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Chas Hodges interview by Christopher Stagg 13.06.2014
“Music is music, its universal and it’s a feeling. That’s what we put across, a feeling of a liked thing, a feeling of happy music makes people feel good.” (Chas Hodges)
In the first of a series of interviews across entertainment and the creative arts, I had the pleasure of interviewing music legend Chas Hodges of The Outlaws, Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers, Heads Hands & Feet and of course Chas n Dave. Here Chas and I talk music, Only Fools and Horses and Allotments!
[CH] Chris, how you doing alright?
[CS] I’m not bad, how are you?
[CH] Yeah lovely yeah.
[CS] Thanks for letting me ask you a few questions.
[CH] That’s alright mate, fire away.
[CS] Ok cheers, I wanted to ask you right back at the beginning, you’ve spoken about your love of Lonnie Donegan and Jerry lee Lewis. How much of an influence were they on you and the direction of your music when you first heard them?
[CH] Well going back to the very beginning my mum, she was a great piano player and she brought us kids up playing the piano. She dearly wanted there to be a musician in the family and my older brother he wasn’t interested and I always remember her saying she wanted me to play the piano. But I didn’t want to know about a piano when I was a kid, I was too interested in fishing and football and playing out in the street. But I remember I heard a record one day and it was Lonnie Donegan Bring a Little Water Sylvie. I remember saying to my mum I love his guitar playing, I’d love to play the guitar. And she was pleased. So that was the first instrument I learnt was the guitar. She got me a little guitar off my uncle Alf over in Hackney, he had an old one. And so that was my start. I was in a Skiffle group and while I was in that Skiffle group, when I was 13, Jerry Lee Lewis came to my home town Edmonton at the Regal. I went to see him and from then on I thought now I’ve got to learn to play the piano. Not many years after, I was in a band called The Outlaws, playing the bass guitar and we toured as Jerry Lee Lewis’ backing band and that’s when I started to learn piano.
[CS] That must have been a dream come true to then be his bass player?
[CH] Yeah well I made a point, we found out that he was coming over touring, so we got in touch with his agent who was Don Arden, who was Sharon Osbourne’s dad as it happens. He auditioned us and he liked the band and we backed Jerry Lee on the tour. When Jerry Lee went home we went on the road with Gene Vincent. So yeah great times.
[CS] You once said when you saw Jerry Lee Lewis for the first time that you want play piano now, you actually said “I’ll be playing piano by the weekend.” How long was it before you felt this (piano) can be my main instrument now?
[CH] Well I was learning the piano all the way through bands I was in. The Outlaws in the early 60s then in the mid 60s I joined Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. Still playing the bass but I was learning the piano all the way along. Then I was with Heads, Hands and Feet, still playing the bass as my main instrument. It wasn’t until I got together with Dave in 1972 that I said to Dave “I’m ready to go on piano as my main instrument now and how about me and you getting together?” So it was 72 when I went on piano as my main instrument.
[CS] There’s an everyone involved feeling to music hall with people like Harry Champion. Do you feel like you’re part of that tradition with your music?
[CH] Yeah I mean I was brought up in that environment. My uncle Alf, he knew all the Harry Champion songs and whenever there was a party, my mum would be on the piano, he would sing Harry Champion songs. A lot of my family knew those old music hall songs. So I grew up knowing those songs, that became part of me. And I sort of mixed it with ‘Rock n Roll’ and that is basically ‘Rockney’.
[CS] When you first started playing as Chas n Dave did you ever have any concern that it might not translate beyond London?
[CH] Not at all, music is music it’s a feeling. You don’t have to understand the words I mean, they still ask that question today and the last tour we did, we played Glasgow to 2000 people. 2000 Glaswegians singing London Girls…so that answers the question!
[CS] We’ll we had someone Saturday night he’s from another country, he has probably never heard of Chas n Dave, but he was dancing along and I think by the third verse of something he was probably singing along as well.
[CH] Yeah that’s it, music is music, its universal and it’s a feeling. That’s what we put across, a feeling of a liked thing, a feeling of happy music makes people feel good.
[CS] The Jolly Boys Outing is my favourite Only Fools and Horses episode, how were you involved for the recording of Margit (Margate) for the end of the episode song?
[CH] Well we’d become friends with John Sullivan and he rang up one day and he said “were doing a new Del Boy adventure, we’d love to use Margit.” So I said “yeah you’re welcome to, but even better than that what if we get Del Boy and Rodney in the studio and we rerecord it?” And he went “marvellous!” So that’s how that come about.
[CS] That must have been brilliant?
[CH] It was, it was really excellent. They really went for it.
[CS] You’ve played small pubs and huge places as well, do you have a preference for the kind of place you like to play in?
[CH] No not at all, I mean I love them all. Your do last week was excellent. Last April we sold out the Albert hall. I feel comfortable in all sorts of places.
[CS] A friend of mine (@essiefox) saw you in the Albert Hall she said it was fantastic.
