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Chas Hodges - 1943-2018

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 27 / 11 / 2018

Chas Hodges - 1943-2018


Nick Dent-Robinson looks back on the career of Chas Hodges of duo Chas'n'Dave, who died in September.

Chas Hodges of Chas'n'Dave was a great favourite of many of the UK's top rock musicians and was widely admired throughout the British music industry. Quite apart from his success with Chas'n'Dave, Chas had performed as session musician and occasionally frontman with literally scores of rock bands. He was also an accomplished classical pianist – though, perhaps inevitably given the Chas'n'Dave image, he always made light of this! Chas's death on 22 September at the age of 74 was from pneumonia rather than from his oesophageal cancer which was well under control at the time. There have been many well-deserved tributes to him from the music world. But, perhaps the biggest tribute will be a major memorial concert in his name to take place at the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire on Monday 17 December in support of Chas's favourite charity, Water Aid. Dave Peacock will host the show and amongst the many stars appearing will be Albert Lee, Joe Brown and Ralph McTell. It promises to be a night to remember! Meanwhile, it seems appropriate to recall an interview with Chas back in 2014. He was an unassuming, gentle character with great warmth and a wonderful sense of humour. And it was always a great pleasure to meet and talk with him and to just spend time in his company. When I caught up with him back in 2014, Chas Hodges - the one with the bushy beard and round face who plays guitar and piano in the Chas'n'Dave 'rockney' duo - was tending the vegetable garden at his Hertfordshire village home. “I do enjoy my country lifestyle these days,” Chas, who was 71 that year, told me in his familiar cockney voice. “You know, Dave (Peacock) and me, we are soon to return to play at Fairport's Cropredy Festival. We really enjoyed playing at Cropredy before. It is a proper rural festival and the atmosphere was really great. We've performed at a lot of festivals including at Glastonbury. The crowd reaction is usually good. But Cropredy was something special for us and we've known the Fairport boys for ages.” In fact Chas Hodges had known just about everybody in the British music business for years! Chas was performing professionally before he was sixteen, having been encouraged from a very young age to play piano and then guitar by his mother who was a talented pub pianist. Chas explained, “My mum had to raise my brother and me on her own. My dad had committed suicide just before my fourth birthday. There wasn't the same welfare support back then so, just to put food on our table, my mum played piano in all the pubs and clubs she could around our home in Edmonton, North London. And hearing music on a piano means a lot to me; it always makes people happy. After my dad died there was a lot of sadness at home. But then our relations would come round, my mum would play the piano and everybody seemed to be cheerful again. I've never forgotten that and the piano is my favourite instrument by far. I did have a bit of classical tuition at home for a bit from a neighbour who was an out of work classical pianist. He said I had a natural talent for it. That helped me read and later arrange music which was invaluable later. Though when I was about twelve I did get heavily into guitar playing. It was Lonnie Donegan and skiffle that influenced me – as it did so many more of my generation...like Eric Clapton, the Beatles, Joe Brown and Albert Lee.” Chas quickly progressed to playing bass guitar and he was soon performing with a rock band called the Outlaws and singer Mike Berry. Another Outlaws guitarist was Ritchie Blackmore who was later in Deep Purple...a band with which Chas once briefly played bass guitar. The Outlaws made a series of recordings with legendary Sixties producer Joe Meek and Chas performed at sessions with many of the top names in UK music at the time. “I learned so much about recording techniques from working with Joe Meek,” Chas recalled. “He produced unique sounds years before digital recording made it all easier and his output was tremendous...he'd be recording night and day, almost all the time. No wonder his business affairs were a mess. He treated me well, though and I worked virtually full time with Joe until around 1964, playing on bucket loads of hits for all kinds of artists. Some weeks I worked over 75 hours! But I did fit in tours with Jerry Lee Lewis and then with Gene Vincent, including at Hamburg's Star Club where the Beatles had played. The agent for both those American stars was Don Arden, Sharon Osbourne's dad. When I was playing bass guitar and touring with Jerry Lee Lewis I used to study his piano technique each night. By the end of that tour I'd mastered quite a bit of what he did. Then I joined Cliff Bennett and The Rebel Rousers who were managed by Brian Epstein. Paul McCartney produced us recording the Beatles' 'Got to Get You into My Life' at Abbey Road and that was a Top Ten UK hit for us.” Years later, after John Lennon's death, Chas actually played on stage with the three remaining Beatles. “That's true! It was at Eric Clapton's wedding in 1983,” Chas recalled. “There was a marquee with a stage and instruments, all miked up – just in case any of the guests fancied playing. Dave Peacock and I had just had a few hits and some of the celebs' kids were running about when one spotted me and said, 'Hey, Chas, come and play 'Gertcha' for us.' So I jumped on the piano and started banging out 'Gertcha'. Then they wanted more. So I did a bit of rock'n'roll - a Chuck Berry number, 'Roll Over Beethoven' I think it was, hammering away on the piano with my head down. Then I heard the drums start and I looked up and saw Ringo was playing and winking at me. Next I heard a bass going and I turned and saw it was Paul McCartney - he was playing a right-handed bass left-handed...and was note perfect! The next moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw George plugging in the guitar and then he was away too. And I thought to myself, 'Blimey, Chas, you're the fourth Beatle'. We carried on playing a lot of Beatles numbers after that. What a moment! I'll never forget it.” The birth of Chas'n'Dave's trademark “rockney” style - rock'n'roll sung in a cockney accent - came about after Chas had been touring the USA with Albert Lee. “Suddenly I started to feel that singing Jerry Lee Lewis take-offs to Americans in a pseudo American accent was fakery. I thought I should be writing my own songs and singing them in my own London accent. Dave Peacock had just come back from touring America with another band and felt the same way. We'd known each other years but both being bass players we hadn't worked together much. So we agreed to give it a go. That was the start of Chas'n'Dave. From the beginning it was a success with live audiences, though it took a while to grow record sales. By the end of the Seventies we'd had a hit with 'Gertcha' and it went on from there. 'Ain't No Pleasin' You' was our biggest one. We kept our overheads low and Chas'n'Dave was a money-spinner from the off really. More than that, we really enjoyed ourselves doing it too. The audience reaction was just incredible...people really having a great time which is always good to see. For me, that's what it's all about. Sometimes I like to tease the fans a bit by opening the second half sitting alone on stage at a fancy piano knocking about a bit of Beethoven or Chopin. Then I'll stop and say, 'That had you worried, didn't it?' and break into a bit of familiar Chas 'n'Dave material...I always get a kick out of seeing their faces!” In 2009 Dave decided to retire from the duo, following the death of his wife, Sue. “I just didn't go out anywhere and I felt I didn't want to play another note. You never know till it happens how you're going to cope - or not cope - with something like that,” Dave has said since. But gradually he started playing again. “After I'd done a few gigs again with Chas, I realised what good fun it was. I enjoyed being back far more than I ever thought I would,” Dave explained. In 2013 Chas'n'Dave performed their 'Back By Demand' tour to sell-out venues and they then recorded their first new album for eighteen years, That's What Happens. Their long-standing drummer Mick Burt retired but his place was taken by Chas's musician son Nik Hodges who is also a successful record producer and composer. “I've enjoyed all of my music career, every bit of the journey,” Chas reflected. Then he paused and added, “My only regret is that I didn't take better care of my teeth! Dental work is costing me a fortune these days! Other than that, life is good. And we have never enjoyed playing more than we do now. Our audiences sing along to our songs more than they've ever done...it's getting even better all the time!”

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Chas Hodges - 1943-2018

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