Rockney geezers: A knees-up with Chas & Dave

No one could ever accuse them of being cool. But with their 'Very Best Of...' album riding high in the charts, sell-out shows across Britain, and Pete Doherty in tow, Chas & Dave are enjoying a bizarre renaissance. Susie Rushton joins their annual Christmas 'beano' for a bit of rabbit, rabbit, rabbit...

It's Thursday night at the Electric Ballroom, the venerable punk venue in Camden, north London, that has in its time hosted the Sex Pistols, Public Enemy and The Smiths, a cockney-themed fancy-dress stag do is in full swing. Big blokes in boots and braces dance lumbering jigs, neo-skinheads are draped with plastic Union flag bunting, and, as the headliners stroll onstage, five teenagers in matching flat caps drain their pint glasses.

Along with 800 more fans 90 per cent of them men they're here to see and sing along to Chas & Dave, Britain's foremost (some might say only) proponents of "rockney", a genre that jumbles together pub singalong, music-hall humour, boogie-woogie piano and pre-Beatles rock'*'roll.

Now in their sixties, pianist and lead singer Chas Hodges and bassist Dave Peacock haven't charted a bona fide hit since 1986 (that was the comic number "Snooker Loopy", with backing vocals from the Matchroom Mob of Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and Willie Thorne). Their heyday was the early 1980s, when they released jolly, shouty records like "Rabbit", "Gertcha" and "Margate". Even back then, they were a nostalgia act. They got really famous thanks to jingles for Courage Best TV ads and theme tunes to Crackerjack, In Sickness and in Health and the kids' cartoon Bangers & Mash.

Chas & Dave were never, and are not, cool. They haven't been given the critical rehabilitation of, say, Ian Dury or Madness. And yet, in the age of The X Factor and punk foursomes who weren't even born in 1977, Chas & Dave sell out live dates across the UK. Pete Doherty, a long-time admirer, says he was inspired to pick up a guitar thanks to their music and Doherty supported them at a rowdy Saturday night gig in Chatham, Kent, waving a flag as he accompanied Chas on vocals for "Ain't No Pleasing You", an insanely catchy ballad of wounded male pride, which reached No 2 in 1982.

This year, they had three slots at Glastonbury, their second appearance at the event. Their Christmas Beano has become a festive tradition, not only for Libertines fans but also for self-proclaimed "geezers" who identify with the band's working-class values and find authenticity in their trad music and un-Americanised accents.

The geezers are men like John Swan, a 23-year-old from Essex who works in finance, and is drinking in a pub near the gig. "They're cockney legends," he says. "They're like Only Fools and Horses." Or 27-year-old Reece Biggadike, a mortgage broker from London, who discovered them via Tottenham Hotspur football club. "I reckon I've seen them at least six times."

Dave Brooklyn, a 27-year-old sales manager from Crouch End, sports an asymmetric haircut and a pretty girlfriend on his arm. He doesn't look like the grizzled old dog you'd imagine to be down the front at a Chas & Dave gig. "I was brought up on them," he says. "The lyrics are sensational. I know The Libertines are fans of their songs, but I liked them before that. I know all the words." Is he being ironic? "No, not at all!" he insists.

If the uninitiated still struggle to tell Chas and Dave apart both have beards and wear tinted, rimless glasses to present a cohesive band "image", says Chas their attitudes to their current revival are markedly different. Chas, born Charles Nicholas Hodges in 1943 in Edmonton, is the driving force musically. "I'm more of the lyricist and the musician. I play it to Dave. He's a bit like the expectant father. He paces up and down and smokes. And I have the baby."

We talk in a caf on Marylebone High Street a few hours before the gig. Chas, who gave up drink and smoking after a recent health scare, arrives without Dave, who prefers to talk in a pub.

Where Dave is laconic, Chas likes a story. He'll tell you about how he learnt piano from Jerry Lee Lewis, in that as a 19-year-old member of Lewis's backing band he watched the star's left hand as it worked the keyboard and committed what he saw to memory. How he's doing solo work (blasphemy!) in his studio at home in Staffordshire; how they and Doherty became mates; how he never wants to retire; and how he thinks that his piano-playing is better than ever.

