When Dave Peacock lost his wife Sue to cancer in 2009, it seemed to mark the end of the Chas & Dave story, ending their professional partnership after 34 years. But a year later the pair announced a tour for 2011, and have carried on ever since. What’s more, Dave reckons they’re playing better than ever now.
“I think that’s true. You never stop learning in music, and we like to think we can play a fair bit. And I think we are getting better.”
Dave’s lived just outside Hertford for the past 36 years, having first moved out of the capital in his late 20s. He’s 73 now, with his latest birthday just a fortnight ago. What did he do to celebrate?
“I went around Chas’ place and dug his allotment over. We live about 14 miles apart. He’s a very keen gardener and I give him a hand.”
Do you feel your age at times?
“No, I feel alright. Music keeps you young, I think, as long as you keep playing. I love to play, and I play every day.”
While performing as Chas & Dave from the start, true fans were always aware of a third bandmate, with Mick Burt on drums from their mid-‘70s beginnings through to retirement in 2009. And while Mick died in 2014, it’s now Chas’ son Nic ‘giving it some stick’, himself an established part of this celebrated ‘rockney’ combo.
“Nic’s always been the baby, being Chas’ boy, but grew up with music all around him, and he’s a multi-instrumentalist – a great drummer, but also a good guitar and bass player. It’s lovely to have him on board with us. He’s doing a great job. Mickey Burt was his idol when he was growing up. He was familiar with Mick’s style, and it sort of rubbed off on him.”
This month, Chas & Dave’s sporadic All Seasons tour continues with a visit to Blackburn King George’s Hall (Saturday, June 23rd, 0844 847 1664), while a scheduled trip to the Liverpool Empire has been put back to September after Chas recently succumbed to flu. Out of interest, when did they first perform in the North West?
“Years and years ago, I was in a country’n’western band that used to run around in the North, backing Slim Whitman and all them people, right up to Scotland.
“Then, when me and Chas got together, they were saying, ‘Ah, they won’t understand you up North,’ which was an absolute load of twaddle. We’ve got loads and loads of fans up north, like in Leeds, Newcastle, and especially Glasgow. It’s a myth. Even people in the business ask, ‘Do they understand you, north of Watford?’ Total nonsense. And we were one of the first to start singing in our own accents.”
That proved to be a master-stroke. Was that decision a penny-dropping moment for you?
“It was really. I’d always done London songs in a set, whatever band I happened to be in. But Chas was in Heads, Hands & Feet (also featuring revered guitarist Albert Lee), and when they toured the States, he said he felt a fraud, singing in a false American accent. But you can turn it around, if you work at it, making it fit your own accent, and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve kept our rock’n’roll, sort of boogie-woogie feel, but sing it in our own way.”
On the back of a successful Spring visit to a prestigious venue in their home city, they have a few more live outings this year, including Autumn visits to Wolverhampton Civic Hall (October 26th) and Leicester’s De Montfort Hall (October 28th), before an end-of-year festive visit north of the border, playing Glasgow Barrowlands (December 15th) and Edinburgh’s Usher Hall ((December 16th). And while they’re aren’t so many dates in the diary these days, they’re cherishing them all and – getting on for eight years since their return – there’s clearly still lots of love out there for Chas & Dave.
“Yeah, when we did the Royal Albert Hall recently, we set the place alight. A woman who’s worked there 30-odd years said she’d never seen a crowd behave like it. We haven’t had a hit record for whenever, but it’s a great thing to be able to please that amount of people and have fun while you’re doing it.
“We still enjoy what we do, do all our hits, and we’re not fed up with them. We love doing ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’, ‘Rabbit’, ‘The Sideboard Song’, and all those. We always say they’re our babies. We love ‘em.”
For me, Chas & Dave are every bit a treasured export as any of the more celebrated artists who have written about the capital in the post-war years, part of a clique of bands from London who have taken on that music hall tradition and done it their own way, along with the likes of The Kinks, Ian Dury, Madness, and Squeeze.
“Well, music hall’s been a big influence. Harry Champion in particular, who sang a load of well-known songs. We take some of those influences and roll ‘em all up into one with our ‘50s rock’n’roll stuff as well.”
I mentioned Ian Dury, and can’t help but think of him when I see that you were originally from the Ponders End area of Enfield, North London. I realise there was ‘Ponders End Allotments Club’ on your debut LP, One Fing ‘n’ Annuver, but more than 20 years later there’s Ian’s line in ‘Mash it Up, Harry’, off his last album, Mr Love Pants, his character apparently liking ‘a bit of Wembley up his Ponders End.’
“I know! I was surprised he’d even heard of Ponders End. I come from a place called Spike Island in Ponders End, an infamous place. And I’ve found out since there’s one in Manchester too …”
Indeed – where The Stone Roses famously played at the height of their powers. So was Ponders End your old manor?
“Yeah, definitely. A very lovely place to live. I loved it. I didn’t want to move away from there. There were very old terraced houses, but we were also surrounded by fields and horses, and everything. It was great, with a lot of freedom in them days.”
