Some musicians love to tinker endlessly in the studio, others live for the joy of playing live.
Chas Hodges, one half of the enduring ‘Rockney’ duo Chas and Dave, is certainly in the latter camp.
‘It keeps us going over the years’ says Chas of playing live. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without gigging.It’s like eating and sleeping, it’s part of my life, I’d miss it dearly if I couldn’t do it.
‘It’s nice to have a bit of a break to get some other things sorted, get down the old allotment and spend a bit of time on that, but it’s lovely to get back on the road.’
Chas and Dave Peacock decided to make a go of it as an act in 1975, after years of being in-demand session players, scoring their breakthrough hit Gertcha in 1979 and going on to have numerous others including Rabbit, Ain’t No Pleasing You, Snooker Loopy and a hat-trick of top 20 singles with their beloved Tottenham Hotspur.
They called time on the act when Dave retired after the death of his wife in 2009 – Chas carried on with a tour dubbed Chas Not Dave.
We love all our hits and all our songs. If we didn’t like them, we didn’t put them outChas Hodges of Chas & Dave
‘I carried on as Chas and his band. I still do the odd one on my own now if Dave wants a bit of a rest, but it’s part of my life, I quite enjoy it.
‘People ask me if I’ve got plenty of work. I say I don’t work, I play the piano.
‘What more do you want in life?’
However, the two were soon reunited and back on the road – and more in demand than they had been for years. They have also found themselves being cited as an influence by a new generation of bands.
‘We’ve always been there, and we’ve always been the same Chas and Dave.
‘I think it’s quite weird to analyse it, but I just wonder if maybe when Dave packed it up, people thought, hang on, we didn’t realise what we had there, we might not see Chas and Dave again, and when Dave come back, they were going ‘‘we don’t know what we’re missing’’.
‘Since Dave’s been back, we’ve sold out the Albert Hall, the Hammersmith Apollo, toured with our old mates Status Quo – we’ve been back with a bang.
‘There’s been people like Peter Doherty (of The Libertines) who’s said we’re a big influence. Francis Rossi he says to me ‘‘I’d have rather written Ain’t No Pleasing You than Pictures of Matchstick Men’’, so we get these compliments along the line and are told that we’re influencing people.’
And he recalls playing at Sonisphere festival at Knebworth in 2014 – 35 years after they’d supported Led Zeppelin there – still clearly chuffed with the reception they received: ‘Talk about going down a storm! It was faces as far as you could see singing Rabbit and Ain’t No Pleasing You.’
He adds: ‘We’ve made our mark along the way.’
And what a way it has been. Chas cut his teeth at the studio run by Joe Meek, the experimental producer who enjoyed success before killing his landlady and committing suicide.
But Chas remembers that time in the early ’60s fondly: ‘My first ever recording was up at Joe Meek’s when I was 16 years of age. I learned a lot from Joe Meek, his recording methods, just being in the environment of bands, just being in the background – we’ve toured with The Beatles, I was on the road with Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, so all those early days were very enjoyable, but I was learning so much at the same time.’
And it was The Great Balls of Fire wild man who inspired Chas to take up the piano himself.
‘In ’63 I was in a band called The Outlaws with me and (Deep Purple founder) Ritchie Blackmore on lead.
‘We saw an advert in the Melody Maker from Don Arden, Sharon Osbourne’s dad. It said they were looking for a band for the Jerry Lee Lewis tour, so we rang up and said we’re the boys for you.
‘He came and saw us, liked us, and put us straight on the tour. Backing Jerry Lee – that’s when I started to learn piano.’
Arden was another colourful music business figure – known for his strong-arm business tactics. But again, Chas doesn’t have a bad word to say about him.
‘A lot of other people had some serious set-tos with him, but we were his sort of house band, really, we got treated very well.
‘We weren’t in the high-earning bracket, and I’m not saying that’s the reason he ripped people off, but he would pay us £30 a week in the early ’60s which weren’t a bad wage for a band, and all expenses paid – and we got paid regularly.’
But the start of Chas and Dave almost came about by accident. The two had become friends, but were both playing bass in their respective bands.
‘When we had a couple of days off, I’d give Dave a call because we had almost identical tastes in music. We’d go see a band – there used to be Monday nights at Cooks Ferry Inn at Edmonton, they used to have blues bands, Eric Clapton, people like that used to play there.
‘It was a great club, and if there was a party there afterwards, off we’d go and get a few beers in, and if there was a piano there – because I was learning the piano – I’d jump on there and Dave would grab his banjo or guitar out of the boot, so that was, without us realising it, the start of Chas and Dave.’
Although the two had been happy to play sidemen up to this point, now they were putting themselves in the spotlight, they were keen to achieve success on their own terms.
‘There were loads of songs that were offered to us through record companies, and it was, yeah, that probably will be a hit, but we don’t want to do that, we’ll wait until we’ve got our own. Gertcha was our first hit before Ain’t No Pleasing You was a number one in’82.
‘The thing is, I know artists now, old Jeff Beck, he’s a mate of mine, and he hates Hi Ho Silver Lining, but he knows it’s his own fault for doing it. He said: “I realised I made a mistake when I walked out after the session and I heard the receptionist singing it, and I thought, oh no, I’ve done it all wrong here”.
‘That’s what happened, we learned from people like that, we weren’t going to do anything we didn’t like because you’ve got to live with it for the rest of your life.
‘We love all our hits and all our songs. If we didn’t like them, we didn’t put them out.’
Chas and Dave released their first studio album in two decades in 2013, That’s What Happens, which saw them return to their roots with a collection of early R&B, skiffle and rock’n’roll classics alongside new takes on songs of their own and featured Albert Lee, Martin Taylor, Buddy Holly and The Crickets’ drummer JI Allison, Jools Holland and Hugh Laurie.
‘I’d done a couple of solo albums in the meantime, but for me and Dave to go in, it was what comes first? The lyrics or the music? Well, the phone call comes first, and it came from Warner Brothers, saying we’d like to do an album with Chas and Dave, so we went in and had a meeting, and they said where do you want to do it?
‘All the great studios have gone now, but Abbey Road is still there – I worked in there pre-Beatles, we got all our mates in and we were pleased with the results.’
Despite their achievements and national treasure status, they remain in a genre of one.
‘It’s pretty hard to do what we do,’ Chas reckons. ‘I think someone coined it best when they said it sounds deceptively simple, but it ain’t.
‘People can be influenced by it and do it their own way and that’s exactly how it should be.’
n Chas and Dave play Ferneham Hall in Fareham on Saturday, February 27, doors 7.30pm. Tickets from £27.50. Go to fernehamhall.co.uk