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Interview with Chas Hodges of legendary double act Chas & Dave (Includes interview)

Though they first became acquainted on the vibrant London music scene of the 1960s, where they performed alongside some pretty big names (Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers etc.), it wasn’t until 1972 that pianist/vocalist Chas Hodges and bass player/vocalist Dave Peacock joined forces as Chas & Dave, releasing their first album, One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver, three years later.

Timeless classics, such as “Rabbit,” “Gertcha,” “London Girls and “Ain’t No Pleasing You,” are attributed to the fun-loving pair and by the mid-1980s, their friendly and reassuringly familiar faces were rarely off our TV screens. One of their most fondly remembered appearances on the telly is their short-lived variety show, Chas & Dave’s Knees Up.

Chas & Dave’s popularity continued into the ’90s and beyond (they were cited as a major influence by The Libertines and a highlight of recent years was their show-stealing set at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005), before Dave announced his retirement, following the death of his beloved wife, Sue, in 2009.

Happily, after a sold out farewell tour in 2011, Dave changed his mind and is once again back where he belongs on a permanent basis. A new album, the acclaimed That’s What Happens, came out in November 2013 and featured contributions from Hugh Laurie, Jools Holland, Albert Lee and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison.

“We finished off last year, apart from our own tour, 12 dates with Status Quo,” says Chas of where the band currently find themselves, “and now we’re just getting back into the swing of it.”

There are already a number of dates on the books that should see the likeable Londoners through much of 2015 and I wondered whether the boys had a particular favourite city or venue in which to perform?

“Well, there aren’t any particular ones… I mean one question is often asked and that’s ‘With your style of music, how do you find it goes down in the north of England, for instance?’ But we go all around Ireland, up into Scotland and in particular Scotland is a great venue for us – always has been.”

Discussing their live show, Chas notes, “They expect to hear all our hits… I know some acts – and I can understand why – don’t like doing their hits because they didn’t like doing them in the first place and were talked into it by the record company.

“They were tempted by the money side of it, to get it into the charts and earn a few bob, but they didn’t realise at the time that they’ve got to live with it and, quite rightfully, the fans want to hear those songs.

“That’s not the case with me and Dave. We had full control of what we wanted to put out as singles. If there was anything we didn’t like, we didn’t do it. So that’s why, to this day, we love doing all our hits.”

One thing that immediately becomes apparent at a Chas & Dave show is that much of the audience seems to be made up of younger people.

“Well, we do love gigging,” muses Chas, mulling over this not wholly unsurprising (given their on-stage energy, memorable lyrics and catchy melodies) state of affairs. “I think that shows; that we’re enthusiastic. We’re playing better every gig we do. We’ve always done good gigs, but the older we get, the better we seem to be able to play.

“And apart from the hits, there’s always something a bit new in the act that gees us up and in turn gees up the audience… Yeah, young people come along and they can see that, and they tell their mates and it snowballs. It’s absolutely great.”

I had previously interviewed Chas five years ago and at that point Dave had left and his musical partner was carrying on as Chas & His band. What caused Dave to change his mind and return to the fold – making a lot of people very happy in the process – in 2010 for what was originally going to be one last tour?

“Everybody knows that when somebody close to you dies, you can’t see beyond the end of your nose for a while,” explains the celebrated pianist and icon of Old London Town, whose son Nik now plays drums for the pair following the retirement of original sticksman, Mick Burt, in 2009 (Burt died in October 2014, after a long battle with Parkinson’s), “but then as time goes on, things become a little clearer and gradually you start to want to do some of the things that you used to do. So that’s happened with Dave.

“I mean I’ve always done stuff on me own – even years ago – and I enjoyed doing that as well because I put a few of me own songs in… But Dave’s back now and it’s all going well. He’s enjoying it, we’re all enjoying it and the people coming to see us are enjoying it. They’re looking forward to the next gig and so are we. It’s a great period in our lives.

“We finished off last year on a real high. Last year, I would say, was the most successful year we’ve ever had… We sold out the Albert Hall, our tour was sold out and the Status Quo tour that we were on was sold out, so I would say 2014 was the best year to date for Chas & Dave.”

This vast number of live shows, a quantity that puts a number of their much younger contemporaries to shame, were also in support of their latest album, the aforementioned That’s What Happens.

“Warner Brothers got in touch with us a couple of years ago and said they’d like to do a Chas & Dave album,” recalls one of the first English musicians in rock ‘n’ roll to sing in his own accent, revealing how the record – their first CD of new material in 27 years – came about.

“It was great because, in the first place, Warner Brothers wanted us to do an album and they said, ‘How would you like to do it?’ So we could say to them, ‘This is what we would like.’ They said, ‘Are you open to suggestions?’ and we said, ‘Yes, if they sound good to us.’

“They suggested a producer, Joe Henry, an American producer. He’s produced a lot of acts like Elvis Costello and Solomon Burke and he was into the sort of style that me and Dave love, that New Orleans sort of laid-back style.

“When we got in the studio, he said, ‘I know both of you, even before you knew each other, were into skiffle. We were both in skiffle groups, so he said, ‘How do you feel about going back to your roots?’

“One of the songs that I did, ‘Railroad Bill,’ was the first song I ever recorded when I was 12 in a skiffle group; I did it up in Soho before me voice broke. I’d love to have had a recording of that now. I did have one, but it disappeared…

“But yeah, we went back to our roots and did a few Lonnie Donegan songs and our tribute to Lonnie, ‘Lonnie D,’ that me and Dave wrote… and we were able to get all our friends on it; Jools Holland and Albert Lee and Jerry Allison…

“We said, ‘Come down and play on our album and you can get paid for it as well.’ It’s great to get your mates down and send them away with a few bob in their pocket.”

“That came about through Warner Brothers,” says Chas, describing how Hugh Laurie ended up on the record. “They gave us an album and said, ‘Have a listen to this,’ which was the album Hugh Laurie had done a few months before we had the meeting at Warner Brothers, and what a great piano player.

Chas & Dave

Chas & Dave
Jay Tyler

“Really was impressed with his album and it came through Warner Brothers that he said he’d like to play on our album, so we welcomed him with open arms and yeah we put some nice tracks down with him on the piano – me, Jools Holland and Hugh Laurie. That was a great period.”

A seasonal special of an aforementioned television programme, entitled Chas & Dave’s Christmas Knees Up – originally shown on LWT in 1982 and featuring a number of special guests including Eric Clapton and Jimmy Cricket – was broadcast again on Channel 5 on Christmas Day 2014 and led to calls for more of the same.

“It’s been talked about us having our own Christmas Day special next Christmas,” reveals Chas, “where it would be us and guests like Jools Holland and Status Quo and people like Vic and Bob and Bill Bailey. That’d be a nice thing to do…

“They repeated the Christmas Day show that we did in the ’80s with Albert Lee and Eric Clapton and we had so many tweets saying, ‘You should do a new one. Jools Holland has got New Year’s Eve, Chas & Dave should have Christmas Day from now on,’ and that’s not a bad idea, really. It’d be a great Christmas Day show to look forward to.”

One of the band’s best-loved hits is “Margate” and I put it to Chas that maybe they could also do a summer show down on the beach there.

“Yeah, that’d be a great idea… Our winter one could be on Christmas Day and the summer one could be down to Margate (sings) ‘Down to Margate…’ There we all are on the beach. Yeah, good one.”

For more information on Chas & Dave, and to view their upcoming tour dates, visit their official website.

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