brain dead and would not recover…. Sandy’s life support system was switched off, she died at 7.50pm on the 21st of April 1978….

On this day in history….20th March 1917

On this day in history : 20th March 1917 – The birth, in East Ham, London, of singer, songwriter and actress Dame Vera Lynn – known as ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’….

Dame Vera Lynn in 1962 – Eric Koch / Anefo – National Archief Netherlands CC BY-SA 3.0

Born Vera Margaret Welch, into a working class family, she began to sing in working mens’ clubs at the age of 7…. When she was 11 she took her grandmother’s maiden name of ‘Lynn’ as her stage name and joined a singing troupe – ‘Madame Harris’s Kracker Kabaret Kids’….

Vera left school at the age of 14 and was spotted by a booking agent, who found her work at events and parties…. She began to perform on the radio in 1935 with Joe Loss and his orchestra….and in 1936 her first solo recording ‘Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire’ was released…. Her first hits came in 1937 with ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot’….

But Vera is probably best known for her 1939 trademark song ‘Well Meet Again’, written by the young composers Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, which became popular in World War 2 – as did ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’….

In 1941 Vera was given her own radio show, ‘Sincerely Yours’, which sent messages to the troops serving overseas….she and her band would perform requests…. It was also in 1941 that Vera married Harry Lewis, a clarinetist and saxophonist…. They had one child, a daughter, Virginia Penelope Anne Lewis….

Singing in a munitions factory 1941 – Ministry of Information, Photo Division photographer – Public domain

Vera appeared in the films ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘Rhythm Serenade’ in 1943…. During the War she also toured Egypt, India and Burma, giving concerts as a member of the Entertainments National Service Association….

After the War the family moved to Finchley, North London…. It was the early 1960s that they relocated to Ditchling in East Sussex – and is where Vera lived for the rest of her life…. Her husband died in 1998….

Dame Vera Lynn in 1973 – Allan Warren – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Her popularity continued after the War and then in 1952 her record ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’ became the first release by a British artist to top the US charts – where it stayed for nine weeks….

During the late 1960s and early 70s Vera hosted her own variety shows on BBC1 – she also appeared as a guest on other shows, such as Morcambe & Wise …. She appeared at the Royal Variety Performance four times…. In 1969 Vera was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE)…. Then in 1975 she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)…. In 2017 Dame Vera became the oldest living artist to have an album in the top 10 of the British charts – with ‘100’ to celebrate her 100th birthday….

Dame Vera Lynn 2009 – at the War and Peace Show…. Photo credit : Nicki via Flickr

She wrote three memoirs – ‘Vocal Refrain’, 1975, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, 1989 and ‘Some Sunny Day’, 2009….

Dame Vera Lynn died on the 18th of June 2020, aged 103, at her home in Ditchling…. She was given a military funeral, with a procession from her home to Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton on the 10th of July 2020…. The route was lined by those wishing to pay their respects – members of the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Royal British Legion accompanied her cortège….and she was honoured with a Battle of Britain Spitfire flypast….

National Archief Netherlands

On this day in history….29th November 1963

On this day in history : 29th November 1963 – The Beatles release ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – which goes on to reach No.1 in the charts….knocking another of their own singles from the top position….

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United Press International (UPI Telephoto) – Public domain

By knocking ‘She Loves You’ from the top spot, this gave the Beatles reign of the charts with both the No.1 and No.2 positions…. Very few acts have managed to do this…. The Beatles did it again in December 1967 when ‘Hello, Goodbye’ reached top with ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ at No.2….

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The Beatles arriving at John F Kennedy International Airport, 7 February 1964 – United Press International, photographer unknown – Public domain

In 1978, following the huge success of the film ‘Grease’, two songs from the soundtrack album achieved it…. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John made No.1 with ‘Summer Nights’ with a solo John Travolta taking the No.2 position with ‘Sandy’….

John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ shot to No.1 after his death in December 1980 and was joined by ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ at No.2…. Three weeks later ‘Imagine’ still held top position and ‘Woman’ rose to No.2….

Others have followed since…. Frankie Goes to Hollywood with ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘Relax’ and Madonna with ‘Into The Groove’ and her re-released debut single ‘Holiday’…. In January 2016 Justin Bieber went one better by holding the top 3 positions….but a year later this was equalled by Ed Sheehan with ‘Shape of You’, ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Galway Girl’….

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Ed Sheeran – Eva Rinaldi CC BY-SA 2.0

On this day in history….24th November 1991

On this day in history : 24th November 1991 – Freddie Mercury dies at the age of 45, at his West London home – just one day after announcing publicly that he was HIV positive….

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Photo credit : Mike Davis via Flickr

The lead singer of Queen died from bronchial-pneumonia brought on by AIDS….it is thought he had been suffering from the disease for at least two years…. Even as his health declined Freddie continued to make music….

As news of his death broke tributes from around the world began to flood in…. Dr. Patrick Dixon, the director of an AIDS education charity told the BBC that by admitting that he was a sufferer of the disease he was giving his fans the greatest of gifts…. “His hope was no doubt that through his openness many people throughout the world would see that AIDS is a real illness”….

Five months later, on Easter Monday 20th of April 1992, a Freddie Mercury tribute concert for AIDS awareness was held at Wembley Stadium – with an audience of 72,000 people…. It was broadcast in 70 countries and raised approximately £20m for AIDS charities….

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Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Poster – Fair use

The concert opened with a tribute message from the three remaining Queen members :- Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon…. The first half of the concert saw performances from bands who had been influenced by Queen’s music – such as Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Def Leppard and Extreme…. The second half featured a performance from Queen with guest vocalists:- David Bowie, Elton John, Roger Daltry, George Michael, Robert Plant, Annie Lennox, Paul Young, Seal, Lisa Stansfield, Liza Minnelli and so many more took part – all wanting to pay their own tribute to Freddie Mercury, rock legend….

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Photo credit : Kentarotakizawa via Flickr