Remembering Chas Hodges – wonderful thoughts from Drummer, Robert Henrit

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Chas has been a part of my life since we were both 14 when he was one of the North London musical Mafia along with me. Russell Ballard, Mike Berry, Bobby Graham, The Hunters and a great many other embryonic rockers who were straining at the leash to make music. It’s no exaggeration to say most of us went on to really make something of ourselves. Of course Mafia as in the Southend Mafia is a modern euphemism in musician’s circles and we certainly wouldn’t have called ourselves that in those days.

This was at the start of our careers when of course we weren’t able to go into pubs and no matter how we slouched around looking mean and moody, we didn’t stand a chance of passing for eighteen. Not that we wanted to drink in pubs, we simply wanted to play in them so we could show off and possibly meet the opposite sex.

There were two main centres for us in those days: Cheshunt Boys Club where we all rehearsed, and ‘The Kings Head’ in Edmonton, inevitably known as ‘The Head’. We went here to see all the local groups and if we were lucky get a gig. We also want to local cinemas, dance halls and clubs and this is where Chas and the rest of us learned our trade. It’s fair to say that in those halcyon days none of us got into music to make money – we got into music to make music.

We knew Chas as a bass player but when we were 15 or so I remember we went to his house in Edmonton to pick him up for a gig and he was sitting at the piano playing an old Edwardian Music-Hall song called “When your old wedding ring was new”. This was the first we saw (or should I say heard?) he had other strings to his bow. It explains how he persuaded Mike Berry to record Edwardian love songs like “Sunshine of your smile” (with to many the incomprehensible bass intro) and “What’ll’ I do” (known to us in Mike’s band at the time as the ‘Waddle song’.) Musically Chas was fearless and the string arrangements he did particularly on those tracks are testament to his excellent musicianship.

To illustrate this further Chas could play lots of instruments but didn’t know how to play a fiddle and needed one for a record. So undaunted he went out and bought himself a violin and taught himself to play what he needed in a couple of hours. I know he came round to Russell Ballard’s house once to play him a Scott Joplin type rag he’d just written on the piano.

I’m quite fortunate in living close to a pub called the ‘Pied Bull’ which for a number of years was the home of Enfield Jazz Club. Chas and sometimes Dave would play there every now and again and the music would be proper jazz. No approximations. They used passing chords and everything….Chas played guitar like Django Reinhardt. So when I see obituaries and tributes to Chas which concentrate on the Rockney side of things I smile and think to myself they don’t know the half of it.

I remember a story about Chas when he was with the Outlaws with Ritchie Blackmore. They were notorious for pranks like flour bombing bus queues as they went past in their van. They were in the very north of Scotland in a cafe which had a jukebox with the usual collection of selection buttons for your choice of record and Chas was playing them like a piano whereupon one of the very large locals in the place remonstrated with him saying: “if ye’ve nae put yer money in the jukebox, dinnae muck aboot with it.” (or words much like those). These became the words to a song we used to sing although it would appear dear old Chas didnae get aroond to writing it himself.

He had a Hofner, or was it a Framus (?), bass in the early days and inadvertently knocked the head of it off. He repaired it with a nail through the head and into the neck and I was told not long ago that bass still has a nail holding it together!

When John Rogers was tragically killed in an accident on the way up to a week in Variety at Sunderland Empire, we needed a bass player for The Roulettes and Chas was the obvious choice. But he had a tour lined up with Jerry Lee lewis and was desperate to do it so he could learn at the feet of the master. So he didn’t throw his lot in with us and he soon eclipsed his mentor (Old Jerry) on the piano. In 1964 Chas replaced  Frank Allen in Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers while we got on with being all-round entertainers with Adam Faith, (This of course is something which we now know Chas would have taken to like a duck to water.)

It’s a fair cop and it wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret that there was a time when Chas liked a drink. I was lunching with Russell and Buster Meikle from Unit 4 + 2 just a day or two before Chas segued on to what it seems we now call that ‘great gig in the sky’  and we were discussing his prodigious thirst.

There was a time when there was a regular get-together at a pub which Mod Rogan (the guy who did get the gig on bass with Adam Faith and the Roulettes) ran in Wormley.  Chas evidently asked how much he should put into the whip. It was agreed that a tenner would do but our hero said he was going to put in a score because he would drink that much – and he did. He bought a bottle of brandy and a bottle of port mixed them together and drank them.

But there’s more. Chas, me, Russ Ballard and several other musical reprobates went to a studio in Copenhagen called ‘Sweet Silence’ to make an album with Ringo Starr. Russ had written all the songs and was producing the album but wasn’t coming to Denmark on the same day as us. The cab picked Chas up first then me and we headed for Heathrow. We were making a complete album so we needed at least one pair of Levis and an elegant sufficiency of T-shirts to last us. Chas however had a Tesco’s plastic bag (other supermarkets were available even then) which had either another pair of socks in it, or a spare pair of underpants. (I’m going with the underpants because he often didn’t wear socks with his hobnailed boots.) Something he didn’t seem to have in the bag though was a passport. The guy who checked us in was an old schoolmate who seemed to have been coerced into becoming a ‘friend of Dorothy’ since we’d left school. Upon seeing me he straightened up (no pun intended) and checked us in.

The whole story is in my autobiography ‘Banging On!’ so if you want the unexpurgated rest of it you’ll need to buy it from Amazon…Did you see what I did there with that shameless plug?

Anyhow we somehow managed to get to Denmark on SAS and I think Chas was allowed to show the powers-that-be his driving license to get into their country.

We arrived at Kastrup Airport to find nobody waiting for us. (Oxymoron alert). We decided we might as well have a drink while we waited. We sat at a moon-shaped bar and this was Chas’ milieu and he took charge. “What’s your strongest beer?” was his opening gambit. The bartender thought about it before mentioning the fateful name: Elephant. Charlie hadn’t heard of it but the rest of us had and were afraid, very afraid. We’ll have a pint each of that Chas replied. For reasons which will become clear Elephant doesn’t come in pints it comes in innocuous-looking small bottles Unfazed Chas ordered us a couple of bottles each which the rest of us consumed more nervously than he did. We still hadn’t been picked up so Chas took the initiative and cheerfully asked for the same again. Having disposed of the next two ws were drunk and still waiting for our driver. it was decided (as usual) it was the drummer’s job to phone Russ’s manager and find out what was going on – even though I was seriously the worse for drink. John Stanley was the manager in question who was amazed that we were there because our tickets were for the next day. It turns out my school pal had broken all the rules to cover up his predilection and put us on the right plane on the wrong day without the prerequisite number of passports – I’ve always suspected it was to get rid of us! I put the phone down and went back to report to the rest of the guys just in time to stop Chas ordering yet another round of thirst-quenching Carlsberg Elephant. We arrived at the hotel just in time to see Noddy Holder who was doing a gig there with Slade dragging a crate of slightly less- dangerous ordinary Carlsberg over the Axminster carpet in the foyer and up to his room.

The album went ahead and gave Ringo a hit record with a song called ‘“On the rebound”. I played drums on the recording but in the evening Chas played all of Ringo’s favourite tunes on piano like “Red sails in the sunset” which The Beatles had no ending for in Hamburg so they simply played the coda ad infinitum. Richie sang and played drums.

In my not so humble opinion, most of the tributes to him don’t come close to telling it like it was. He was a consummate musician was Chas who just happened to have invented a music art form with Dave Peacock called Rockney. When we were away making that record with Ringo he had the demos of the first album metaphorically under his arm, but actually in his Tesco bag with his Y-fronts.

I was put on the spot at a book launch in the Houses of Parliament when I was invited to the launch of an erudite book called ‘Mad dogs and Englishness’. I assumed I was attending as an innocent bystander but when I arrived I was shown to a seat at a table with various professors and other luminaries and told I would be speaking about the book – and going on last. Unfortunately I was at a distinct disadvantage because I hadn’t been sent the book! The very first time I saw it was when they put one into my hands as I sat down. Of course I could have made my excuses and left, or even fainted but I didn’t. I turned to to the index to see who was listed and discovered a glaring error. The Kinks were there but Chas and Dave were surprisingly not mentioned in the book. Without trying too hard I could easily do ten minutes on them because to me, more than most they epitomised Englishness. .

The title of the book was a pun on “”Mad dogs and Englishmen” a song by Noel Coward who was someone I’d met in 1963 in The Goodwood Park Hotel in Singapore. We’d just arrived on the ‘Big Silver Bird’ from the UK and Jet lag set in as we were taking tiffin with him in his bungalow by the pool.  I promptly fell asleep at the feet of the great man.. Naturally he wasn’t best pleased because nobody, but nobody falls asleep when ‘The Master’ is recounting what I was told later was an extremely  funny story. However there was no forgiveness; he got his own back on us in his biography calling us Roulettes: “hideously white, hideously skinny and horrendously loud”. This phrase of course was better said in a Noel Coward terribly English voice.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, but aside from boasting I knew Noel Coward there is a point’. I have always wondered what the great man would have made of Chas and Dave since I felt their songs tugged at the same heartstrings as his. (I once told Ray Davies over a cup of tea about the similarity between his writing and Noel’s and we discussed the issue!) Just in case you’re wondering, even though I like all Chas and Dave songs I have very special affection for “Ossie’s Dream” because it’s about The Mighty Spurs and I used  to see Senor Ardiles (the subject of the song) standing at the back of my church on a Sunday. But if you want my absolute favourite it has to be “There ain’t no pleasing you”. Not many people agree with me (especially not my wife The Lovely Ricki) but I think it’s actually an affectionate love song! I’m pretty sure not a lot of people know that Chas played for ‘Deep Purple’ and ‘Black Claw’ although they may know about, Gene Vincent, Bill Haley and ‘Heads, Hands and Feet’ with Albert Lee –  which may well have been the first Americana band..

Ok, to get back to Chas. He had no ‘side’ he was just ”Dear Old Chas” with his twinkly eyes and as far as i can see whatever knocked him down he got up and started again. I’ve written this before about ‘them’ breaking the mould when someone has died. But this time ‘they’ve’ really been and gone and done it!

God bless you Charles Nicholas Hodges, we really won’t see your like again.

The ‘cheeky chappie’; Max Miller often said of himself: “There’ll never be another”. He could very easily have been talking about our Chas!