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theartsdesk Q&A: Singers Chas and Dave | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Singers Chas and Dave

theartsdesk Q&A: Singers Chas and Dave

Rockney rhyming gang call last orders

After four decades in beards and braces, Chas and Dave are no more. It was announced this week that, following the recent death of Dave Peacock’s wife, the duo have performed their last ever pub gig. Chas Hodges will soldier on in his own band, but it’s no exaggeration to say that rockney, their chirpy fusion of three-chord rock'n'roll and rollicking Cockney wit, has officially lost its mojo.

They weren’t quite bona fide Cockneys: Chas hails from Edmonton and Dave from Ponders End. But they were genuine rock'n'rollers who served a long apprenticeship in the Sixties. Chas Hodges in particular was a session guitarist for the pioneering producer Joe Meek, and crops up as a supporting character in Telstar, the play and film about Meek's rise and bloodstained fall (now available on DVD).

While both were adept at banjo and guitar, in their classic formation Chas played piano and sang lead while Dave was on bass and harmonies. Their hit singles were relatively few – among them “Gertcha”, “Rabbit”, “Ain’t No Pleasing You”, “Snooker Loopy” and a couple of songs to mark Tottenham Hotspur’s presence in the FA Cup Final (one of which produced the memorable couplet, “Ossie’s going to Wembley,/ His knees have gone all trembly”). They opened for Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979, and such fame was enough to keep them on the road for decades. In 2005 they were unironically booked to perform at Glastonbury. In this interview, they tell the story of how they got together and, through the passing of seasons and fashions, stayed together.

JASPER REES: How did you two meet?

DAVE PEACOCK: I was in a band called the Rolling Stones. Years ago, before the dodgy lot come about. We were better than them. We was doing gigs and the guitar player said, “There's my mate thumbing a lift there I used to go to school with.”  It was Chas Hodges. This happened two or three times and we found we both liked the same sort of music - Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Chet Atkins - and we sort of stayed in touch.

CHAS HODGES: We were just going around watching other bands and having a few pints together. We started working together when we were 25.

What brought you together as musicians?

DAVE: We done a few gigs together, but not seriously, about 1967-8. But we got together seriously in 1970, was it?

CHAS: '71. We said, “Let's stop buggering about, let's write some songs and let's get out there and show the world Chas and Dave.” We tossed around two or three different names and couldn't come up with one. Chubby was one of them, wasn't it, Dave?

DAVE: Yeah, Oily Rags was one of them as well.

CHAS Yeah, Rag and Bone.

DAVE: But we were doing lots of sessions for other people and one producer used to say, “Here comes Chas and Dave.” It was always “Chas and Dave this” and “Chas and Dave that” and I think he said,  “Why don't you just call yourselves Chas and Dave?”

CHAS: Yeah, we took the easy way out.

How was the brave decision taken to sing in your own London accents?

DAVE: We just jumped in the deep end. We liked the tempo of rock stuff so some of our early songs were rock-orientated but we just wanted to sing them in our own accents.

CHAS: “Gertcha” and “Rabbit” are rock’n’roll songs. It just so happens that we sing them in our accents. It was simply because it was honest. It was nice doing the old covers, taking off Jerry Lee and Little Richard, but I first noticed it when I went to America with a band before me and Dave got together and I felt a real fraud out there singing in an American accent and that was the seed of the idea. Then me and Dave got talking and he felt the same way and that's how it all started. To get the rent paid we went back to square one. We had a couple of little amplifiers, played mostly pubs and clubs. It was a great place to try out our new songs. If you can get their attention when they don't even know who you are, you know are doing something.

DAVE: We did tour with 10cc in the early days. We used to go down a storm on that tour – '75, '76.

Swimming so completely against the tide, how soon did a recording contract follow?

CHAS: We felt that our style eventually would be successful because it was fresh and it wasn't like anything else going around. And we knew we were good musicians, good performers, so yes, we did feel that we'd eventually get a hit. But it was quite a hard job convincing the record companies at the time.

DAVE: Retreat Records gave us a chance to do our first album. EMI weren't too sure until they come to see some of the gigs we were playing and just couldn't get in there.

CHAS: Our first album was recorded in '73.

DAVE: Mainly we was playing around Bethnal Green then.

CHAS: Our first top 50 hit was “Strumming” in 1978 and in 1979 we got our first top ten hit with “Gertcha”. We actually wrote that in...

DAVE: ... '73

CHAS: Might have been '72.

