Cockney legend Chas Hodges is dead at 74

Pop stars come and pop stars go. Few stick around, seemingly forever, Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones are the two immediate ones that spring to mind, and Chas and Dave is another.

The loveable pop/cockney pair began, as a duo, in 1975 with the first single, Old Dog and Me which failed to chart. Their chart career began in 1978 with Strummin’ and then, thanks to a television beer commercial, they hit the big time but Chas Hodges had been around and making music for 20 years by then.

Chas was born in Edmonton, north London, between Christmas and New Year 1943. He was inspired to become a musician after seeing Lonnie Donegan and his mother, who was a pub piano player, encouraged him, “And I said to my mum, ‘I’d love to play the guitar,'” Chas revealed in an interview in 2013.

In the late fifties he began working with Joe Meek as a session player and, like Joe Brown, he often got to back many of the American musicians when they toured the UK and so found himself playing for Bill Haley And his Comets, Mike Berry and The Outlaws alongside Ritchie Blackmore and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was whilst backing the latter that he decided to take up the piano because of how impressed he was with the way Jerry Lee played. In the mid-sixties he did a spell with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers which is where he first worked with their drummer Mick Birt. He was invited by Albert Lee to join his band Heads Hands and Feet and, before long, Chas and Albert met Dave Peacock and formed another band called Black Claw.

At that point Chas and Dave decided to go it alone with their cockney rock ‘n’ roll genre and recorded their self-produced album One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver. Mick Birt, after leaving Cliff Bennett returned to his old plumbing job, but Chas and Dave invited him back to join them as their drummer. They were proud of their north London roots and one track on the album was called Ponders End Allotments Club. DJs John Peel and Charlie Gillett were both championing their music before they became successful.

It was in 1978 when an advertising executive was having a drink in a pub they were playing at saw them perform Gertcha and signed them up make some commercials for Courage Best Bitter with specially adapted lyrics. The follow-up was The Sideboard Song (Got my Beer in The Sideboard Here) which would have been more suitable for the ads and despite its popularity it didn’t even crack the top 50.

Most of their tracks, like the Small Faces in the sixties and Ian Dury and Squeeze in the seventies, were witty ditties about English life. In 1980 they got their first top 10 hit with Rabbit all about the missus who never stopped talking, she apparently had more rabbit than Sainsbury’s which, interestingly, is an item not often seen in said supermarket. The following year was the year of the medley with 25 multi-track medley’s making the chart. Many were assembled by DJs and producers who concentrated on one acts so there were medley’s by the Beach Boys as well as a Beach Boy medley by Gidea Park, Hollies, The Sweet, the aforementioned Bill Haley and Gary Glitter. Then there was a Bee Gees medley by Startrax Club disco, a Caribbean medley by Lobo, a classical one by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and two sixties mixes by Tight Fit. It all kicked off with the Dutch producer Jaap Eggermont who recorded Abba, Beatles and Stevie Wonder medley’s under the moniker Star Sound with the titles being Stars on 45 volumes one, two and three. Chas and Dave decided to jump on the bandwagon but recorded their own medley Stars Over 45 which featured the vaudevillian songs The Laughing Policeman, Any Old Iron, Run Rabbit Run and What A Rotten Song which are, of course, all over 45 (years) old.

In 1982 they had their biggest hit with the reflective ballad Ain’t No Pleasing You which reached number two. In 1985, they recorded the theme to the TV sitcom In Sickness and In Health and the following year snooker promoter Barry Hearn had the idea of getting Chas and Dave to team up with all the snooker players he looked after: Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Terry Griffiths, Willie Thorne and Tony Meo who, under the name The Matchroom Mob, backed the duo on Snooker Loopy.

I had the great pleasure of working with Chas and Dave a few times in the nineties and early 2000s. One evening we were chatting back stage and I’d brought my copy of Rabbit in to be autographed. They both duly signed it and Chas said, disappointingly, “Is this the only single you’ve got of ours?” I said, “No” to which he replied, “bring the others in tomorrow and we’ll sign them all.” I was thinking he’ll probably be sorry he said that and so when I turned up the next night with about four albums and a batch of singles, he was far more impressed and signed the lot. They were both such lovely people and had time for everyone.

They loved their football and supported Tottenham Hotspur. In 1981 they recorded Ossie’s Dream… (Spurs Are on Their Way to Wembley) with the Tottenham Hotspur F.A. Cup Final Squad but were uncredited. In 1987 they teamed up with them again for the song Hot Shot Tottenham! But this time were given due credit.

The pair continued to tour the UK and never went out of fashion or favour right up until 2009 when, following the death of his wife Sue, Dave announced his retirement. Chas continued but less than a year later they announced a tour for 2011 which they undertook.

In 2013, marking their 50 year friendship they signed a record deal with Warner Music

The duo never had a UK number one but they came close twice; one with Ain’t No Pleasing You and the other was in 1999 when Eminem first arrived on the scene. His first hit was My Name Is which samples Labi Siffre’s I Got The from his 1975 album Remember My Name, Chas and Dave were the session men on the Siffre track. Mark Mason was written some excellent and witty books, one of them being The Importance of Being Trivial featuring many fascinating and well-researched titbits. In the book he said of the Eminem info, “Chas confirmed the story when I checked it during research for my book. The first he heard of his connection with rap royalty was from his son. ‘He came into the room and said, “I can’t believe it – my dad’s on a worldwide hit!”‘ What about royalties? ‘We ain’t had any yet,’ said Chas, ‘but someone’s chasing it up. We’ve signed something, anyway.’

In February 2017 Chas announced on Twitter that he had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and that it was caught early and was having treatment. He gave good news updates along the way and proudly announced that he’d beaten it, but on the morning of 22nd September it was announced on the official Chas and Dave Twitter account that he had suffered organ failure and passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours.

I defy anyone to listen to a Chas and Dave song and not end up with a smile on your face.

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