He doesn't use rhyming slang once, disappointingly. His wife, Joan, joins us later (she's best friends with Dave's wife Sue, and they go on cultural holidays to Florence and Venice). Chas drinks cappuccinos, drives a 1947 Willys Jeep and wears dark-green Crocs ("I 'ad them before anyone else").

Chas thinks that the audience take them more seriously than before, and see their revival as much-deserved. "Kids now say, 'I love your piano-playing.' I never used to get cheering for a piano solo. They weren't really listening. Now they are." His four grown-up children and his granddaughter all play and write music.

Later, after a cursory soundcheck (Chas likes spontaneity and there's no set list "The most boringest thing in the world"), Dave and Sue head for the pub for a pre-gig stiffener. When we walk into the bar, a dozen Arctic Monkey-alikes turn around and say: "Dave!" in unison, so we're forced to cross the road to a marginally quieter venue.

Born David Peacock in 1945 in Ponders End, Dave learnt to play the ukulele and banjo at the age of five. One of four kids, his dad worked in the rolling mills. His grandparents were Romany, and he can speak a bit of the language. His mother died when he was 13, "so she never saw the success me and Chas had".

Dave wears a fedora, braces and brogue boots "I always wear boots; thick soles for everyday, thin soles for funerals". Unlike Chas, he seems slightly bewildered by the attention the pair have received in recent years. "Glastonbury well, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see how many people came to see us," he starts, not trying to keep the amazement out of his voice. He gave up writing new material two years ago and prefers to spend his spare time on his 20-acre estate in Hertfordshire.

What's the best thing about Chas, Dave? "Piano-playing, I suppose. I don't know. When you've been with somebody for 35 years, you don't really study them. He's just Chas." They will never split up, they both say. Their partnership resembles most long and reasonably happy marriages: not much conversation, few rows. "We get on fine," Chas says, neutrally.

The pair met in their early twenties when Chas was hitching back from his sweetheart (and now wife) Joan's house and Dave picked him up. "I went round Chas's house and he had all the records I liked," Dave says "Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, all that Fifties rock'*'roll."

Chas was a bass player in a band called The Outlaws: "I was the first in north London to own a bass guitar," he claims. Dave also played bass, in a band called The Rolling Stones "We hadn't heard of the other group." Apart from rock'*'roll, they both liked the "old-fashioned songs". Chas's father, a lorry driver, died when he was three. His mother Daisy was a professional pub and club pianist who'd taught herself and could pick up any song in seconds. His grandmother had busked with a clarinet.

"We started going to parties together," recalls Dave. "His aunt had a pub in Essex and his uncle was a bit like Harry Champion [the 19th-century cockney music star whose best-known songs included 'Any Old Iron' and 'I'm Henery The Eighth, I Am']. He used to sing along to old-fashioned songs. My sister used to have parties at her house and we used to get our families together it was fantastic. We never actually said, 'Let's learn these songs,' we just heard them a lot and they would've become extinct if we hadn't have learned them."

When the pair started writing their own material in 1972, they decided to sing in their own accents, not American drawls. It's not put-on cockney, Chas says: "It's natural. It's just me."

In the early days, they built up a fan base by working the pub-rock circuit, travelling the UK in a Mini. From 1974, the duo has actually been a trio with the drummer Mick Burt, now a white-haired gent. Dave thinks that the piano confused early audiences. "A lot of people perceived us as a novelty act. I think it was the piano. I think some youngsters then had never seen one before."

Their self-produced debut album One Fing'*'Anuvver, whose tracks included "Ponders End Allotments Club", was released in 1975 and picked up by John Peel. One night at a pub in Bethnal Green, an EMI A&R saw them and signed them up, releasing Rockney in 1978. But they made no impact on the charts until another lucky meeting in a pub, two years later, when an ad exec saw them do "Gertcha" and asked them to record it, speeded up, for a Courage Best commercial. That song became their first Top 20 record. They followed up with "The Sideboard Song (Got My Beer in the Sideboard Here)" from their third album Don't Give a Monkey's. In 1980, they released "Rabbit", a tune that includes the good-naturedly sexist lyric: "Now you're a wonderful girl/ You got a wonderful smell/ You got wonderful arms/ You got charm/ You got wonderful hair/ We make a wonderful pair/ Now I don't mind 'avin a chat/ But you have to keep givin' it that."

