Chas & Dave

Chas Hodges dies, aged 74

Chas Hodges, best known as the pianist and singer in the much loved duo Chas & Dave, has died at the age of 74.

Although hits such as Rabbit, Ain’t No Pleasing You and Snooker Loopy brought Hodges recognition in the ’80s, his musical career stretched right back to the late 1950s. As a teenage session musician Hodges played bass guitar for the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent onstage. He was also recruited by maverick producer Joe Meek for his house band The Outlaws, whose other members included future Deep Purple founder Ritchie Blackmore. The Outlaws played on many of Meek’s productions including John Leyton’s 1961 chart-topper Johnny Remember Me and Mike Berry’s Tribute to Buddy Holly and Don’t You Think It’s Time, as well as releasing a dozen singles in their own right.

In the late ’60s Hodges joined country rock band Heads Hands & Feet with guitarist Albert Lee; Hodges (now on piano) and Lee subsequently formed Black Claw with bassist Dave Peacock. Hodges and Peacock continued to make a living as session players, notably performing on Labi Siffre’s 1975 album Remember My Song. The album’s opening track I Got The became popular with hip hop acts in the 1990s and was sampled on tracks by the Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z and most famously Eminem’s 1999 breakthrough hit My Name Is.

Also in 1975, Hodges and Peacock struck out on their own, releasing the first Chas & Dave album One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver. As suggested by the title, the album introduced the duo’s trademark style, a blend of rock & roll and old time music hall sung in their own Cockney accents as opposed to the fake American accents favoured by most rock & roll singers. This “Rockney” style won them a following on the club circuit which had begun to translate into chart success by the end of the 1970s: a minor hit single Strummin’ in late 1978 was followed in 1979 by the top twenty hit Gertcha and The Sideboard Song, still one of the duo’s best remembered songs although it failed to reach the top fifty. That same year, Chas & Dave were one of the support acts for Led Zeppelin’s last UK gigs at Knebworth House.

In 1980 Hodges produced a version of The Sunshine Of Your Smile for his former colleague Mike Berry, which became Berry’s first hit single since 1963. That Christmas the duo (actually a trio with long serving drummer Mick Burt) returned to the top twenty with Rabbit which went on to become their first top ten hit the following January. 1981 also saw their first of many hit singles in praise of – and featuring players from – their beloved Tottenham Hotspur FC: Ossie’s Dream (Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley) reached number five in the singles chart following the team’s FA Cup win in May. The following year Spurs retained the cup and scored another top twenty hit with Tottenham, Tottenham, but in the intervening twelve months Chas & Dave had reached the peak of their chart success.

Intended as an ironic B-side parody of the craze for medley records such as Stars On 45, a miscellany of music hall standards Stars Over 45 reached #21 at Christmas 1981; an extended medley of similar songs made up side one of their first hit album, Chas ‘n’ Dave’s Christmas Jamboree Bag. But despite the duo’s reputation for good humoured “knees-up” music, it was a serious ballad which gave them their biggest hit. Although Hodges’ gruff Cockney accent marked it out for many as a novelty record, Ain’t No Pleasing You reached number 2 in April 1982 and is now widely regarded as Chas & Dave’s best song; indeed, on hearing of Hodges’ passing, writer and broadcaster Matthew Sweet called it “one of the great songs of the twentieth century” and declared Hodges and Peacock to be “as great a force in English songwriting as Coward or Novello.”

Surprisingly, Ain’t No Pleasing You would be Chas & Dave’s last top forty hit in their own right; despite their familiarity, follow-up singles Margate and London Girls peaked at #46 and #63 respectively. Away from the capriciousness of the singles chart, however, the duo’s stock continued to rise; they were subjected to affectionate parody on the Two Ronnies’ 1982 Christmas special, but Hodges and Peacock had already secured their own TV special, Chas & Dave’s Christmas Knees-Up – set, of course, in a pub, with the duo playing some of their best known songs and introducing guests such as comedian Jimmy Cricket, their former Black Claw bandmate Albert Lee and rock royalty Eric Clapton. The show’s success led to a prime time Saturday evening series Chas & Dave’s Knees-Up in the summer of 1983 and a tie-in album which reached #7 in the chart.

The duo’s shift towards light entertainment curtailed their chart success somewhat, although a 1984 Greatest Hits album made the top twenty and a third Jamboree Bag, spreading one hundred songs across four side-long medleys, reached #15 in 1985. Chas & Dave still had a couple of hit singles in them though: another FA Cup final appearance for Spurs in 1987 required another celebratory single Hot Shot Tottenham which reached #18, but before that the duo switched allegiance from football to snooker. Employing the services of the “Matchroom Mob” – Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Terry Griffiths, Willie Thorne and Tony Meo – Snooker Loopy was released to coincide with the 1986 World Snooker Championship and climbed to number six in the chart.

Although their commercial peak was behind them, Chas & Dave remained part of the national psyche – they scored their biggest hit album as late as 1995: Chas & Dave’s Street Party reached number three as part of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. The following year Tori Amos covered London Girls as a B-side and by the mid-’00s indie darlings The Libertines were citing the duo as an influence and signing them up as a support act at their live shows. At the end of the ’00s the duo’s career seemed to have come to an end as Peacock announced his intention to retire following the death of his wife, prompting the production of a documentary Chas & Dave: Last Orders for BBC Four. In the end, however, Dave had a change of heart and reunited with Chas to record That’s What Happens, their first album for eighteen years, in 2013. The duo continued to perform until February 2017 when Hodges was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus; after treatment he returned to live performance and earlier this year the duo released A Little Bit Of Us, their first album of original material since 1987. Shortly after this, however, the duo began cancelling planned shows due to Hodges’ ill health; a clearly unwell Chas performed a short set with Dave in Hyde Park in July 2018, but planned future shows were soon cancelled. In the early hours of 22 September Chas suffered organ failure and passed away in his sleep at the age of 74, finally calling time on an extraordinary musical career.

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