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Chas and Dave
All About Us
By Chas Hodges
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2008 Chas Hodges
All rights reserved.
I'm Chas, the one who plays the piano in Chas & Dave. I was born in the North Middlesex Hospital, Edmonton on 28 December 1943. Albert and Daisy Hodges were the 'proud' parents. (So my Mum tells me, and I believe everything my Mum says.) Brother Dave was nearly three years old. Mum wanted me to be called Nicholas but Charles was the traditional family name on my Dad's side. So I became Charles Nicholas. 'Chas' was also the familiar nickname for Charles around Hackney, where my Dad came from, so 'Chas' it was.
My earliest memories were when I was about three. Music among the most vivid of 'em. My Dad was a lorry driver and worked for an Italian named Romano. Romano owned a farmhouse in Ashford, Kent, that was to let and Dad decided that we should move down there. Edmonton was alright, where we were living with my Mum's Mum and Dad, but he wanted something better for us. We moved to Kent in the summer of 1947. It was good down there: I loved it. Considering I was only young and we were only there for about six months, I have a lot of vivid memories about that time. The journey down in my Dad's old green van. Me asking Dad if it was putting your hands on the steering wheel that made it move along. Dad taking his hands off the steering wheel while we were going along to prove that it wasn't. I was impressed. The arrival at the farm. Being met by Ginger, the farm hand, who never lifted a finger, let alone a hand! Dad at the top of an apple tree slinging apples down to my Uncle Bert. Waking in the morning to see the hunt go by. I thought it was a magnificent sight. Stella our Alsatian. Peggy and Spike the greyhounds. Collecting new laid eggs and being chased by one of the cockerels. Was I frightened! He was nearly as big as me! I injured my finger slamming the door of the run and I remember Mum making me sit quiet with my finger in a glass of TCP. Dad wringing the cockerel's neck in case he pecked us kids' eyes out. Me getting chased again by the cockerel! (We had two cockerels. A wild one and a tame one. Dad had wrung the wrong one's neck!) Garlic in my Wellingtons. (An idea of Mum's to keep the colds away. Found out later this is what the Romans used to do.) The pond in the woods that had witches (another idea of Mum's to stop us kids going near it). New discoveries like oak apples, mole hills, cowpats and straw. Brother Dave chucking some 12-bore cartridges behind the Rayburn stove and Mum going mad even though Dave kept insisting that it didn't matter 'cos they were dead ones. Dad coming home with a rabbit for dinner. Spitting out the lead shot. The smell of Dad's van in the garage. Car fumes even now bring back happy memories! Me and my brother and Stella the Alsatian playing in the haystack. 'Housewives' Choice' on the radio. Songs like 'Cruising down the River' – a popular song I liked. I told my brother, 'That's my song!' 'No it's not, it's the lady on the radio's.' Little git. Early memory songs, 'Feniculee Fenicula'. 'The Thieving Magpie'. I'd watch magpies from my bedroom window with that tune going through my head.
One day we had company. My Mum announced them to me and my brother as being 'off the stage'. I remember standing in this sunny room as the couple went into their act. The lady played the piano and the man sang. The song was 'Blue Room'. They were on the posh side but they were quite good at what they did. (I had 'em sussed although I was only three.)
It was a good memory. It was music. Grown-ups always looked happy when they were singing. Especially when someone was playing the piano. Why didn't they do this all the time?
I have fond memories of that place. I loved it. It was where my Dad lived. When I think of him walking about, or drinking a cup of tea, or working on his old van, it was all down in Kent, I didn't remember him before that. I was too young. My Mum doesn't have the same affection for the place. But it was different for Mum. To her it was where my Dad died. The day before my fourth birthday my Dad died of wounds from a 12-bore shotgun. I remember it happening but I was too young to take it in. Not see him again?
Dead? No! All dead people died before I was born.
It was his own hand that fired the gun. Nobody knew why.
