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Strange World Of...

The Strange World Of... Chas & Dave
Nick Roseblade , November 6th, 2019 08:22

Ahead of the release of Givin’ It That, a ten CD Chas & Dave retrospective, Nick Roseblade explores how the Cockney duo tapped into one version of what it means to be British and what that now means in a time when being British isn't that great

Portrait by Matt Kent

In an age of Broken Britain and Brexit there isn’t a great deal to be proud about when it comes to the UK. Sport wise, the England Cricket and Rugby Union teams had exceptional seasons and there were all English Champions League and Europa League finals, but other than that it’s all a bit doom and gloom. At times like these you need a pick me up. Something that will put a smile on your face and make you forget, temporarily at least, how shit everything is.

This is where the music of Chas & Dave comes in. Outside of their loyal fanbase their music is seen by some as shallow, irritating and puerile, but a new ten CD boxset, Givin’ It That, collects the Rockney duo’s nine studio albums and a bonus CD of rarities that goes a long way to setting the record straight.

Phil Jupitus once said of Chas & Dave’s music in the BBC Documentary Last Orders: “There is a bounce and a joy to it and that’s what people love about them. There’s a celebration of life in their music that all the best music has.” And he’s right. Anyone who attended any of their live shows can attest that there was a spirit of happiness and unabashed joy running through the crowd unseen at many gigs. Their shows were a celebration of life, warts and all, and ultimately what it meant to be British - at least, they were if you were white, working class and from the South East.

Growing up in the 1950s Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock were firstly influenced by rock & roll and secondly by the skiffle explosion. In the 1960s Hodges became a member of The Outlaws, working with pioneer producer Joe Meek by day and performing as the pickup band for his childhood heroes including Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent by night. After the Outlaws Hodges joined Cliff Bennet and the Rebel Rousers and supported The Beatles on their last tour. As the Rockney duo Chas & Dave, the pair covered a lot more ground than just 'Rabbit', 'Ain't No Pleasin' You' and 'Snooker Loopy' however, as this Strange World intends to show...

Heads Hands & Feet - ‘Warming Up the Band’ from Tracks (1972)

By the 1970s Hodges was playing in guitarist Albert Lee’s Heads Hands & Feet, a UK country rock band. He had grown bored of singing in an “American” accent and wanted to sing using his own voice. After bumping into long-time friend Dave Peacock they formed Oily Rags. This project only released one album in 1974 and had more in common with Heads Hands & Feet than what was to come, but the seeds had been sown.

‘It’s So Very Hard’ from One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver (1975)

The following year Chas & Dave’s debut album One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver was released and featured Hodges and Peacock who had ditched the Americana and were now singing in their own voices and telling the kind of stories that meant something to them. ‘It’s So Very Hard’ opens with the line “It’s so very hard for me to say, Words don’t come to me that easily. I keep waiting for another day, trying to say what’s on my mind.” This is a theme that the duo would return to again and again, ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ and ‘I Wish I Could Write A Love Song’, featuring a protagonist who wants to get something off their chest, but just can’t. It’s the kind of frustration many of us go through in a day, but the directness of the song writing still feels exciting. And this is what Chas & Dave do. They articulate for the inarticulate. They offer a lifeline and say, “Look, we know what you mean, just play them this and they’ll get it."

‘Strummin’’ from Rockney (1977)

One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver introduced the band to the world but its follow up Rockney refined that sound and vision. Lead single ‘Strummin’’ taps in to the great folk tradition of British song writing. It tells the story of an unnamed character that is given a guitar, overcomes peer pressure and manages to have a hit single, but at no time do we hear the hit single, instead Chas & Dave are lifting the curtain and showing us what it takes to have a hit. What makes this different from other singles is that Peacock handles the majority of the vocals and both Chas and Dave play guitar on it. It gives the song a feeling that few of their songs have. Tenacious D would be lauded for writing ‘Tribute’ 20 years later, but Chas & Dave did it first.

‘I’m In Trouble’ from Rockney (1977)

One of the strongest elements of Rockney is that Chas & Dave lay their cards out on the table and say, “This is who we are. This is where we're from." The pleasure of ‘I’m In Trouble’ isn’t Peacock’s crunching bass, but the banality of their conversations, "How was your holiday?", "How’s your Dad?", "Did you watch the fight on TV?", "Crewe cost me an accumulator!", and how captivating it is. Like listening in when you know you shouldn’t. Even this blether - because you’ve heard something you shouldn’t - is exciting. Cutting their teeth on London’s pub scene, they were privy to these scenes and conversations on a nightly basis, and these experiences were condensed into two men running out of the back door of a pub, as their wives comes in the front.

