The original rockney geezers

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Brought up by his mother after his father's sudden death, Chas Hodges' earliest memories are of her playing the piano. Chas went on to also learn the bass and performed with Jerry Lee Lewis, while supported by the Beatles, then he met Dave Peacock... and a legendary musical team was born. Judith Dornan gets the whole story...

The day before his fourth birthday, Chas & Dave star Chas Hodges' life changed forever. He says, oddly matter-of-factly: "Me Dad shot himself, don't know why."

The tragedy threw his young life into a new path - a path that ended with him as the piano-playing half of a British institution, a multi-instrumentalist with hits on both sides of the globe.

And his father's death sowed the seeds of it all. He recalls: "I was brought up with a piano. Me Dad died when I was three, I can just about remember him, and me Mum brought us up playing the piano. She was a great piano player.

"We was down in Kent and me Dad shot himself. We came back to London, lived with me Nan and Grandad and me Mum virtually brought us up, well, entirely brought us up playing the piano in the pubs and clubs round North London.

"And it was just a great thing, the piano, I loved it. When me Mum was playing the piano, we knew we was going to have food on the table."

Before the horror, life was idyllic. He recalls: "It was just after the war and he still worked for the Ministry of Defence. And they gave him a tied farmhouse down in Kent, it was absolute heaven."

He never found a reason for his father's death. He says: "I mulled over the things and you think well, what could have...

"I know he was a heavy gambler and, I don't know, we've supposed, whether he got into debt that we never found out about. There's loads of things it could have been but it's something we'll never ever know."

Life became a struggle. "I didn't think we was poor but we were. It changed me though. My kids used to laugh at me because I can't stand to see a bit of food chucked in the bin.

"You get a little bit of ham, it might be a two inch square of ham, I'll put it in the fridge. And they'll be going, Aww Dad, but that was precious when I was a kid!"

As a child, he felt numb to his father's passing. He says: "I didn't feel it. It must have stayed with me a long time, well, it did actually, I didn't realise it, it's one of those things… it sort of hits you later on.

"I think a lot of things, like heavily being into music, and I've found this, good musicians that are heavily into it, if you delve into their past, there's quite often been something tragic that's happened."

He has only scant memories of his dad. He reflects: "Just little things like, he took me over to Harringey Races, that must have been before we went to Kent. And giving me a flying angel, you know, on his shoulders?

"Where your dad lifts you up and puts your legs on on his shoulders and he holds your hands. And I thought I'm the tallest bloke in the whole world. Little things like that."

Music was already a presence in his life. He says: "We had a piano down there and one of my earliest memories is being in this room, I must have been about two.

"And the sun was shining through it and there was this real posh woman singing Blue Room... singing and playing the piano.

"It was some neighbours down the road had come in, I found all this out later, I think I was too young to talk at the time but I remember it. So that was my first musical memory."

But an offer to teach him piano when he was eight or nine from a famous piano teacher whose name now escapes him left him unmoved.

He says : "He taught people like Mike Smith out of the Dave Clark Five.

And I said, 'What, piano? What do I want to learn to play the piano for? I just want to go fishing and play football and play out in the street!'

"And I always remember, me Mum, she looked at my Nan and said, 'Well, I don't think there's going to be a musician in the family!'"

Still, he learned guitar and joined a skiffle group. Then, in 1958, aged 12, a revelation pushed him in a new direction. He says: "I saw Jerry Lee Lewis at the Regal, Edmonton. That was when I decided, right, I've got to learn to play piano."

More, he was determined to learn from the master. So when Jerry Lee toured again, he tracked down his agent and got himself in the band. He grins: "That was the start of me being taught by the person that I wanted to be taught by.

"In 1963, I went on the road playing bass for him in Britain and across Germany and that's when I really started to learn the piano watching him every night. And he showed me a few things so, yeah, I can mark him up as my piano teacher.

"I saw him in 1962 with a bass player who was absolute crap. And I thought, he don't deserve a crap bass player, he deserves me."

He quickly got used to stellar company. He says: "The Beatles supported us at one time. They'd just had Love Me Do out, I think.

"We were the better musicians, better guitar players and a better drummer and a better bass player - Well, I thought I was a better bass player!

"He's pretty good, old Paul McCartney now. Actually I put that in an interview and he read it once and he went, 'I don't think I'm that bad!' But what really impressed me was their harmonies, no other band at that time could sing harmonies."

He met Dave Peacock while hitching home from his girlfriend's in the 1960s. Then a tour of America put a new idea into his head. He says: "I was singing in an American accent.

"I thought, 'You're being a fraud, you should sing in your own accent', and that's when I started to work on the idea."

It was the birth of Chas & Dave. Chas also began roping Dave in on his session work – the pair even played the riff sampled by Eminem from Labi Siffre on his first international hit, My Name Is.

But when their comic ditty, Gertcha, was picked up by ad execs for Courage beer, their star rose. Hits, including their number one Ain't No Pleasing You, Rabbit and green baize anthem Snooker Loopy, followed.

They even turned down the chance to record the theme to comedy classic Only Fools and Horses. Chas says: "We were in Australia at the time and Ain't No Pleasing You was still in the charts in England and it had just got to Number One in Australia.

"And, quite rightfully, our manager said 'I think I should say yes, you'll do it if you write it'. But they said, 'Oh, it's already written,' so we said, 'OK, we'll pass'."

Even the Aborigines loved them. He says: "We was in Darwen and we went swimming in this big hot pool in the jungle. We found out after we shouldn't have swum there because there was alligators but we didn't get eaten!

"Anyway there was this Aborigine family staring at me and I swum over and smiled and he looked at me, this kid, he went, 'Chas & Dave'. And I went, 'Yeah!'

"Another time, we was walking down the street and two or three of 'em came along and they just started dancing, 'I don't care, I don't care, I don't care if he comes round here'."

They gained a new fanbase when they were espoused by The Libertines, who used to play Chas & Dave songs at early practices and invited the duo to support them.

Chas says: "I've met Pete a few times and we all know the publicity he gets, the papers only just want to print about how many drugs he's had that day.

"But he's a very talented bloke and very pioneering and it's very flattering that, when he was a youngster, it was us that made him want to pick up a guitar and learn to play."

Yet it could all have been so different. He muses: "If my Dad hadn't have died, I wonder if I would have been as heavily into music?

"Or whether he'd have been more strict and made me get a job - which my Mum didn't. My Mum was 100% behind me whereas my older brother used to moan all the time, 'He ain't got no job.'

"She'd say, Oh, he's doing alright, he's got a skiffle gig on Friday!"

Chas & Dave play Preston Guild Hall Foyer Bar on Sunday, June 15. Tickets are 15 from the box office on 0845 344 2012.