MUSIC / Chas and Dave - those lost years in full: Many assumed it was all over for Charles Hodges and David Peacock. But, gor blimey, no. By Jasper Rees
Thursday 26 August 1993
When Chas and Dave met they were still both at school and Dave was in a band called the Rolling Stones. 'That was before the dodgy lot come about - we were better than them. We thought it was a stupid name so we changed it.' Even in their teens, at least one half of the duo had a proven poor ear for catchy names that was to resurface 10 years later when they were wondering what to call themselves.
'We tossed around two or three different names and couldn't come up with one,' says Chas. 'Chubby was one of them, wasn't it, Dave?'
'Yeah,' says Dave, 'Oily Rags was one of them as well.'
'Yeah, Rag and Bone,' says Chas.
'But we were doing lots of sessions for other people,' says Chas, 'and it was always Chas and Dave this and Chas and Dave that and one producer said 'Why don't you just call yourselves Chas and Dave?' '
'Yeah,' says Dave, 'we took the easy way out.'
Chas is the bearded one who plays the piano. Dave is the other bearded one who plays bass. Chas has the voice - 'that's why I do the old harmonies,' says Dave. In short, they split the vocal chores rather like those other north London old-timers, Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks.
'We don't know much about them,' says Dave.
'We do like 'em,' says Chas.
'I can't tell them apart, them two, though,' says Dave. 'We know their drummer,' says Chas. 'I met them a few times years ago when I was with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers on the road.'
Long before they could shave, they had taught themselves to strum. Chas was given a guitar by his uncle Alf, while Dave learnt the banjo from his uncle Bill. 'Chas is very nifty on the guitar,' says Dave. 'A lot of people who haven't seen us think it's all 'Knees Up Mother Brown' and 'Up the Apples and Pears'. We love that old music-hall tradition, but after we've played our guitars and done our quiet songs people say, 'We didn't expect that, that was fantastic'.'
'We like to surprise people,' says Chas.
The first person they surprised was an EMI scout, who came along to see them and couldn't get in for the crush. A contract was duly signed and an album, One Fing and Anuvver, released, but success did not beckon until several years later, when an advertising executive heard 'Gertcha' and asked them if they would allow it to be used for a Courage commercial.
A place in the Top 20 followed but EMI dropped the duo on the assumption that they were one-hit wonders. New wave, ska and the new romantics were all the rage and the label underestimated the nation's appetite for rock'n'roll delivered in a cockney accent by a couple of hairy men in their thirties. 'We knew we weren't going to be a novelty act,' says Chas. 'Our manager Bob England had faith - he had Darts at the time.'
They started their own record label, which they called Rockney, and England set up a distribution deal. To confound the suggestion that Chas and Dave only ever had chart success when a single was released on the back of some event or sponsor - 'Rabbit' was the soundtrack to another Courage commercial, Tottenham's FA Cup Final appearances brought two more hits and they teamed up with Barry Hearn's Matchroom clients for 'Snooker Loopy' - they had their biggest hit with 'Ain't No Pleasing You', a traditional rock'n'roll ballad, in which the frankness of Chas's accent gave the song its appeal.
But after those brief years of fame, during which they bought a pub in Stoke Newington, did a Christmas Day Special, and a series called Chas'n'Dave's Knees Up ('We had Eric Clapton,' says Dave, 'we got him out for the first time on the telly for about eight years'), Chas and Dave quickly made their way towards the file marked 'Where Are They Now?'
Today there are signs of a re-emergence. The duo are on Radio Two every Saturday evening, hosting a five-part variety show at the Starlight Suite in Enfield. According to Chas, 'Our manager said, 'How about suggesting to Radio 2 that we do a similar thing that we did on TV about 10 years ago, only for radio?' And that's exactly what we did. And we got hold of all the artists that we wanted ourselves and they said, 'Yeah, great, we'd love to do it'.' Those artists include Bobby Davro, the Searchers, Jim Davidson, Warren Mitchell, Max Bygraves and Joe Brown, with several of whom they go way back. They're currently touring with Brown, and next year Chas and Dave hope to see a musical they have written with Johnny Speight, Alf Garnett's scriptwriter, reach the West End. It's about the strife caused in a family when an East Ender cannot afford to bankroll his daughter's wedding because he has to pay for his father's funeral. 'Someone comes along with a bright idea,' says Chas. 'Why not have them on the same day? So that's when the fun starts.' Roy Hudd is keen to appear, as is Cheryl Baker, formerly of Bucks Fizz, now of Roy Castle's Record Breakers.
As for Chas and Dave, 'We did talk about it,' says Chas, 'but I think it would be too much of a commitment. We still like doing our gigs.'
'We're ever so busy,' says Dave. 'We don't stop. We might've been away from the charts but that's about it. Fair enough, people will say, 'Oh blimey, they haven't been on the telly lately.' But there's a lot of TV stuff we have turned down. We both work late at night and made a rule about four or five years ago to say we don't want anything before midday. In the early days we would burn the candle at both ends but we had to say no.'
Has this harmed them commercially?
'It might have done,' says Chas, 'but it hasn't harmed us moneywise. We would have been on television a lot more if we hadn't stuck to that rule, but then if we hadn't have stuck to that rule we might both be dead now from exhaustion.'
And they're well now?
'Yeah,' says Dave, 'we're well fit and well.'
'Chas and Dave - With Friends', Radio Two, Saturday at 6.00pm.
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