Only two days have elapsed since Chas & Dave announced they would no longer be working together, but the news appears to have prompted an outpouring of affection that – in the dying London rush hour – extends to staff at a St Pancras sandwich shop. “Mr Dave? Mr Dave?” froths a youngish man of Middle Eastern extraction. “Excuse me to bother you, but can you take picture?” After more than three decades of Chas being mistaken for Dave and vice-versa, the duo’s 65 year-old pianist Chas Hodges is long past correcting people. Neither does he set his unlikely fan straight when he tells him how sad he was to hear of his retirement. Over in the far corner, Hodges’ publicist attempts to set the record straight. “That’s Chas! He’s not retiring! Dave’s the one who’s retiring!” But no-one seems to notice.
In fact, by the time the news emerged, Dave Peacock was already out of the picture. Unlike other high-profile dissolutions, there was no farewell tour for Britain’s venerable practitioners cockney boogie-woogie. Perhaps if they thought the news would attract this much attention, they may have considered it. But, then again – given that Peacock has even refused all interview requests at a time when his profile has never been higher – probably not. After his wife succumbed to lung cancer this summer, Peacock gingerly approached his foil of some four decades and told him he wanted out. Hodges remembers the look of relief on his friend’s face when the words finally came out. “He knows what makes him happy. He drives horses. He does up Romany caravans and there’s no-one better at it than he is.”
Having been playing in bands since 16, when Joe Meek enlisted him to play bass in his house band (that’s him you can hear on Telstar) the perennially tousled Hodges has seen fashions come and go and come back again, and long held firm in the face of them. Being repeatedly cited by Pete Doherty as an influence prompted some reappraisal of the duo’s late 70s-to-early 80s hitmaking run. “We supported [Doherty’s old band] The Libertines at Brixton Academy and The Forum and we absolutely stormed it,” recalls Hodges. Over at Sean Rowley’s legendary Guilty Pleasures club nights, Chas & Dave’s biggest hit Ain’t No Pleasing You had become a guaranteed floor-filler. When they performed the song at Glastonbury in 2005, Hodges could barely hear himself above the crowd.
To say they were back in fashion again though, was not strictly true. To a pop fan in the post-punk climate of 1979, ale-stained Joanna-rattlers such as Gertcha and Rabbit may as well have been beamed in from another planet. Young boys and old men liked them, but to everyone in between, Chas & Dave were at best a pub-rock throwback and, at worst, a novelty act. For Hodges, it was water off a duck’s back. “You’ve got to remember, we’d been around a while. We knew the importance of only doing songs that you really believed in. Because if one of them takes off, you’re going to have to sing it for the rest of your life. Poor old Jeff Beck – he hated Hi Ho Silver Lining from the moment he was asked to do it. Detests it. We didn’t want to get into that situation.”
Doing Top of the Pops for the first time, aged 35, was “boring”. Hodges remembers almost being thrown off the set when producer Michael Hurll’s mother informed him that Gertcha contained the word “cowson” – a long since disused cockney insult. “He told us to change it when we did the performance, but of course, once you’re in the song, habit takes over. So, after I did it again, he goes, ‘Stop! Stop! If you do that one more time, you’re off the show.’ If you look at the footage now, you see me stopping myself just in time, but unable to think of a word to put in its place.”
For a brief period in the 80s, they became the go-to guys for anyone in need of a catchy sports song. After a slow start in the studio, Hodges got the idea for Snooker Loopy by The Matchroom Mob – Chas, Dave and A-list ball-potters such as Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and Tony Meo – by imagining the seven dwarves singing it. He says that he knew it was going to be a huge hit when his son returned home from school and reported that all the children were singing it. Of the two top ten hits they recorded with the great Glenn Hoddle-era Spurs team of the early 80s, Ossie’s Dream has accrued immortality – not just for the lines, “Ossie’s going to Wembley/His knees have gone all trembly”, but for Ossie Ardiles’ legendary vocal cameo: “In the cup for Tottingham”.
“We wrote that line especially for him,” laughs Hodges, “because we knew he couldn’t say it properly, and he came into the studio and said, ‘It’s ok! I’ve learned how to say ‘Tottenham!!’ And we was like, ‘No! You don’t understand! We want you to say ‘Tottingham’!”
If most of the ensuing years for Chas and Dave were spent away from TV and recording studios – they didn’t record an album for 15 years – Hodges says they stayed busy. “It really never bothered me whether most people liked or disliked what we did. There were certain people who, if they said we weren’t very good, it would have knocked me back a bit.” Like who? He mentions legendary Sun Records producer Jack Clement, with whom he has long struck up a friendship. “I went to his house. He even has a picture of us on his fridge!” Then, of course, there’s Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1963, Lewis mentored the young Hodges when the latter landed a job playing bass in his band. “He went from being this huge star to playing for a $100 a night [after he infamously married his 13 year-old cousin]. But he picked himself back up the only way he knew how – by playing his music. I would watch him night after night, just trying to learn from what he was doing.”
The longer you speak with Hodges, the greater the realization that the face rendered like a post-war comic strip character on the cover of 1981’s TV-advertised Christmas Jamboree Bag spans the history of rock’n’roll like some kind of Cockney pop Zelig. In 1966, playing with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, he supported The Beatles on their final European tour and became one of the first people in the world to hear the album that became Revolver. “It didn’t have a name then, but they played us the acetate. Even then, they still had the enthusiasm of a new band. They weren’t interested in acting all cool. I remember Paul McCartney staring at me all the way through Yellow Submarine, trying to see what I thought. And I was thinking, ‘Will you please stop staring at me?’ Imagine hearing, ‘We all live in a Yellow Submarine’ for the first time and thinking, ‘Is this a joke or what?’ Then, when Got To Get You Into My Life came on, he said, ‘You know what? This would be a great one for your band to do.’ We cut it in Abbey Rd. He produced it, and we scored a hit with it.”
Hodges’ platform has just been announced. In ten minutes, he’ll be on the train to Stevenage where his wife of 43 years – a former Playboy bunny girl called Joanie (see 1966 New Musical Express announcement below) – will be waiting for him. Next month he steps back out onto the road with his own band, honouring a series of dates he was originally booked to play with Chas & Dave. He gives me a new CD of solo recordings. As I put that away, I pull out a memento from another era of his pre-Chas & Dave life – an excellent 1972 album he made with early 70s rustic blues-rockers Heads Hands & Feet. Scribbling his autograph inside the gatefold sleeve, he says, “Some people spend the rest of their lives in bands, not because they like it, but because they don’t know what else to do.” He takes a good long look at his younger self. “But I’m not one of them. I don’t feel any different to how I did then.”