[CH] Great! It was a real great night. An excellent night, we got all the old brass players on it and that. Yeah it was great.
[CS] The latest album’ That’s What Happens, sounds like a return to an early style in your career. Was that a conscious decision or did it come about through the recording process?
[CH] Well that was suggested by the producer Joe Henry, American bloke who Warner Brothers suggested. We had a meeting with him and we liked his attitude and his style, and he said “I understand both of you before you knew each other started off in Skiffle and like Lonnie Donegan?” And we said “yeah.” He said “how about doing some of those (songs) ones?” The first one that come to mind was Railroad Bill. I first recorded that when I was 13 before my voice broke. I wish I had that recording now if anyone’s got it. We had some 78s pressed up, but I don’t know what happened to mine. There might be one knocking about somewhere. So yeah it was his suggestion.
[CS] On the Album you’re playing with quite a few different people as well. Is there anyone you haven’t recorded with who you’d like to?
[CH] Well I often say we’ve been acquainted with him over the years, and I know he’s a fan of ours, is Paul McCartney. Done a couple of little bits with him and sat in with him, but I think we’d make a great album together. That might happen one day.
[CS] Are you still writing new material now?
[CH] Yeah I’m writing a Christmas one right at the moment actually.
[CS] Oh really?
[CH] Yeah I’m sort of writing all the time. Always got ideas.
[CS] So we could one day see a new Chas n Dave or new Chas and his band release?
[CH] Yeah I mean I’ve had my own solo album out, that come out a couple of years ago, all my own songs on. So yeah I’ve got enough for another album. I’m writing all the time.
[CS] I’m reading All About Us (Chas n Dave autobiography) at the moment and its absolutely fantastic. The writing style is brilliant. Reading it is just like having a chat with you really. Do you have any plans to do any more writing?
[CH] Well I wrote a book about my allotment. Funnily enough I’ve got a meeting as far as that’s concerned. I have written a couple of novels too that aren’t published yet. Yeah I do enjoy writing. But going back to the allotment book, the Daily Express have got a meeting with me. They’re really interested in me doing a column for them every week.
[CS] Who do you enjoy listening to and how do you listen to your music?
[CH] I used to have an old jukebox with original records on it but annoyingly it kept going wrong. So I opted for, and it looks like the real thing the old Rockola jukebox but it contains CDs. They’re really handy because I mean I never know where my CDs are. But on the jukebox there all in one place, so it’s great if I fancy listening to so and so. I’ve got a mixture all Rock n Roll stuff, obviously Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Larry Williams people like that. But I’ve got a lot of old Benny Goodman jazz. And Les Paul stuff. So it’s a mixture of that really. I haven’t really got any modern stuff on it I don’t think.
[CS] What’s next for you and have you got any more ambitions that you want to achieve?
[CH] Well that’s what’s great about writing a song, it’s like having a baby you don’t know what it’s going to be like until you finish it, you know what I mean? It’s great sometimes I see old footage of us and I think when we were doing that I didn’t know Aint No Pleasing You because I hadn’t written it yet. This is a strange feeling you know what I mean? There was a point in my life when I’d never heard of that song. That’s the beautiful thing, I think. I’m always writing and it’s always an exciting feeling thinking “oh I wonder what this one’s going to turn out like?” That goes on forever.
[CS] My last question, one of my favourite quotes of yours is “If you don’t like Chas n Dave, there must be something wrong with you.”
[CH] Haha yeah…
[CS] As you know my nans 99 and my kids are 3 and Harry is 6 today and they absolutely love you, what is it about your music that you think is so timeless and appealing to new generations?
[CH] Well for a start it comes from the heart. When I try to analyse the type of music we do, my dad died young so there was a lot of sadness around the family. But I can still remember when my mum got on the piano and my relations would come round and they’d go round the off license for a quart of brown ale, everybody was happy. To me that’s what music is and that’s what I try to put out when I’m on stage. That reaches everybody. I mean there’s nothing greater. I get on twitter “Oh my 3 year old won’t go to sleep until I put on The Sideboard Song or London Girls” or whatever. Because kids are so honest. They like it or they don’t like it. They don’t analyse it. And to me that’s the greatest, when I see that, I think another little kids been born who’s going to be a Chas n Dave fan. So its honesty that comes through and the feeling that I get through music I’m able to get through my singing and playing the piano. And it’s a great feeling you know. And I can do that and get paid for it as well!
[CS] My wife’s a teacher in a junior school and we were listening to some tracks this morning, and she wants to pick a track that she can teach to the kids before the end of term.
[CH] Oh great oh they’ll love it yeah.
[CS] So you could have another class full as well.
[CH] Haha great!
[CS] Chas, thank you it’s been an absolute pleasure.
[CH] Cheers Chris, speak to you soon and Happy Birthday to Harry.
Follow Chas on twitter @ChasNHodges
You can read Chas’ allotment column in the Sunday Express every week.