I mentioned several other London acts. Who for you best characterises the best of London?
“I don’t really know. Lots of different ones. You mentioned The Kinks, and they had an album out called Muswell Hillbillies. There’s a song on there called ‘Holiday’ that I really like, and a couple of others too. But no one seems to know them. They keep going for ‘You Really Got Me’, and all them sort of songs. The title track’s a good song as well. Ray Davies came up with some good tunes, but we’re not really influenced by them though. We mainly use American influences … but in our own accent.”
‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ proved your worth as songwriters, but that’s often lost on the wider public, who arguably see you as a mere cockney ‘knees-up’ outfit, maybe more in the guise of that Two Ronnies parody.
“You’re dead right, Malcolm. You got it in one there. There is an element of that, but it’s not all like ‘down-the-old-pub’. People who haven’t seen us think that’s what it is. But it’s not. In Record Collector last week there was an article which said, ‘‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ is the best song never written or recorded by Fats Domino’. And we take that as a real compliment. We love Fats Domino.”
And now you say that, I can properly hear the influence of tracks like ‘Blueberry Hill’, ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ and ‘Blue Monday’ in that track. I could hear Antoine Dominique tackling that fine number.
Of course, we know you chiefly for bass and vocals, but you’re also a dab hand on other instruments, not least piano …
“Well, I can play a little boogie-woogie. I saw an interview, years and years ago, with John Lennon, where he said, ‘I don’t play finger-style guitar, but do something that makes people think I can.’ That’s a bit like me on the piano. If I do a little bit of boogie-woogie, they think, ‘Oh, he can play the piano.’ But that’s all I do, whereas Chas plays ragtime and is the best rock’n’roll player going.”
And for you there’s also guitar, ukulele and banjo …
“Yeah, I love banjo. I like a bit of bluegrass and clawhammer as well.”
So what did you pick up first?
“Ukelele, when I was really young. I was about six. I just couldn’t stop playing it. I had an uncle who showed me some chords. I used to get plastic ukeleles. They were 19/6d, which in old money was very dear. But if you leaned them up against the coal fire, they’d warp. You’d have to go and buy another one. It took a fair while before my Dad realised why!”
Perhaps it’s a bit of a myth about the notion that everyone in London could join in on a ‘knees-up’ around the piano down the pub, but did you ever get that chance to shine?
“Yeah. When I was a kid in the local pub, they would put me on the table and I used to sing. When I was a little boy, I just loved music. I just couldn’t stop playing, just strumming a ukulele and singing.”
Was there anyone in the family playing professionally before you?
“No professional people. But later, when I got together with Chas, we’d have fantastic parties, because Chas’ Mum was a fabulous piano player. She knew any song going. We’d get our uncles and aunts, and her and me and him strumming away. That’s where we learned loads of them songs, because a lot of them are just passed down orally through our families. They would have been extinct if we hadn’t put them on those LPs.”
We can’t always believe what’s on Wikipedia, but is that right that really it could have been Chas & Chas?
“Chas and who?”
Chas & Chas.
“No! I never heard of that one.”
I read that you were actually christened ‘Charles Victor Peacock’.
“No! I was christened Dave. Ha! The things people say makes you laugh, don’t it. Throw that one out of the window, Malcolm!”
I will. Take note, Wikipedia. But I really enjoyed the 2012 BBC Four documentary Chas & Dave: Last Orders. That gave me a little more insight into your story, and I’m always intrigued about session players who crossed over – including the likes of Rick Wakeman, Norman Watt-Roy, and Paul Carrack. After all the work put in over the years was there a feeling that you might never get properly credited on a record?
“Well, not really. When you’re young and a little bit skint you’re glad just to get on a session. Even though, I must admit, I didn’t really enjoy doing sessions, just reading chord sheets. Me and Chas together did them together and separately. I’m on that first Eminem single and didn’t even know I was. That was a session I did with Labi Siffre, which we were both on. Nic, our drummer, told us.”
Apart from that, is there any track in particular you’re happy to tell people, ‘That’s me, there’?
“Quite a few. I did some stuff with Dave Edmunds, played banjo on ‘Warmed Over Kisses’ (1982). You sort of forget how many sessions you have done. When we were in our 20s, we were just happy to get a session and get some money.”
Just remind me. While you started working with Mr Hodges as Chas & Dave in ’75, you knew each other for some time before, didn’t you?
“Yeah, I first met Chas in the early 60s. he was like the famous bass player around our way. He was in a band called The Outlaws and they had a couple of hits. The guitar player I was with, we had a band together called The Rolling Stones. But we changed that name because we thought it was silly!
“Anyway, that guitar player went to school with Chas, and he was thumbing a lift one night. And this would happen quite often. He’d be at his girlfriend’s house until two in the morning, He’d miss the last bus home and we used to pick him up, then we’d go back to his house and play records.
