Interview: Chas & Dave
Chas & Dave will never tire of wheeling out their old hits — mainly because they loved them the first time round. Now the Cockney duo giving them one last outing on a farewell tour. SIMON PARKIN reports.
Nearly everybody knows a Chas & Dave song. Whether it's one of their 'Rockney' kitchen-sink knees-ups of the late 70s and early 80s — Gertcha, Rabbit, The Sideboard Song included, their Radio 2 staple Ain't No Pleasing You.
Perhaps its that jaunty tribute to the green baize Snooker Loopy, or even one of their FA Cup songs recorded with Tottenham Hotspur ('Ossie's going to Wembley, his knees have gone all trembly') — the North London pair's songs hold a unique place in British musical life.
But before all the success of their chartbusting days, and indeed in the years since, Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock have come to be acknowledged by fellow musicians as among the very best — and best-loved — in the business.
Back in the early days of rock n' roll they played alongside greats such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and The Beatles, while in recent times a new generation of bands spearheaded by The Libertines have acknowledged them as an influence, an association which culminated in a joint tour with Carl Barat's and Pete Doherty's band and a triumphant appearance at Glastonbury.
Sadly, following the death of his wife Sue last year, Dave decided to call time on his musical association with Chas. But they're out on the road for one last time this month on their Farewell Tour, which is taking in three dates in this region over the next few weeks. We spoke to Chas Hodges about the past, the present, and the appeal of vegetable cultivation…
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Are you looking forward to this tour in particular, as it must have looked like you might not tour again with Dave…
Well it is nice. I can continue happily forever with Chas Hodges and his band, but Dave retired when his wife died just over a year ago. I can't remember who suggested it but we decided that Chas & Dave should go out properly so this is the final tour and we're looking forward to it. I've got my son Nick on the drums, who's been brought up with the music and has slotted in nicely.
How did you and Dave first meet and play together?
I first met Dave when I was in a band called The Outlaws in the early sixties. I was on the road at the time playing for Jerry Lee Lewis and an old mate of mine Brian Juniper, who I'd been in a skiffle group with – pulled up in his car and said that he had a bass player in the back – and that was Dave. So we got to know each other but didn't think to play together, both of us being bass players. But to cut a long story short, in the meantime over the next eight or nine years I joined Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers — we toured with The Beatles and Paul McCartney took us in the studio, then I went over to America with Albert Lee's Heads, Hands and Feet. But around 1973 I decided to go on the piano permanently, and I said to Dave, how about me and you getting together and writing songs and becoming a duo. So that was how it all started.
You've played with some true legends over the years — who has been the most musically inspiring?
The one that springs to mind immediately is Jerry Lee Lewis. When I went on the road with him in 63, playing the bass, I loved his piano playing and I'd started to play it myself. Watching him every night, I always say Jerry Lee Lewis taught me how to play the piano, but he didn't realise he was – it was just the fact of watching him and thinking aah, that's how he does it. At the end of the night before we all went to the next gig I'd get on the piano and try a few bits out. So you start off emulating one person then you develop your own style as the years go by. I did a gig about a week ago in Southend and there was a young band on before us, with a great young piano player. He came up to us afterwards and he said 'I learned off you', which is a great feeling.
In recent years your association with bands like The Libertines has brought you to a new audience — why do you think your music has that universal appeal?
Well it's honest music and we take pride that we can play our instruments, and we love playing live. Put them three together and it's a winning combination. That period at the beginning of this century gave us a big rise – being on stage with The Libertines and then playing Glastonbury and the Jools Holland Hootenanny. We gained a whole new fan base – in fact the majority of our fans at the minute are probably in their twenties.
Despite a lot of rock'n'roll performers adopting an American twang, you've always made a point of performing with your London accent including rhyming slang. Was that it important to you?
You can hear from my voice I'm not putting any of it on. The idea of singing like this came when I was on tour in America and singing with an American accent. I felt a fraud and so came back to England and met with Dave with the idea of songs in my own accent. I love someone like the Arctic Monkeys who do the same with a Sheffield accent. Maybe they're taking a leaf out of our book!
Seeing as how this is the Farewell Tour, how would you like Chas & Dave to be remembered?
Well the beauty of it is, there's always the records, which will always be around. There was another little coincidence yesterday – my wife told me a friend of hers was speaking about a funeral she'd been to, and as they played the fellow out they were playing The Sideboard Song by Chas & Dave. That's the great thing, the songs are not just made for the moment, they're made forever.
And you recently wrote a book about your allotment [Chas and His Rock 'n' Roll Allotment] – will you still have time to visit during the tour?
I'll creep over there when I can – little and often. If I've got 20 minutes to spare I shall be over there getting a bit of fresh air. It feeds your brain for whatever else you've got to do in the day.
t Chas & Dave play King's Lynn Corn Exchange tonight, the Marine Theatre, Lowestoft, on April 10, �22 (�21.50 cons), 01502 533200, www.marinatheatre.co.uk, and the Pavilion Theatre, Cromer Pier on April 21, �19.50 (�18 cons), 01263 512495, www.cromer-peir.com