Interview: Chas Hodges
With a new Chas & Dave album out now, it’s time we caught up with one of the rockney gods
As one half of Chas & Dave, Chas Hodges has helped provide British music with some of its flagship moments. Tracks like Rabbit, Ain’t No Pleasing You and Snooker Loopy could only have been created by the “rockney” duo yet still managed to appeal to the masses. Hodges early foundation as a session musical for producer Joe Meek and member of Mike Berry & The Outlaws is proof that he has far more in his locker than just a cheeky lyric or two.
The dynamic duo now return with their new record. Released last month, A Little Bit Of Us is the first album to be produced by the pair in over 30 years. It features new songs alongside some live favourites and is all the evidence you need that Chas & Dave still have that knack of coming up with instantly memorable tunes.
We recently caught up with Chas to learn a little bit more about the release and the time he took to the stage with a certain Paul, George and Ringo…
What made you decide that the time was right for a new Chas & Dave-produced album after all these years?
“The timing is right. We’ve been through a lot since the last album. Dave’s wife died, so he packed it up for a while. The last Chas & Dave-produced album was 30 years ago. We did have an album out on Warner Bros about three years ago but that wasn’t produced by us, that was produced by Joe Henry. He did a grand job but it was slightly different to what we would have done. He said, ‘I understand you were both in skiffle groups when you were younger. How about going back to skiffle for this album?’ In general that’s what the album was all about and we were pleased with it. We got guests on it that we’ve loved over the years, friends like Albert Lee, Jools Holland and Hugh Laurie and it turned out a great album. But it was a Chas & Dave and guests album.
“This album is a pure Chas & Dave album, produced by Chas & Dave. The only guest on it is my daughter Kate who plays piano and sings on a bonus track, I thought that would be nice.”
Was it important for you to produce this one together?
“We felt it was time. We put a lot into the Joe Henry album it but there were a few things that I would have said, ‘Oh no, I’d like to approach this one differently,’ but his idea wasn’t too different to what we were thinking, so we went along with it. There was one or two semi-compromise decisions on that album but on this one it’s all our own, it’s as simple as that.
“I DO A LOT OF WRITING ON MY OWN BUT I CONFER WITH DAVE”
“As soon as we got in the studio, 30 years seemed like a week ago, you’re straight back into it. It went very well and was very enjoyable. That’s how we like albums to be. I wrote some new brass parts for part of the album, most of our old brass players are still around so we got them down. It was just great. It was a really enjoyable reunion and we’ve also come out with an album that we’re pleased and proud of.”
Did you go into the studio with the songs all ready to go?
“We go in with a few ideas, that’s what we’ve always done and then things happen in the studio and that’s always the exciting part. We know that they’re always going to happen but we don’t know when. But we went in with three or four songs up our sleeves to get started and I think two of them we didn’t use at all, something else happened in the studio and we ended up doing that.
“The main new one, we started it just before we went into the studio. Just before Christmas we were doing a gig and Dave said, ‘I’ve got this idea – you’re a little bit of me, I’m a little bit of you,’ he said, ‘I was singing that in the pub and everyone joined in, but that’s all I’ve got.’ I liked the idea of that so as I went away and wrote it down and more or less wrote the rest of it and then got in the studio and played it to Dave. We changed it a bit, added a verse and changed a verse, and eventually we came up with the song, A Little Bit Of Me. I said to Dave, ‘It’s almost telling us what to call the album,’ and so A Little Bit Of Us came from there.”
What are Dave’s strengths as a co-writer?
“He’s particularly good in the studio when we’re recording. That’s where he really shines. I do a lot of writing on my own but I confer with Dave and he might say, ‘Oh I like that line but I don’t like that line.’ Or he might start something off, like he did with A Little Bit Of Me. I love it when he does that, I take it home and then finish it off and show it Dave. That’s basically the way we work, but when we get in the studio it’s a 50-50 thing.
“The piano, bass and drums is the basic track and we put that down, with the idea that we’ve done the lyrics and then we’ll try to put the vocals down and quite often, Dave will come with suggestions and good little ideas. All the way through the album there have been ideas where he’s said something like, ‘We should do a long note here.’ We work better together when we’re recording rather than when we’re writing. We write better apart really. When Dave comes up with something he might ring up and then I continue writing it on my own. It is still writing together because I’ll always show it to Dave and say, ‘What do you think about that?”
Has that been the case historically?