“That’s when Chas and myself found out we both liked the same sort of stuff. And once we started writing songs, the whole world opened up for us … but not immediately. We thought it would catch on a lot quicker than it did. But we were packing out places and getting quite a big following, wherever we played. I suppose we just kept working. That’s the secret of it all. Get out there and play!”
And next year it’ll be 40 years since the success of the ‘Gertcha’ single truly broke you. How did that come about?
“We were doing a session with Big Jim Sullivan, the famous session player, who played with Marty Wilde and was Tom Jones’ guitar player for a while. We were doing a session with him and I had a pair of them bib and braces overalls on, which people used to wear in the early ‘70s. He was doing a vocal down the studio, saw me through the glass in the control room, and said, ‘Look at him with his bib and braces – gertcha!’ And it became the word of the session.
“Then me and Chas were down in Wales and we wrote that song down there, just to make Jim laugh really. But then we were playing it in a pub and the advertising man came in, John Webster, and he said, ‘I really like that. I’d like to do that for an ad.’ It was quite slow when we first did it, but we had to speed it up as we only had a 30-second ad. And then it became a hit, so that TV ad was a good video for our song.”
Did you realise more or less straight away that the big time would beckon?
“Yeah, but we weren’t busting ourselves to be famous. We just wanted to earn enough to pay the bills and maybe get our music recognised. But it all sort of went off good, going into the ‘80s. We were having a few hits and doing loads of work, loads of gigs. We went to Australia a couple of times, and they liked us too, with ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’ in their charts for about six months.”
There was that brief break in recent times, you taking that difficult decision to retire when Sue died. What changed your mind a year or so later?
“Well, it’s a funny thing when you lose someone. You don’t know how you’re gonna react. I certainly didn’t. I lost all my spirit and everything when I lost my wife. I didn’t want to leave where we were together, so I felt I won’t go on the road.
“Chas went out on his own for a while, doing solo stuff. But then Nic, our drummer, said, ‘Come on – get the bass out. Just do a couple of things with us’. And once I’d done a couple of things, through him really, I got back into it.”
So we’ve got Nic to thank for that.
“Yeah, I have really. Because if he hadn’t have pushed me …”
Going back a bit, what do you think you learned most about this whole business from the years working with acts like Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers in the ’60s?
“Well, Chas was the main bass player with them, although I did sit in with them for a while when Roy Young became ill. But they were another band that worked a lot and did a load of things, like touring with The Beatles … with Chas involved then too.”
Were you into The Beatles at that stage.
“I liked The Beatles but was more interested in Earl Scruggs and bluegrass. I love The Beatles now, but when they came out, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ didn’t really get me. But some of their other songs were really good.”
Finally, will 2019 be the year when your beloved Tottenham Hotspur finally see sense and re-enlist your help to get some silverware?
“Ha ha! I wonder! Of course, we’ll be hoping and praying Gareth Bale comes back to us at our new stadium. That’d be great if he would.”
I was reminding myself of your part in Spurs’ Cup successes in 1981, 1982 and 1991 (note that I didn’t mention their wasted efforts in 1987), not least the latter as it’s probably the least known of the three singles you did with them. And I have to ask – at what point in that ’91 song did you come up with that line, ‘Now they can’t get a double up the Arsenal’?
There must have been a proper schoolboy moment between you in the studio, writing that line.
“Oh yeah. We had fun doing that. We had fun doing all those football songs. I wrote the first one, ‘Ossie’s Dream’, but only because our manager was tormenting us to write a song. We’d been on a 35-date tour and I was knackered. So was Chas. He kept phoning and asking, ‘Have you got a song?’
“My sister asked me on the telephone what I was doing, and I told her they wanted us to do a song for Tottenham. She said, ‘I’ve just heard Ossie Ardiles on the radio and he says, ‘Totting-ham’. As soon as she said that, I was away! I knew that would be the hook.”
And was Osvaldo a natural in the studio when it came to his delivery?
“He was. First of all, we said, ‘How do you say ‘Tottenham, Ossie?’ He said, ‘Tot-n’m’ and we said, ‘No, we don’t want you to say it like that. We want you to say, ‘Totting-ham.’
“You know how footballers are, always mucking about, and they were all taking the mickey out of him. But there was a clock on the wall in the studio, and Chas said, ‘Just look at that clock. Take no notice of them, and when your line comes in … ‘ And he did it in one go – his first take.”
Maybe you can entice him back into the studio then. Perhaps you could even record a new version of ‘Gertcha’ with him. What do you reckon?
“Oh, I don’t know if he could ‘andle that one …”
To find out how to get hold of the new LP, A Little Bit of Us – the first in more than 30 years to feature new Chas and Dave songs, along with a few live favourites – and for full tour information, head to the Chas and Dave website. You can also follow Messrs Hodge and Peacock via Facebook and Twitter.
Most of the photos in this feature have been sourced from Chas & Dave’s Facebook page. If any need proper captions, please let me know.