We left the farm before the New Year and came back to Edmonton to live with my Nan, Grandad, and Great-grandfather.CHAPTER 2
11, Harton Road
Us kids, like kids do, adapted quickly once more to North London life. Mum earned money to keep us by playing piano in the pubs and clubs. Nan and Grandad helped bring us up while Great-grandfather Shaw, who was nearly ninety years old then, sort of acted the part of comic relief. He was a good old boy, five foot four inches tall and full of life.
He lived in the boxroom which had a smell of old stale pipes which I quite liked. He was music mad. He played clarinet in his younger days and would go out busking with my Mum on harmonium. I never heard him play clarinet, although he was supposed to have been quite good. I only heard him play the whistle which he played day and night, whatever the hour. I'd get private recitals in his room. He'd show me the scales, or play his latest piece that had just come through the door from Keith Prowse. Grandfather would be off, stopping every now and again to repeat a passage he felt needed improvement.
I loved every minute. When it was time for a break, he'd light up his old pipe and go into a story. Most times it would be about music. A brass band he'd seen years ago. He'd describe all the sounds and what they played. I could hear that band as clearly as if I'd been there. Then he'd ask me what I was up to, what new toys had I got? 'New toy car? Let's have a look.' I'd go and get it. Grandfather would inspect it with wonder. Try it out with glee! Sometimes I'd say, 'You can borrow it for a while if you want, Grandfather.' 'Thanks boy. Thanks very much. I'll take care of it.' He didn't get on with his son-in-law too well, though (Mum's Dad).
There was a thing in my house that was as important as the teapot or the gas stove or other household necessities.
It was the piss-pail.
He had one in his room. Nan and Grandad had one and me and my brother had one. We never had china piss-pots – didn't hold enough. We had galvanised piss-pails. Great-grandfather and Grandad would argue never-ending over who'd got whose piss-pail.
'You've got my piss-pail.'
'No I ain't, you silly old bastard!'
'Daisy!' Grandfather would shout to his daughter (Daisy was my Nan's name, too). 'Tell him he's got my piss-pail!' And so it would go on.
We kids had a white enamel piss-pail. It had a lid with holes on it. You could use it without taking the lid off, although I never owned up. My brother used to suss it when the lid felt warm, and I'd get a clump. I couldn't see the sense in takin' the lid off, as it all went in anyway.
The nearest school to me was Eldon Road School. I started there shortly after I was four years old. My brother Dave, nearly three years older than me, was already at the school, and I couldn't wait to get there too. I begged my Mum to get me there as soon as possible. It must have been the glamour of it, big brother and all that, goin' off to school with all the lads. The morning I started I did just that. Went to school with all the lads. Now big brother, who was supposed to be lookin' after me, decided before we got close to Eldon Road that I was a bit of a nuisance and I was left to fend for myself. I'd got this Victoria plum my Mum had given me to take to school, and I decided to sit down against this wall outside the school gates to eat it. Some ol' gels (who were jawing on their front door steps) every now and then looked over at me.
'They've gone in, yer know,' they'd say, and then get back to their jawing. I never took no notice and carried on eating me plum.
To me the novelty had gone. I'd been to school with the boys but I didn't want to go in, and that was that. Sitting up against the wall eating my Victoria plum and thinking about goin' to school was heaven. Goin' to school was great, but now I'd been. Now I wanted to go home, and I did. Those questions about 'Do you like goin' to school?' made sense. I did. I liked comin' home from school too. But goin' in to school was a different matter. Do you want to go to school? – that was all I was asked.
My Mum decided I wasn't ready to attend school and I was kept home 'til I was five. Try again. I wasn't mad on it though I got to like it. When I started going to Eldon (and going in as well) I thought it was alright. Some teachers I didn't like, some I liked. My first teacher was an old Victorian trained lady named Miss Dames.
One day she was teaching us a poem about a 'Teeny Tiny Key' – 'I know a little cupboard with a teeny, tiny key, and in there are cakes for me, me, me.' I can't remember the rest. We all had to recite this poem together. As the class was reciting I remember feeling a pain in my stomach, something I'd probably ate, and I shit myself. It crept round my trousers all sort of warm. It wasn't lumpy and none dropped out, so I thought I'd be able to keep it a secret 'till I got home. It was four o'clock and the bell went at five past four. Now whether I had a funny look on my face or just chance I don't know, but Miss Dames said:
'Now before we all go home, children, Charles Hodges will come out and recite the poem to you all on his own.' I went out all caked in shit, but it clung there, not showing itself as I went into 'I know a little cupboard with a teeny, tiny key.' I did it all through, word perfect. The bell went and I was off home. I run indoors and all I could say was, 'I couldn't help it, I couldn't help it!'