What lady inspired that, Chas? "My wife!" Joan smiles as Chas rattles on. "It was just a bit of fun. It was based on an American song; we did a version of how a bloke in London would tell the story."

Two years later, they released "Ain't No Pleasing You", inspired by Chas's sister-in-law. "He was putting up some curtains and his missus said they weren't straight. He said, 'There ain't no fucking pleasing you, is there?' So it was planted there in my head. They ended up splitting up." Despite them both being happily married, women come off badly in Chas & Dave lyrics. "Well, it's just because I'm embarrassed to write love songs," Chas offers .

In the early 1980s, they developed their "look" of hat, braces, beards and boots. "When we got a manager, he said, 'You need some sort of image. Have a think about it.' So I did, and sometimes I would have a beard, and sometimes Dave would. I think it was to look like brothers. Braces, boots and beards."

When they recorded their first live album, Live at Abbey Road, for EMI, they converted the famous Studio One into an East End pub. "Margate" and "London Girls" were hits.

Did they ever throw tellies out of hotel windows, party with hookers, have lost weekends? "Nah," they both say. "I have, however, found people who drink or take drugs to be quite entertaining," Dave goes on. "We once toured with Eric Clapton when he used to like a drink; he used to make me laugh."

The early 1980s saw them record six songs for Tottenham Hotspur FC, none of which are in their current live show, for fear of provoking internecine rivalry.

But after "Snooker Loopy" got to No 6 in the charts 21 years ago, Chas & Dave fell off the map. The 1990s were hard: "Any money we had got swallowed up," Chas says. They toured, including in the US, where fans think they're Australian. They opened a pub together. "We got ripped off," says Chas, although it seems more likely that the novelty of running a bar, rather than holding a knees-up in one, wore off.

But the boom in live music ticket sales in recent years has revived the most unlikely of musical careers. In 2005, EMI released The Very Best of Chas & Dave. That year, the duo played Glastonbury for the first time. Carl Barat and Pete Doherty started talking about how influential the band were. Next year, Chas is immortalised by Ralf Little in Telstar, a movie about the producer Joe Meek.

Their current fans just appreciate that they put on a good show. They play all their hits, and look pretty much the same as ever. And yes, they've made enough money "Eventually," Chas says.

Still, Chas & Dave aren't exactly modern. Chas admits he doesn't know much about whether fans can download his music. Dave is content to spend his spare time on his estate looking after his three horses and pursuing his hobby: "Lining out", or painting, gypsy caravans. "I did a trade class trolley at the Windsor show and the Queen herself admired my paintwork," he says.

You suspect that a lot of the audience at the Electric Ballroom might be mockney, but Chas & Dave are the real thing. Do they mind being described as working-class heroes? "It doesn't matter to me," Chas says. "But if people say, 'Oh, Chas & Dave, it's down the old pub, knees up Mother Brown,' Dave gets wild. I look down on people who criticise us. They don't know what they're listening to, they've got no soul. All I say is, come and see our show, and if you don't go away as a Chas & Dave fan, there's something wrong with you." Dave agrees: "We like think we were and are a great rock'*'roll band."

Nik Hodges, Chas's 33-year-old son, also a musician, is watching the gig. By the time they do "Ain't No Pleasing You" as their final number, it all resembles a rowdy New Year's Eve party at the local boozer. "I think the appeal is that youngsters have grown up with it, their mums or dads used to sing 'Rabbit' to them, it's a nostalgia thing," Nik says. "Most people are looking backwards these days. And a lot of English youngsters want something they can call their own. It's a link to pre-war sing-songs and that kind of piano music that doesn't exist any more a simpler time."

Touring to: Horns, Watford, 20 December; Base Bar, Purley Way, 21 December; Robin 2, Wolverhampton, 22 December; Bitter End, Romford, 29 December; Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch, 6 January (

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower