Lyrical Chas… great lines live on
Dan Carrier pays a personal tribute to Chas Hodges and shares memories of a down-to-earth real gentleman, and the best rock ’n’ roll musicians our country has every produced
28 September, 2018 — By By Dan Carrier
Chas Hodges, one half of Chas and Dave. Photo: Andrew D Hurley
ACROSS the newspapers, TV and radio this week there have been obituaries of Chas Hodges – the Chas in Chas and Dave. They have touched on how his mother Daisy played the piano, of discovering skiffle, being a session musician for Joe Meek, playing for Jerry Lee Lewis, of forming Chas and Dave and deciding to sing rock and roll in their native, London voices.
In light of his passing on Saturday, aged 74, fitting biographical tributes have already been printed – so instead of going over what is already known, I am going to consider what he meant to me.
As a child, I had loved the band, mainly because of the Spurs songs they sang when we got to the FA Cup final: a defining musical moment in my and my peers lives. And it was with this in mind, when I was living in the Channel Islands and running the Guernsey Spurs Supporters Club, that I decided to get them over to do an end-of-season gig.
We booked a hotel ballroom, I called Chas and we arranged for him, Dave, their wives Joan and Sue and Mick Burt the drummer to hop on the ferry at Poole and spend the weekend with us.
We sold about 300 tickets for £35 a pop and on a hot summer night they took the roof off the place: I knew they were special, but until you’d seen them live, you could not appreciate the rapport they have with their audience. I was absolutely hooked, and it became a regular feature of my leisure time that I’d drink a few ales with friends, stick one of their LPs on the record deck, and bellow out their songs at the top of my voice.
I discovered not only the hits everyone knows, but a much deeper appreciation not just of them as musicians but the fact they were a receptacle for our city’s folk music history. They seemed to know every music hall song ever written, the street ditties of our town, and on top of that an incredible knowledge of American folk, blues and plenty more in between. Any popular song of the last 120 years, Chas could sit at a piano and tease it out.
Then, one day, whilst being so transfixed by them that I was unable to have a beer without wanting to sing their songs, I found myself standing in a gilded ballroom in Kensington, the home to the French ambassador, at a reception with a host of over dressed French film stars.
I was at the time working as a reporter for the Evening Standard and was supposed to be picking up some colour at the do for the following days edition. The conversation was fairly pretentious and stilted, but then a band struck up and two Lindy Hop style dancers took to the floor.
The band went into some rock and roll and I began tapping my feet: at which point I was whisked away from being a wallflower, to my initial embarrassment, by Catherine Deneuve for a boogie.
Afterwards I got talking to the duo who had put on the show, and they said they did dances at the 100 Club.
I launched into a rant that the greatest rock and roll band I had ever seen were the most criminally underrated: Chas and Dave.
Chas and Dave duo: Chas Hodges, left, and Dave Peacock
I did not give the poor couple a moment’s peace as I launched into a passionate diatribe, telling them in no uncertain terms they needed to get these boys at the 100 Club, pronto. I scribbled my name on a piece of paper and the upshot was a promoter began booking me to DJ on Friday nights at the club as the warm-up act to my favourite band. They went on to do a long stint of playing to sell-out crowds at the famous West End venue, with me playing tunes before and after.
It lead to me other gigs with them: parties at The Electric Ballroom, The 02, the Forum, Hammersmith…all to enthusiastic, sell out crowds.
The trick to DJ’ing is being able to know whose on the dancefloor: and you know the type of music they’ll want before you clamber behind the decks. But with Chas and Dave gigs, there was always such a huge cross section of people, any pre-planning was tricky. Instead, I’d pack my record bag with a mixture of classics, oddities, just anything that stood a quality test, no matter what genre it was. The people who went to their gigs lapped it up, and it was always the easiest gig I had in terms of getting a dance floor rocking.
Chas was always kind, a real gentleman, down to earth, approachable – though, to my continuing embarrassment, I always was so in awe of him I would clam up, be too shy, or simply too drunk on singing his music at gigs to tell him straight how much I loved him.
Around 20 years ago I suggested I help him write a book about his life. I met his wife Joan, his family, and we wrote each other letters. He told me of sneaking into Sadlers Wells as a child where he was mesmerised by what was going on in the orchestra pit, of his nan who played the organ for a travelling fair, personal history such as moving from London to Kent during the war, where his father died in tragic circumstances. He told me of growing up in Edmonton, following Tottenham, getting into the music business and how he and Dave set about writing songs.
During these chats, I soon realised he didn’t need my help at all to write his story. My simple questions would prompt pages of amazing anecdotes, memories, thoughts on music: Chas put it all together for a book he published in 2008. I, as a biographer or ghost writer, was utterly redundant and sent him back what he had sent me.
He was as good a writer as you could imagine, something that when you read their lyrics on sheet music you instantly realise. Whether it is in the simple brilliance of That’s what I Like (“…Cheese & onion sandwiches & Derby chinaware, Fiddles & jigs, Woogie my dog, me Aunty Vi having a swear, Taking my dad for a pint or two on a Sunday morning stroll, Licorice pipes & baggy suits, Glenn Hoddle scoring a goal. Catching a pike & riding me bike, old wooden wheels & a bowl of eels – that’s what I like…”) or the tribute to a grumpy Second World War veteran in Gertcha (“Well the old man was a Desert Rat, in khaki shorts and a khaki hat, how me mother could’ve fancied that, I just don’t knooooow…”) he and Dave created much more than the pastiche of songs such as London Girls or the number one balled, Ain’t No Pleasing You, which he said was inspired by a mixture Fats Domino and listening to his brother and sister in law having an argument.
No – he would rattle his way through Music Hall numbers, deep American south cotton picking reels, all down with a rawness and warmth that tapped into exactly the right tone.
Chas was a fantastic barrel house pianist with an enormous stretch with his hands, a rolling style and an ease of command of his instrument.
And Chas and Dave, I feel, had always suffered a little bit form people thinking they were the preserve of joke songs like Snooker Loopy, or making adverts for Courage Best. They have often been seen by those ignorant of their music as being East End stereotypes (they’re north Londoners, for starters…). Yes, they made a decent living from such asides, but these were two very accomplished wordsmiths and musicians.
Chas was a brilliant banjo player and guitarist – I once called him from the New Journal offices and he launched into an impromptu banjo recital down the phone as he told me about a musical he was writing, to be called Births, Deaths and Marriages.
As more and more people discovered them again, there was gigs at Glastonbury, in front of 10,000 singers who all thought they too were pretty much alone in discovering this rocking little secret – that Chas and Dave were actually two of the best rock and roll musicians our country has ever produced. There were small gigs in dingy pubs and venues, and then London’s biggest concert halls as they got well earned paydays as they moved into their 70s.
Chas wasn’t just about the rock and roll. He had an allotment and was proud of what he grew. He had an old army jeep he fiddled with. Dave is a craftsman, doing up old gypsy wagons when he’s not playing the bass.
With Chas’s passing, a hugely important part of my life has passed too: he created musical moments for myself and others that I’ll never forget.
Being a Chas and Dave fan, knowing all the lyrics, and glorying in the sheer, unadulterated fun of it, has been a constant.
My thoughts are with his wife Joan, his large family, others who like me feel a real sense of loss, and of course, Dave.
Thanks for the memories.