'What couldn't you help?' said Mum. 'What's the matter? Tell me, tell me!' The 'couldn't help it' bit came about 'cos I'd gone home from school once laughing about a school mate who'd been in the same predicament. 'Ahh, he probably couldn't help it,' Mum had said, and I had latched onto that.
So after a bit she found out (it didn't take long!) that I'd shit myself. My Nan promptly took my trousers and pants off and put me outside on the toilet. What's she done that for? I thought. I've already done it! I sat there on the bog-hole. I decided I'd never laugh at my mates again. It could well have been apples. Too many of 'em, I was mad on apples.
One day Mum and Nan decided to take me and my brother to Southend for the day. Grandad said, 'Take this bag of apples with yer, give some to the kids and give the rest away when you get down to Southend.'
It wasn't a bag, it was a sackful! We had to catch the train at Lower Edmonton station, but the train was late. Me and my brother played up and down the station and I nicked an apple every time I got near the sack. Finally the train came along (the sack half empty by now) and off we went.
As we neared Southend, a thunderstorm started and, on top of that, so did one in my belly. Mum told my brother to take me to the toilet. He did, reluctantly. Boy, did I have the shits! My belly was aching like hell. I really thought I was gonna die. My brother Dave reported back to me Mum and then forgot what toilet he'd put me in. I could hear him shouting 'Chas!' underneath the toilet doors miles away. I was answering feebly. He found me in the end. When I recovered we spent the rest of the day under a shelter away from the storm. But that wasn't all. I got me fingers shut in the train door on the way home! I've still got the scars to prove it. Some yobs, running down the platform, slammed our carriage door shut and my fingers were in the hinges. Nan sorted them out though, and gave their earholes a walloping to go home with.
Now you'd think from that first experience I'd hate the place. But I grew to love it. A trip to Southend was second only to Christmas Day. My favourite pastime down Southend was crabbing, in the boating pool. A bit of string with a piece of cockle or mussel tied to the other end, drop it in the pool, wait for a tug, and slowly pull it up. Sure enough there'd be a crab. Years later when I took my own kids down Southend I tried the same thing in the same pool (the one near the pier). I got the same results. Kids watching at first thought I was mad. Crabs in the boating pool? But they were away after bits of string and cockles and mussels before you knew it! Try it yourself, when you're next down Southend. (Note, 2008. It ain't there no more)
Harton Road was a typical London street of terraced houses. Small front garden with evergreens. Downstairs was the front room (most people didn't use theirs and kept it as 'best' but we had to use ours), the kitchen (with the old black leaded stove), scullery, or 'washus' as it was called, back yard about thirty foot long by twenty foot wide, outside toilet and old dug-up Anderson shelter at the end, which became Grandad's shed. There were three rooms upstairs and eleven stairs. I know, I counted 'em 'cos my ambition at the time was to jump all eleven stairs in one go.
I worked my way up, first one, then two etc, until the day came to attempt the lot. I'd done ten stairs, one more to go. My Nan would shout, 'You'll jump your legs in.' I never knew what she was talking about but I presumed she meant I'd end up a midget. I remember poising myself at the very top, waiting for the right moment (like a footballer does when he's taking a penalty) to do what I had to do. It came. I took a flyin' leap, eyes fixed on the landing strip (the passage floor). I would have done it too if it hadn't been for the floor of the upstairs landing. I had to jump that bit higher to make the eleven stairs. Whack! My head hit the landing floor that jutted out above me, and I landed in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs. I never attempted it again. I stuck at ten.
