CHAS and Dave: the cockney pair are among the most famous duos in British music, so fans were delighted when they toured together again last year on the Back By Demand tour – and released their first new album for 18 years.
The future of the pairing was thrown into doubt when bassist Dave Peacock’s wife died back in 2009 and he said he no longer wanted to record or play live.
Pianist and singer Chas Hodges performed his own solo shows (as he always had as a sideline) but, of course, it wasn’t Chas & Dave.
Now they’re back, the bearded piano player says he never had any doubt it would happen. “When Dave lost his wife he said to me, ‘That’s it, I don’t want to go back on the road anymore’, so I said OK,” says Chas.
“I kept it to myself but I thought, he doesn’t know it yet but he’ll be back. It happens to anyone, when you have a loss like that you don’t want to do anything, you just want to stay at home.
“Deep down we all know that with grief you can’t see past the end of your nose, you can’t think about anything else, but as time goes on things look a little different and you start to do things you did before.
“We’ve always been together but I’ve also always done gigs on my own, so I just carried on doing that. So it was no different for me, except that he had a bit of a lay-off. I never thought it was the end of Chas & Dave.”
That was proved decisively when they recorded That’s What Happens last year, their first studio album since 1995.
“We got a phone call from Warner Brothers saying they’d love to put out a Chas & Dave album,” says Chas. “We had meetings, we were happy with it and we went in to Abbey Road for a week to record it.”
Although Chas says he has plenty of new songs ready to record, That’s What Happens was a return to their roots, with mostly covers of old skiffle numbers.
“We had an American producer, Joe Henry, who said ‘I know you were both in skiffle groups, how do you feel about going back to your roots? The old Lonnie Donegan days?’
“We said ‘great!’, as he was a big influence on us. So that, basically, was that.”
“Some of the greatest musicians we ever worked with were skiffle players. The hardest thing in the world is to write a song that sounds simple. Most of the songs that have stood the test of time are simple songs, and they’re the hardest to write.
“The opening track, Railroad Bill, is the first song I ever recorded and it’s very simple – but so catchy. You can’t put your finger on why it is, but you can’t stop singing it.
“The greatest songs are those where you think it sounds like you’ve heard it before, but you haven’t. When The Beatles were sticking out record after record people would think: ‘That reminds me of something’. That’s the secret of something familiar but after a couple of times that’s gone and you just know the song.”
Chas (and Dave) have plenty of experience as far as The Beatles are concerned – as members of the band Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, they toured all over Europe with the fab four in the mid-1960s.
“We did their last European tour,” he says. “I learned a lot from The Beatles. Until then, if you mixed with famous people, they kept away from you. If you were in the backing band, the singer would put on airs and graces and wouldn’t sit and chat with you; they’d have their own dressing room and so on.
“But touring with The Beatles, they just treated you like friends. I remember we were on the plane coming back from somewhere and they were so enthusiastic, they couldn’t stop talking about this new record they’d made, Revolver.
“They were so enthused it was like it was their first album. That really impressed me. They played it to us.
“I remember Paul said: ‘We’ve got this song called Got To Get You Into My Life, that would really suit you, you should record it. We did and it went into the Top 10.”
But while The Beatles may be long gone, Chas and Dave are still touring on a regular basis. Chas says: “People ask: ‘Do you still like your work?’, and I say: ‘I don’t work, I play piano’.”
“There are lots of bands that just churn it out and take the money, but I couldn’t do that, I have to enjoy it. If I didn’t, I’d stop.”
CHAS and Dave will play at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Tuesday (February 10).