'80s - Chas & Dave (2010)
'Chas ... This Is Your Rabbit!'
In the tradition of The Kinks and the Small Faces and around the same time as Ian Dury and Squeeze, Chas & Dave wrote and recorded exceptionally witty songs about life in London, performed with a strong affection for all things English reminiscent of many of the great Music Hall artists many years previously.
In their case , however, the musical accompaniment to their sharply observant material was neither rock nor punk but solid, no-nonsense Rock’N’Roll style which had been their background and inspiration.
Pianist Chas Hodges and guitarist Dave Peacock were widely experienced around the British rock scene of the 1960s and early 70s before teaming up with drummer Mick Burt (another much-travelled musician who had gone back to his original trade as a plumber) to form the group.
The partly comic songs for which they are most known are allowed Chas & Dave to strongly identify with London's blue collar and working class - via pub sing-song culture. Although not necessarily Cockney.
Hit UK Singles Chart songs such as 'Gertcha,' 'Rabbit,' 'Margate,' Mustn't Grumble,' and their 1982 number two hit, 'Ain't No Pleasing You' had suddenly crept their way into the hearts of most-all the UK record buying public.
And, into this new century, Chas & Dave’s appeal has never been greater or more varied. The audiences are getting younger without the boys deliberately trying to appeal to the youth, and new bands are citing them as a major influence.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Chas Hodges about not only life now as a solo artist, but those early days with Dave, touring today, old album sleeves, and, of course ... penguins!
Taking it from the top, and your musical performance style was labeled pretty early on as "rockney" - sound about right to you, or do you yourself have another word for the music that you perform? "I thought of the word on a train back from Newcastle when me and Dave were supporting 10 C.C. on tour in, I think 1976. Dave remembers it. I remember coming up with the word but probably would not have been able to specify exactly when."
"I came up with it because it was hard to answer questions as to what was our style of music to people who hadn't heard it. I would say, 'Well it is a mixture of London Cockney 'Boiled Beef & Carrots' Harry Champion style music hall, with a heavy stock of Jerry Lee flavoured rock'n'roll, a soupcon of Broonzy Blues, Lonnie Skiffle & some Fats Domino New Orleans sprinkled on top. I needed to shorten this. It became 'Rockney Stew'. I just left off the 'Stew'."
Is it true that you began singing your lyrics in an American accent, but that you soon had words with yourself about that! Meaning, out with the American and in with singing the songs in your own London accent. So, the question has to be asked: Being British, why did you start singing in an American accent in the first place? "As a young lad learning to play guitar in the 50's - 1956 to be precise - I was about to experience a pop music phenomena. Rock'n' Roll music was about to take over the world. Me too. America was simply just where it was at. There were no dreams of going there. You would have to be a lottery winner or a football Pools winner to do that in those days."
"But, America was how a young lad like me would landscape heaven. Hamburgers! I remember playing an American air base around 1960. First real hamburger I ever had. The American serviceman before me ordered a hamburger, 'everything on.' I did the same. Still remember the unbelievable taste!"
"America had Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and cars that looked like you could fly to Mars in 'em. The nearest I could get to America was to sing in their accent. What other accent was there?"
"Years later I began to get true to my roots. But the 'hamburger, everything on' feel still creeps in now and then and I say caint instead of carnt."
Is it true that you opened up for Led Zeppelin at the 1979 Knebworth Festival?! Wow, what must that occasion have been like for you? What are your memories of that day and did everything go according to plan? "I remember Jimmy Page from the Kings Head days in Edmonton in 1961 when he was with Neil Christian & The Crusaders. I was with Mike Berry & the Outlaws. We gigged on the same bill. We were both session musicians in the early 60's. We'd go round 'The Golden Egg' together for lunch."
"Before the Led Zeppelin gig I'd been bass player for my hero Jerry Lee Lewis, toured with the Beatles who wrote us (Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers) a song. Led Zeppelins manager Peter Grant was Gene Vincents tour manager and driver when we as the Outlaws were on the road with Gene."
"Knebworth was a big occasion, but to me, no big deal."