“Rabbit was one that we wrote together, Dave had the first idea and then we wrote it together. I wrote Ain’t No Pleasing You all myself, bit by bit, but at the same time showing it to Dave saying ‘What do you think about this?’? That’s how it has been all along. Funnily enough, I’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles things lately. Paul McCartney is a Chas & Dave fan. I really liked their approach, and they wrote very similar to us really. A lot of people thought they all sat down and wrote together but they didn’t.”
Are we right in thinking that you’ve played with The Beatles?
“I was with Mike Berry and The Outlaws in the 60s and The Beatles just had Love Me Do out. We played with them in Liverpool and we were top of the bill. I remember going out and listening to them and then mixing with them in the dressing room after and they were great. We were great players and I reckon we were better players than them. We had Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Mick Underwood on drums and me on bass. Paul was a really good bass player but I think I can match him in my own style. But I was envious that they could all sing falsetto if they wanted. I couldn’t sing falsetto, I remember they did Please Mister Postman and they do it in a three-part harmony an octave above and I thought, ‘How the fuck did you do that?’ Their vocal performances were streets above any other band in Britain at the time and if you listen to their records it’s what shines out.”
“SONGWRITING IS LIKE HAVING ANOTHER BABY”
“In between times I got to know them. Paul came down to see us on Top Of The Pops with Linda. They were big fans of ours. I always send him our latest album and he always writes back. I even played with The Beatles once, at Eric Clapton’s wedding back in the 80s. It was in a marquee at the back of his house and I remember there were loads of instruments set up. A little kid jumped up on the drums and so I started playing piano and the next minute Ringo jumped up, then Paul with his guitar and then George, it was after John had died. We ended up playing a few songs together, Get Back was one of them. I said to Paul, ‘Do that one, I like that one,’ and then thought ‘Hang on a minute, I’m the fourth Beatle here!’”
Getting back to the new album, one of the tracks we really enjoyed was Modern Day Robin Hood. Was that inspired by anyone in particular?
“That came about originally from an idea for a Del Boy character. John Sullivan who wrote Only Fools And Horses, we actually wrote a song together called This Time Next Year with the idea of their being a musical about Del Boy, with Chas & Dave to write the music for it. We started on the idea and that was one of them about Del Boy. He was a spiv in the market, so that’s how that started. I finished it off but then poor old John died in the meantime. We liked the song so much that we put it on the album.”
Do you like writing in character?
“Very much so. It was lovely when we talked about it because that instantly sets up an inspiration.”
How have changes in technology impacted on the way you write and record now?
“The technology is so much better. As far as writing is concerned, I don’t use the computer but I have a phone which is virtually one. I love emails and texts because you can’t go wrong on them. I’ve got a 24-track digital recorder that I do most of my recording on before we even get to the studio. We finish it off in the studio but I do a lot of it here. Technology is so quick, you can do everything that you want. I still keep a writing book but I have a great recorder on my phone, so if I’m out and get an idea for a song I can just get my phone out and it’s there. Modern technology in that way is great.
“As far as the industry is concerned, it’s a good thing in one way as record companies can’t call the tune on everything like they used to. When me and Dave first started we felt the same way, which is why we ended up doing songs that we wanted to do. We weren’t subservient to record companies.”
Do you think that was an important part of your success?
“Our number one thing that we could do was go out and gig. That still stands today. You don’t have to play all your own stuff, play a few covers too, you’ll get enough gigs and then your own stuff can be picked up, like ours was. We were playing pubs in the East End and one of the new ones that we put in was Gertcha. We never used to announce them as a new song, we’d just put them in and see what the public thought. On this particular occasion a bloke from an advertising agency come up to us and said, ‘I like that song you did in the middle, that Gertcha one.’ We told him that we wrote it and he said that he worked for an agency and they’d like to use it for a beer advert. So we gave him a card from the office and it eventually came out and was our first hit. So any bands that are reading – play here, there and everywhere and get people to come and see you. Play a few covers and play some of your own stuff. That’s my advice.”
Finally, what ambitions do you have left as a songwriter?
“Songwriting is like having another baby. When you write a new song it’s like another baby has been born, what better ambition can you have than that. Then going onstage and people saying, ‘Oh do that one again.’ So writing the next album and getting out there and playing it in front of people, that never ever ends, that ambition.
“I’ve made it my point that if I’m writing a song, my vision is for it to sit on the shelf in a record shop at the end of it, that’s the plan. I don’t want it to be written and put in a drawer to gather dust, I’ve got to follow it all the way through. When people are actually singing a song that we’ve written I think that’s great. It’s a great feeling when someone who doesn’t even know you sings your song. That’s what I look towards when I’m writing a new song, what better ambition can there be than that!”
A Little Bit Of Us is out now. To learn more, head to chasndave.net