DAVE: It was ages before that came to light and somebody from an advertising agency saw us playing in a pub and they asked us if they could use it for a Courage Best ad. It was a great big hit for us.

Did you begin playing instruments in childhood?

DAVE: Chas's mum was a big influence on us with songs. But as far as learning instruments, we're both self-taught.

CHAS: You learn from fellow musicians and bits out of books but we've never actually been to lessons to be taught our instruments.

CHAS: Me mum played the piano and she always wanted me to go to piano lessons when I was a kid and I didn't want to know. I was too interested in football and fishing. When I was about 12 the guitar became popular - Lonnie Donegan - and I said to her, "I'd love to play the guitar." She said, "If I can get hold of one for yer" - 'cos we weren't all that well-off - "will you promise you'll give it some stick?" Anyway, she got an old one off me uncle Alf and it went from there. I then went on to bass when I was about 16. I always sort of dabbled on the piano but never really got down to the piano seriously until me and Dave got together. We're both originally bass players. I fancied going on the piano so it all worked out good.

DAVE: Chas is very nifty on the guitar.

CHAS: I'm probably better on the guitar than I am on the piano. I'm more knowledgeable about the guitar than I am about the piano.

DAVE: I started when I was a real little kid - when I was about six. I had an uncle, uncle Bill, and he used to play the banjo and he started me off on a few chords. And once I'd learnt a couple or three chords I was away. They just couldn't stop me. I played and played and played. Some of our songs have only got two chords in them. I played banjo and a bit of guitar right up until I got a bass when I was about 16 and I muck about little bit on the piano, nothing like in Chas's league, but I'm good enough to play on the sound checks. We can both get by on two or three different instruments.

And how did you divide the duties on vocals?

DAVE: Chas has always been better at singing than me. That's why I do the old harmonies.

CHAS: He's got the high voice, Dave has. But there are certain songs that Dave's sings better than me. 'Cos it's a feeling at the end of the day.

Before you started playing together, you were both in other bands. Did you enjoy the Sixties?

CHAS: I was in bands all through the Sixties that done reasonably well. Mike Berry and Outlaws, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Heads, Hands and Feet. All that was good experience for me. All those bands were good, but not one of them was my ideal band.

DAVE: They're called the Swinging Sixties but the last thing I think it did was swing, apart from later on when Sam and Dave [no relation] come out and that soul thing. It started to get good then. But in the early days what they termed the Swinging Sixties with them dodgy English bands about, I don't think it was very good at all.

CHAS: I think the Beatles done some good songs though.

DAVE: Yeah, they were great. I don't count them as one of the dodgy English bands.

CHAS: The Searchers, they're good boys, we met them years ago. They're more pals than anything. I can remember in Hamburg and we went to a party and one of the Searchers was at this party and he said, “We've got a record out,” and I said, “Oh great, have yer?” It was "Sweets for My Sweet". I said, "Sounds as if you're going to do all right," and he went, "Do you think so?" And of course the rest is 'istory: they did do all right.

DAVE: I was in that band called the Rolling Stones but we thought it was a stupid name so we changed the name. I was in several bands doing a lot of shows.

Did the appeal of your accents extend beyond the parish?

DAVE: That's exactly what the record companies first said to us. We found the opposite to be happening. "Rabbit", for instance, was a big hit in Germany. It's just the sound and the feeling that we give off.

CHAS: If you're a folk singer and the whole of your song revolves around the lyrics then yes, I think that can be very narrowly appreciated, but if you take the lyrics away from "Gertcha" or "Rabbit" they're pure Jerry Lee-style rock'n'roll songs. So there comes the wider appeal.

So what happened after your first hit?

CHAS: EMI didn't renew the contract. I think they probably thought "Gertcha" was a one-off. A lot of people did think in those days that Chas and Dave was a novelty and wouldn't have any more hits. We knew we weren't going to be. “Rabbit” came out on our own label and everything else from then on was on our own label.

Once the hits stopped happening, what became the secret of your longevity?

DAVE: A row a day keeps the blues away. No, I always tell people - and it's not a corny thing to say - Chas and Dave are more a way of life than just a band. I'm godfather to Chas's three kids, our wives are best mates. Even on our days off we go out for a pint. We go fishing together.

CHAS: In the old days there was a lot of bands that was only as good as their last hit records and we didn't want to be like that. Touch wood, we ain't like that.

How long will you go on?

CHAS: As long as we're healthy enough to do so.

Visit the official Chas and Dave website here.

There was a lot of bands that was only as good as their last hit records and we didn't want to be like that

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