Unlike a lot of bands that release endless singles and have to wait until one sticks before the public takes notice of them, your very first single (7") 'Gertcha' (1979) peaked at #20 on the UK Singles Chart! Renowned for partly comic, blue collar and working class pub sing-along songs, 'Gertcha' was all that and more! Where did the origins of that song originate, just what does the word mean, and were you honestly ready for the instant nature of the fame and fortune that came with it? "It wasn't our first single. I think it was our third. Gertcha was a word me and Dave grew up with. The second line we both relate to. 'I hear it everyday from my ol' man!' Only in my case, 'my ol' granddad'. My dad must have said it but I was too young. He killed himself when I was three. Gertcha is a London term that means 'get the f**k outa here' and is usually said alongside a raised fist."
"By the time 'Gertcha' was a hit I had been a professional musician for 20 years. Played electric bass on a number one hit, 'Johnny Remember Me' when I was 16 in 1961. Toured as Jerry Lee Lewis' bass player in 1963. That's when I began to learn piano. Toured with the Beatles in 1966. Paul Mcartney produced 'Got to get you into my Life' for our band, 'Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers. It got to number 6. Toured America for 2 months in 1971 with Heads Hands & Feet alongside Jethro Tull, Procul Harum, J.Geils, Edgar Winter.& Humble Pie & others."
"I think I was ready for the fame and fortune that 'Gertcha' was about to bring."
The next year and both 'Rabbit' and the ballad 'Ain't No Pleasing You' were both huge singles on the UK chart. I have to admit, even after all these years, my favorite Chas & Dave line is 'You've got more rabbit than Sainsburys'! Classic. So, being that I was the DJ for one of my British friends' weddings here in the US a few years back, the first song I played for him (as his wife sure can talk!!) was 'Rabbit'! Cool of me, or uncool of me ... your thoughts?! "For a start the phrase 'Both Rabbit & Ballad' sounds like a strange opposite of 'Neither Fish nor Fowl.' Why not? I don't think anybody's coined an opposite. While I'm at it, I extremely dislike and don't know where it came from, that phrase, 'Eat your heart out.' Crap & stupid. I am working on a better alternative. haven't come up with it yet, but I'll get there. At the worst it will be better than that. Not too hard to do that.
We all laugh when we hear it dont we? But it ain't all that is it? But yes, I have wandered!"
"Some feminists here in the early days of 'Rabbit' got shirty but it soon faded. The real women around, like my wife, see it for what it is. A bit of fun. And she can rabbit. Today when I announce 'Here's a song for the ladies. Rabbit!' All the young girls cheer. So cool of you unless she was one of the early days feminists. But even then, yeh, cool!"
Being that you were first tapped to record the music for the Courage Bitter TV ad campaign, which you subsequently did with 'Gertcha,' you were then offered the chance to record the theme tune to the (now) cult UK TV sitcom, Only Fools and Horses - but turned it down! In reflection, do you still regret that decision - and why did you turn it down in the first place?
"I only regret things I knew I should have done at the time but didn't. In my professional career I can't think of any. We'd just had a number one record. Self penned and self produced. We were now in Australia as it was begining to rise up the charts in this country."
"At the same time we were offered the opportunity to record an unknown song for an unknown T.V. series. Our proviso was 'yes we would if we can also write the song.' The song was already written so we turned it down. I've since become a good pal of John Sullivan. Me & Dave performed a version of the song a couple of years back on a T.V. show. John rang up and said 'that's how it should have been 25 years ago!"
My goodness, it's a small world - you worked with writer/producer Johnny Speight on some projects throughout the '90s, and back in the day he lived down the road from my grandmother in Northwood, Middx! Indeed, legend has it that my mother used to hang out at his place, leaving me there for him to babysit me! Must be where my love for the entertainment industry originated, I guess! Anyway, my question is what was the most successful, notable project you worked with Johnny on? "Johnny to me was one big deal! I was a massive fan of his before I met him. His clever writing and real humour. A lot of people misinterpreted the real purpose of Johnny's writings. We enjoyed each others company. I missed him when he died. I'm particularly proud of the song, 'In Sickness & in Health,' which we wrote for the series."
