Talking Music: Remembering Chas & Dave's Chas Hodges
I was sad to hear yesterday of the passing of musician and singer, Chas Hodges (28 December 1943 – 22 September 2018). I was fortunate to interview Chas twice prior to Chas & Dave’s appearances at Newport Riverfront in 2013 and 2014.
At the time, I was freelance writing for a local newspaper and restricted to a severe word count I could only use part of both my interviews with Chas. Its therefore nice to partly redress the balance now in a form of tribute and reproduce some quotes I didn’t get to use at the time about Chas’ early career. He was certainly a lovely guy and a first-class entertainer. RIP Chas.
“It’s a nice feeling.” Chas Hodges told me back in 2013 as he was reflecting on Chas & Dave’s latest tour, “At last, people are realising that if you go out and see Chas & Dave, you’ll have a good time!”
I was fortunate to witness a few of Chas & Dave’s live shows when they played Newport Riverfront in recent years. Although the pair didn’t achieve chart success as a duo until the late 1970s, both Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock had been time served musicians in various bands since the early 1960s.
Born in Edmonton, London in 1943, Chas grew up in a large family and discovered his love for music at an early age.
“My mum was a piano player. My dad died when I was three, so, mum brought us kids up playing the piano,” he recalled, “The piano means so much to me, it means food on the table and pleasure and enjoyment it’s got everything going for it!”
However, it would be the bass guitar that would first bring Chas to prominence, influenced by his music hero, Lonnie Donegan, Chas joined a skiffle band in the mid-1950s. By 1960, Chas was a member of the instrumental band, The Outlaws, whose producer was the now legendary Joe Meek. The Outlaws would find some chart success with their instrumental releases, Swingin Low and Ambush as well as backing Mike Berry on his hit, Tribute to Buddy Holly.
Chas remembered, “My first recording session was done at Joe Meek’s. I learned so much off Joe. His head-itching ideas, the way he recorded. The things he was doing then nobody did,
“(The Bass Guitar) was a new instrument then, nobody knew how to record it. He’d plug it into the desk with headphones or listen through the door, so you’d get a much cleaner bass sound. On some of them early recordings, the bass is absolutely crystal clear!”
Chas’ early years also saw him tour with the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis. It was while touring with Lewis, that Chas had his first meeting with a friend who would later figure great in his future.
“I remember meeting Dave (Peacock) when I was on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis,” he recalled, “At the time and on one of the nights off, I was thumbing a lift on my way home from my girlfriend’s house.
"A car pulled up and there’s an old schoolmate who I was in a skiffle group with. He said, “I see your doing alright, I’ve got a band going now and that’s my bass player in the back. It was Dave! I got to know Dave, but we never thought of getting together because we were both bass players!”
Following the end of the Jerry Lee Lewis tour Chas, now signed to the Don Arden agency, found himself touring alongside another legend, Gene Vincent. This tour took Chas to Hamburg’s infamous Star Club, where he ended up on the same bill as Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers.
“I got a call from Cliff Bennett saying “Our bass players leaving. Do you want to join the Rebel Rousers?” I said, “Yeah! Thank you very much! and I was straight in and out on the road with them!”
As Cliff Bennett was signed to Brian Epstein’s NEMS agency, The Rebel Rousers finished up supporting The Beatles on what turned out to be the Fab Four’s final European tour in 1966.
“They called us into their dressing room, remembered Chas, “We were in Munich or somewhere I remember, they were playing the acetate of their latest LP which was eventually called Revolver.
“When it got to Got To Get You into My Life, Paul McCartney said “This’ll be a good one for your band, do you fancy recording it? I’ll produce it when we get back to England!” We said “Of course!” When we got back we went into Abbey road and recorded it. It got to number 6!”
By the early 70s, Chas found himself getting disillusioned with the music business whilst singing in an American accent on a US tour. Keen to get back to his North London roots as a singer, he ditched the bass guitar in favour of the piano and teamed up with his old friend and bassist, Dave Peacock to perform in pubs and clubs around London. Their sound evolved as what would become known as Rockney and their homegrown tongue in cheek style quickly caught on.
Hard work enabled Chas & Dave to build a strong following with songs such as Gertcha and The Sideboard Song. Signed to EMI, their single, Billy Tyler caught the imagination of Radio 2-Disc-Jockey, Terry Wogan.
“He loved it and it was coming out as our first single, but EMI ballsed it up,” Chas recalled, “Naive as we were, we did have a manager to keep on at them and they said, “Oh yeah they’re going to release it in October!” We said, “Oh, when’s the actual release date?” They said, “Release date of what?” They’d forgotten all about it!”
Billy Tyler might not have had the success it deserved but the hits did start creeping into the lower reaches of the charts. Strummin’, Gertcha and Another Saturday Night began to spread the appeal of Chas & Dave across the UK. It would be Rabbit, released in November 1980 that would propel Chas & Dave into the Top 10 and further hits were to follow.
Although record buying audiences were embracing the sounds of disco, new wave and synth pop, there was still room for Chas & Dave (not forgetting Mick Burt on drums) in the hit parade. Be it the fun of visiting Margate or a nod to music hall heroes George Formby and Flanagan & Allen on the parody medley Stars Over 45, Chas & Dave continued to put the feelgood factor into pop music.
Bridging the generation gap, Chas & Dave were probably the only music act I recall both my Grandad and I simultaneously enjoying, Undoubtedly, Grandad loved their music-hall sound whereas I was getting to an age I could appreciate the lyrical cheekiness of some of their songs including the theme to the BBC comedy In Sickness and In Health.
Undoubtedly, it was this style that won them the appreciation of The Two Ronnies, who parodied Chas & Dave in a comedy sketch. They later invited the duo to perform alongside them (the only time Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett ever did this with any pop music act).
1982 saw Chas & Dave achieve their biggest hit, Ain’t No Pleasing You, lush with a string backing, featuring Chas at his vocal best. The record would become their biggest hit, reaching No.2 in the charts.
As the 80s progressed, the hits became fewer, yet Chas & Dave’s popularity endured. Into the next few decades They continued to be a big draw on the gig circuit, as did Chas and his band when Dave took a sabbatical from showbusiness after what was to be their final tour in 2011, following the death of his wife, Sue,.
Chas was overjoyed to be back on tour with Dave in 2013 and indeed, so were the fans. The audience at Chas & Dave’s Newport Riverfront show (featuring Chas’ son, Nicholas on drums) clearly demonstrated their appreciation as they shook their bootie in the aisles to in a manner that can only be associated with children dancing in front of a TV set three decades earlier. (Who says flossing is a new trend?).
The following year, Chas & Dave appeared on the Royal Variety Performance and also recorded their first new album in 27 years at Abbey Road studios, That’s What Happens, saw Chas & Dave return to their music roots of early R&B, rock n roll and skiffle. The duo were accompanied on the album by many of their musician friends including Jerry Allison of The Crickets and Albert Lee.
“We did our bit in about five days and the producer Joe Henry went away and mixed it in Los Angeles. We were really pleased with it,” said Chas.
Although I never actually got the opportunity to meet Chas in person, I did feel honoured to have two phone interviews with him, I was even more chuffed when after my second interview with him he sent me two signed albums of his solo material for my listening enjoyment. One of which featured him performing songs he had admired as a youngster.
Chas & Dave have created a rich music legacy that fans seeking feelgood music will continue to enjoy for decades to come. Their music remains timeless, as testimony proved as the duo continued to perform their 70s set until recently.
“We still do a 70s set because there’s all sorts of stuff Dave and I were doing when we first got together,” Chas told me in 2014, “We just grabbed songs out of the air and made them our own!!”