‘The Sideboard Song’ from Don’t Give A Monkeys (1979)

‘The Sideboard Song’ is probably Chas & Dave’s best song. Not only is it hilariously dripping with pathos, it also combines their love of the music hall, most notably Harry Champion, Lonnie Donegan and tongue twisters. As with most tongue-twisters you think they’re deceptively simple, but as Peacock says “It sounds simple, but you try and do it!” And this is another example of their brilliance. They are almost challenging us to sing along as it feels so easy, but it isn’t. Everything about ‘The Sideboard Song’ shows their technical ability, funny lyrics with skittering piano and guitars.

‘That’s What I Like’ from Job Lot (1982)

The song that sums up Chas & Dave is ‘That’s What I Like’. On the surface it’s just a list of things they like. Some of which are charming, “Cheese & onion sandwiches & Derby chinaware. Fiddles & jigs, Woogie my dog, me Aunty Vi having a swear”. Some of which are sweet, “Polished brass & copper, Salvation Army bands, Violins & old coach inns & coloured elastic bands”, “A day at the races, old Fender basses, going down hopping in Kent. A new pair of braces, little kids faces, sleeping out under a tent” and “Picking the kids up from school". While some are just daft, “Fountain pens and The Beano and Dandy”, but combined they paint an idyllic picture of contentment and the suggestion you don’t need to be flashy bling to be happy.

‘England’ from Flying (1987)

A few years ago about ten of my friends from school went to Prague on a stag do. It was during the European Championships and it went pretty much as you can imagine. We had fun, but what it really did was show how far we’d actually drifted as people. Their idea of a good time wasn’t the same as mine. The night before coming home I got this lodged in my head and it got me through that final night, and the journey home. Similarly to ‘That’s What I Like’ they’ve boiled down the English experience to a few stereotypes and catchy rhymes, but this is more than a cheesy postcard. The jaunty calypso backing track is one of the most playful things they ever recorded and just adds to the romanticism of England.

‘When Days Were Long (But Far too Short)’ (1991)

Despite all their blokey songs about football, boozing and snooker, deep down Chas & Dave were a pair of old romantics. ‘When Days Were Long (But Far too Short)’ is a prime example of this as it paints an idyllic picture of childhood with quizzical lyrics like “I stumbled quite by chance upon a memory, A memory I stumbled on today. And kids were playing there - just like I used to play” and “I pondered on them Summer hot and dusty days. And wondered where the years have all gone to. When days were long but far too short. For all we had to do.” Musically, luscious strings back up Chas’ delicate piano and Dave’s subtle basslines, showing that they can offer more than rousing lock-in sing-a-longs.

'A Little Bit Of Me' from A Little Bit Of Us (2018)

Chas and Dave released their final album A Little Bit Of Us in April 2018. It was their first album of new compositions since 1987’s Flying and was business as usual. Lead single ‘A Little Bit of Me’ sounded like an outtake from Rockney or Don’t Give A Monkeys. There was a joyfulness to it that is hard to ignore. Yes their voices had aged in the intervening years, but they were as insightful as they were at their height in the 80s. It showed that after 60 years they still had it in them to sum up what we were thinking, but couldn’t always express.

Labi Siffre - ‘I Got The …’ from Remember My Song (1970)

Before forming the band, Hodges and Peacock were in demand session players. One session they sat in on was for Labi Siffre in 1974. One of the songs they played on was the astounding funk number ‘I Got the…’ In itself this shows another side to the pair, that they were technically proficient to tackle any genre thrown at them. Fast forward to the 90s and the song was sampled on Shaquille O’Neal’s ‘No Hook (Featuring Method Man and RZA)’, Jay-Z’ ‘Streets Is Watching’, Primer’s ‘Atmosphere’, Quiet Storm’s ‘Frankenstein’ and of course Eminem’s smash hit ‘My Name Is’. This feels like a 90s version of finding out Cliff Richard played the bongos on the original ‘Apache’ that King Errisson made famous among hip hop heads on the cover by Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band.

Givin’ It That is out on Friday (8 November) via Edsel