Chas & Dave also recorded some FA Cup Final singles for Tottenham Hotspur back in the early '80s. Being that I'm an Arsenal fan, who's the Spurs fans of you two - and does this mean we'll never get to meet and have a beer?! "I was born about one mile from the Spurs ground. That made me a Spurs fan. That's how it was in those days. You knew who your mum was and you knew what football team you were born to support. The club that was closest to your birthplace. No question about it. Down our street were Spurs fans. As simple as that."
"If you met a kid who was an Arsenal fan you knew he came from at least two or three miles down the road. Unfortunate for him, but there you are. You didn't hold it against him, but you felt kinda sorry for him that he didn't know what real heartfelt football was. But you'd happily let him join in your games & no doubt if you met him in a pub years later, you'd enjoy a beer with him."
OK, here's a fun one, looking at the cover artwork for these three (3) albums, please describe what was going through your minds at that time - 'Oily Rags,' 'Don't Give a Monkeys,' and 'Well Pleased'!
'Oily Rags' - "We are in lovely Pie and Mash country (Limehouse) and soon be having some!"
'Don't Give a Monkeys' - "This album is going to be called 'Mustn't Grumble.' Don't feel right. Between us, me and Dave come up with 'Don't Give a Monkeys.' Much better!"
'Well Pleased' - "Me thinking this is a good idea. I got the idea from a story book I had as a kid. Two kids were going upstairs to bed with a story book. On the cover of the book was a picture of two kids going upstairs to bed with a story book. And so on."
After all that '80s/'90s pop fame whirlwind wound down, it seems to me (from press now that relates to it back then) that you were both kinda relieved - was that the case at the time? I mean, I know that Chas & Dave haven't exactly stopped recording through the years, but some 35 years on, can you look back and be thankful or upset that the musical 'fame tide' changed? "Thankful."
Here & Now:
Since the passing of Dave's wife, he has subsequently retired from the band, leaving you alone, recording and touring under the name of Chas & His Band. You've even released a new solo CD, one that enabled you (I think) to re-record the old Chas & Dave songs, bringing them to your live audiences in a new, fresh way, yes? "Not exactly. Chas & Dave songs are Chas & Dave songs. Not to be messed with in a deliberate way but versions have gone through natural evolutive changes on stage over the years. The 'Sideboard Song,' for instance, in it's life of over 30 years has gone to the moon. (It's now on its way back.)"
"All because of 'buggering about' on stage. I call it this. Some people in this profession who won't get as good results will call it 'free expression.' But 'buggering about' has taken it from the original recorded single arrangement through to me deciding at one stage to score some circus style, four saxophones honking, to some Poyeye scat singing, to Dave stating he needs a byke pump up his arse to give him more breath. All the way tempo's varying from 'fast' to 'fast.' Chas & his Band at the moment have gone back to the original single version. My son Nik takes Daves part. It is going to be interesting to see how it develops this time."
"But, there is a Chas Hodges solo CD out. All original Chas Hodges songs. All played by me. There will be shortly a live Chas & His Band CD available. 'The Rock, Rabbit & Roll Tour' with live recordings from around the country including The Liverpool Cavern, The 100 Club Oxford Street & Abbey Road, and Studio 2."
It was revealed recently that you have an odd connection with American songstress, Tori Amos! In that she has been known to play your songs live on her tour dates! Did you know this, and if so, which ones has she played live thus far? "I know she has recorded some of our songs but I didn't know she has been playing some of them live. I know she loves Chas & Dave because I heard her say so on radio. I want to meet this lady and record with her."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today...and why? "First one to spring to mind, and first ones are always best, I find. Abba, 'I Have A Dream.' Good song."
With regard the infamous Red Book that you were presented with by Eamonn Andrews on 'This Is Your Life' - do you still have that actual book somewhere in your house today (did you get one each?), and how often do you flick through its pages? "Yes, I still have the book. We got one each. It is filled mainly with still photographs from the show. We moved house around 10 years ago and between us me and my wife decided to be ruthless with stuff we were gonna take to the new house. Books we never look at for instance, take 'em down the charity shop. So I began sorting, "How about this? Charity shop?" ... "Neither of us look at it, chuck it," says the wife. "How about this?" says I? ... "If we don't look at it, chuck it," says the wife. "We don't look at it," says I. "Chuck it, says she ... "Okay!" says I. "What is it?" says she ... "This Is Your Life," says I! "HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!!!!" says she. In honesty, we have flicked through it a couple of times."
