Gigs and gardens: Chas after Dave
PUBLISHED: 13:04 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:13 20 February 2013
The hairier half of much-loved 'rockney' duo Chas and Dave tells Richard Young about his love of the Hertfordshire countryside, runner beans and hanging out with The Beatles
BEST known for his Cockney knees-up piano playing with long-time music partner Dave Peacock on guitar, there is much more to Beningtons Chas Hodges than just Rabbit.
When the 66-year-old is not sitting at his beloved Joanna or on the road with his Rock, Rabbit and Roll tour, he can often be found on his Stevenage allotment tending his veg.
With the best part of 40 years experience growing his own, the current trend for organic, low mileage food is just catching up with him. Chas says this surge of interest in home-grown food, a love of writing and seeing some sorry looking beetroot inspired him to write a book, Chas and his Rock n Roll Allotment.
I wrote a book called All About Us: Chas And Dave and I really got into it. I used to write it from one to four in the morning. Im a late bird, Chas says in his affable East End drawl. When I finished it I wanted to write another book, but I didnt know what on. Not long after the Chas and Dave book came out my wife had a gardening magazine and it had some pathetic looking beetroot and leeks. She said You could show them a thing or two and a little light went ding!
Chas says the new book is aimed at someone like him when he first began to take an interest in gardening.
Its growing tips from over the years, aimed at a young man whose wife wants him to grow some organic veg. He can please the wife and has still got time to go down the pub with his mates. Theres some funny stories in there too, he chirrups.
And as you might expect from the down-to-earth singer, hes not in the veg growing game for prize-winning and exotic produce. I like to grow stuff thats easy to look after. I grow spinach. Pigeons dont like spinach, so its an easy crop to grow. And I love runner beans. But if Im on tour and cant get down there for a couple of weeks they start going stringy, so I grow French beans.
Chas says he tries to get down to his allotment for a little while each day he says is key to keeping a good patch.
Ive seen people go mad for a couple of weeks and then leave it because their back hurts and they cant face it. Go down there a little and often and youll enjoy it. Theyre the sort of tips that Ive put in the book, he says.
The growing bug first bit Chas in the early 70s when he moved to Hertfordshire from London with his young family and had his first garden.
I started in 1972 when I moved into a little bungalow in Broxbourne, when the family were babies, he remembers, We bought the bungalow from a little old lady and it had a large garden, with enough room for an allotment. When I moved in she had kept the plot immaculate. We had two old ladies living next door who would give me tips. I got the bug and have been doing it ever since.
Chas and his family moved to Ware and then settled near Benington, a few miles from the Stevenage allotment he has tended for over a decade. He is a well-known sight in the area, a hairy blur as he goes past in his beloved 1940 Willis Jeep on the way to his plot. I get all my stuff in the jeep and head off, he says. Its amazing the ideas I get when Im on the allotment.
The space also gives him time to reflect on his musical career, one that has seen some fabulous highlights. Well-known for his witty ballads, he is also a talented multi-instrumentalist who has played with some of the greats.
In the early days I was on the road as Jerry Lee Lewis bass player. That was a big highlight. Jerry Lee was my absolute idol, Chas says. Thats when I started to play piano.
He also supported The Beatles on tour in 1966 with Cliff Bennett And The Rebel Rousers, and was one of the first people to hear the album that was later named Revolver. We were all in the dressing room and heard Revolver Paul was playing it and when he played Got To Get You Into My Life, I thought wow! He said, This would be a good one for you. We later recorded it with Paul in Abbey Road.
After touring America with Heads Hands And Feet, Chas met up with Dave, the rockney sound was born, and the hits and albums began to flow. The duo have always had a loyal following, but in the last few years have become more popular than ever sampled by Eminem, lauded by The Libertines and have attracted huge festival crowds.
Glastonbury in 2005, Chas says, it really was great. I remember the day we arrived. We were on about 2.30 and as the time went on the crowd was getting bigger and bigger. Then it was just a sea of heads. We were told there were 32,000 people. It was just fantastic.
Chas and Dave only parted musically last year, when Daves wife of 36 years died of cancer. But the two old friends will be back together for a farewell tour next year. The final tour is in spring, Chas says. Right round England.
Although still very much in love with playing live, Chas says when he isnt gigging and touring he revels in the corner of Hertfordshire he calls home.
We love where were living. The house is just right. The kids and grandkids are just round the corner. We are staying put, he says. My favourite thing, I get in my jeep and just drive. I look across the countryside and see really how fantastic it is.
Chas and his Rock n Roll Allotment, which has a foreword by Jools Holland, is now available in the shops, published by Apex Publishing,
price 9.99. ISBN 9781906358778