The characters down our road were unique. Next door to us lived a gypsy family, who had mad kids. They had bows and arrows with real dart-heads screwed onto the arrows. They let their little sisters out of upstairs windows, cowboy-style, with ropes tied round their middles and all that. If you went in for a cup o' tea, you'd get it in a jam jar. Which, I gotta be honest, seemed a good idea. Why buy cups when you get jam jars for nothing? Though jam jars were handy too, when the roundabout man came round. For a jam jar you could get a ride on the roundabout. It was a small round wooden thing with sticks sticking out that the big kids grabbed hold of and pushed. The roundabout whizzed round full of little kids. We'd all get off feeling sick. But it was an occasion. This red, white, blue and green wooden roundabout thing turning up at the end of the street. Well, you had to have a go!
Mrs Barlow lived the other side. I played John Bunyan in the school play once and she lent me her long drawers. I played the part with, I thought, the dignity which it deserved. I couldn't make out why everyone was laughin'.
A woman who lived down the road really was mad. She was always on about spacemen and Mars and that. My Great-grandfather didn't know about this 'cos he was as deaf as a post. I remember one conversation I overheard that went, 'Where you goin' for your holidays?' Woman: 'I'm goin' to Mars.' Grandfather: 'I don't like them seaside places.'
Not everybody was mad in Harton Road though. Well, if you class being mad on music as bein' mad then perhaps a lot of 'em were. Music played a big part in our household. Mum played the piano which she taught herself, with the aid of Nan who had a great ear for music. 'Get your vamps right,' she'd say. She wasn't interested in the twiddly bits up the top, like most self-taught pianists played, with anything for the left hand. With her, the chords had to be right. She had the right idea. Mum learnt the hard way by just sloggin' at it 'till it was right. She had no teacher who knew how to play, only Nan who knew when it was wrong. Mum ended up with a unique style that was admired by many, me included. I could never figure out her chord shapes or exactly what she was doin' but it sounded great.
Nan did play a bit of mouth organ though. She was a great critic too. Later on when I began to make records she always had something constructive to say and would come out with good ideas. Grandad (Mum's Dad) was the only unmusical one. He'd just sit back with his pint and enjoy the racket. He did sing now and again though. I learnt 'Not me' from Grandad, which we put on our first 'Jamboree Bag' album.
Grandad took over when Dad died. He was great, he loved an outing. Southend for the day, fishin' off the pier or just fishin' in the Lea down at Broxbourne. Grandad enjoyed it as much as us kids.
Excerpted from Chas and Dave by Chas Hodges. Copyright © 2008 Chas Hodges. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Chas Before Dave
Chapter 1 First Memories 3
Chapter 2 11, Harton Road 7
Chapter 3 Irish John 19
Chapter 4 Schooldays and Rock 'n' Roll 23
Chapter 5 I Become a Rock 'n' Roller 29
Chapter 6 Jerry Lee for Me 33
Chapter 7 First Real Job 37
Chapter 8 Butlins with Billy Gray & The Stormers 43
Chapter 9 The Outlaws 49
Chapter 10 Jerry Lee Lewis Tour 67
Chapter 11 Gene Vincent 75
Chapter 12 The Outlaws vs. The Beatles 85
Chapter 13 Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers 91
Chapter 14 Fishing Stories 99
Chapter 15 Cliff and the Rebs Split 109
Chapter 16 Now What Can I Do to Get some Money? 125
Chapter 17 Heads Hands & Feet 129
Chapter 18 H H & F-RIP 143
Part 2 The Chas & Dave Story
Chapter 19 The Beginning 155
Chapter 20 First Record Deal 167
Chapter 21 Second Record Deal 183
Chapter 22 Bob England and 'Gertcha!' 187
Chapter 23 How do we Follow 'Rabbit'? 209
Chapter 24 No Pleasin' You 215
Chapter 25 Knees up Down Under 229
Chapter 26 Bob Bails Out 239
Chapter 27 I'm a Grandad! 253
Chapter 28 Troublesome Roadies Number 1 and Number 2 261
Chapter 29 Millennium and the USA 271
Chapter 30 Hootenanny! 279
Chapter 31 Glastonbury and On 287
Chapter 32 Better all the Time! 293