Fun Five - OK, it's now time to fire off some quick questions - to allow those that think they know Chas & Dave to perhaps think again!
a) Can you remember your very first TOTP appearance? What song/year was it and at what level of nervousness were you at that whole day? "First TOTP was 1978 and 'Strummin' was the song. Not nervous at all. Semi-mimed as I remember. Only the vocals live. Most memorable one was when we went on in 1979 to perform 'Gertcha!' We insisted on playing the whole thing live. The producer said, 'It's unusual but in this case it's good because I want you to cut the word 'Cowson' out.' But for why? 'My mother heard your song on the radio today and informs me that the word 'Cowson' is in fact an old fashioned swear word."
"And, it is!" "But," says me, thinking quick, "it is part of what Chas & Dave do. We like to preserve old things and not let 'em die. Why shouldn't swear words be looked after and not forgotten? They are mostly far more attractive than the modern ones?"
"I DO NOT WANT THE WORD COWSON TO BE USED!" said the extremely irate old BBC boy. "Either you cut the word out or substitute it for another one or you are off the show!"
"I suggested another word beginning with C, another beginning with F and even a more milder one beginning with W. No go. "Cut it out or you're off the show!" So not wanting to blow a plug, we did. They show that recording today. Where the word 'Cowson' should be, you just see my eyes rolling round in their sockets. Quite effective really!"
VIEW THAT VERY SAME 1979 'GERTCHA' TOTP CLIP RIGHT HERE!
'Gertcha' from TOTP!!
b) Is there one of your songs that you look back on and would today change the title to, or a line/lyric from it - and if so, which one, and why?! "Yes. 'Miserable Saturday Night'. We used this later for a Courage Beer ad and called it 'Lovely Saturday Night.' The sentiments were the same but using the word 'lovely' in a comical sarcastic way summed up the song better."
c) Do you have a recurring nightmare or dream - and if so, how does it usually end? "Yes. Though not often I'm pleased to say. 3 or 4 times in the last 20 years. We are onstage in a reasonable-sized theatre. After every song I look up to see nine or ten people walking out. It ends with about a dozen people left. Then I wake up. What did you f**kin' ask me that for? If I dream it tonight you're in for a bollockin'! But I can't see that happening. Tonights gig in Putney was a dream. Full of young pretty 'London Girls' singing."
d) What is your sweetest, guiltiest pleasure (food wise!) late at night? "There are a few, but I'm gonna go with the one I am about to have. It's 3 in the morning. Cheese on toast with pepper and chilli vinegar!"
e) If you could meet any deceased celebrity, who would it be - and what would be the first question you would ask them? "First one that comes to mind is Chopin. I would play him my favourite versions of his pieces and see if he agrees. Or not. And if not, why?"
And will the US ever get to see Chas Hodges tour over here? There's the Here & Now, Rewind, and Regeneration tours, but we never get to see you named on the bill for the American side of things. Is there anything we can do to change this? "Yes. I have a dream too. To tour the U.S. In one of those cars that can fly to Mars. If not that, I can hit the U.S. like Seasick Steve has hit here. Do you know of him? Who's his manager? I can do the same as he's done here, in America."
Finally, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins (the flightless bird, not the chocolate bar!) ...do you? "Yes I do. My oldest daughter Juliet particularly does and used to call them pingwins. She still does. But I love chickens better!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
Chas & Dave Tour Dates
So, if you would like to win a SIGNED copy of Chas' new CD, and you think you know all there is to know about the man himself, just answer this easy question: What was the title of their first self-penned, self-produced U.K. album?!
And, for the bonus of a FREE batch of Exclusive Magazine branded goodies - fridge magnet, pen, bumper sticker, bookmark, and mug - try to give your best answer to this question also! What embarrassing
thing did Chas' great grandfather once do at a party?!?!
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful new CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: CHAS & DAVE SIGNED CDs to: email@example.com