When Chas Hodges was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus earlier this year, it inevitably meant gig postponements for Chas & Dave.
Instead of playing Milton Keynes Theatre, Chas faced intensive bouts of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to deal with the tumour.
But even then, the music never really stopped – he even took his guitar into hospital the first time he went for treatment: “...but I couldn’t play it,” he says, picking up the story.
“I didn’t realise they were going to string me up on a drip for six hours. I did some songwriting instead.”
Now Chas wants to talk about the C-word: “Most people say ‘How are you doing?’ But some people still can’t handle it, they are frightened in case I say ‘I’ve only got four weeks to live.’
“The message I’d like to get across is that it ain’t like it used to be in the old days.
“Then, if you got cancer, there was a good chance you wouldn’t live through it, but today if you get it early you can eradicate it completely.
“If you notice any symptoms that you ain’t sure of, don’t be scared, get down the doctors. They’ll sort it.”
The first sign Chas noticed something might be wrong was an inability to swallow a glass of water properly.
When tests were performed, the tumour was found: “When I was told it was cancer, no black cloud formed over my head or anything.
“I just feel good that I caught it quick. The chemo was quite relaxing, actually.”
Chas is feeling good, following his doctor’s orders and back at work, playing live and working on new material.
One of the songs he wrote during his treatment was Sling Yer Hook. You can guess what it’s about.
A new album from the fellas is expected next spring, and that will be one of the numbers on the disc.
We can’t think of another act who can span the generations quite like Chas & Dave.
We’ve watched six year olds singing the lyrics at their shows, and taken our own grandmother (a sprightly 91 years old at the time) to see them at her insistence.
“That the beauty of Twitter – almost weekly something comes through and someone will say something like ‘My five year old refuses to go to bed until she’s heard Rabbit or The Sideboard Song’, or whatever.
“That’s what kids and old people are about – they don’t care about old fashion or new fashion.
“If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. If they love it, they love it. They are honest."
Talking with Chas is a bit like having a natter to a fella down the allotment, albeit a fella with a quality tale to tell about many a musician, from Cleo Laine (“We still get a lovely Christmas card from Cleo , actually”) to his time in The Fab Four. Really.
“It was at Eric Clapton’s wedding. He had a lot ampiifiers, keyboards and guitars set up in case anyone wanted to play.
“Gercha hadn’t long been out, so I jumped up and did that, and then started doing some rock n roll. Ringo jumped up on drums and gave me a bit of a smile.
“Next minute, George and Paul were plugging in and I thought ‘I’m the fourth Beatle here!’
“The Beatles were always so enthusiastic about the next thing and the next thing – which is as you should be.”
Chas is 73 years-old, and his body of musical work is truly phenomenal – from working with pioneering producer Joe Meek, to learning some of his craft on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis,
He is just as passionate about music today as he is about the love of his life, his wife of 50-years, Joan.
“She’s the perfect woman,” he says, “She really is.”
And even after so many years, she still doesn’t mind Chas tickling the ivories on one of the two pianos he has in the family living room.
“She’s interested, it ain’t just a noise in the background to her. She likes hearing it.”
Chas’ love of the piano was inherited from his mother, who was a great player herself.
“My Dad died when I was young, so there was a lot of sadness, but my aunts and uncles would come around, my mum would play the piano and everyone would be happy.
“We weren’t very well off, but at the weekend there was this particular club she would play on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I knew that on the Monday we’d have a nice spread on the table, because she’d earned a few bob. Music and the piano just had everything going for it.”
The trait has been passed down to his own children.
His grandson is also playing music, aged nine.
But these days, the spread on the table at home is from Chas’ allotment.
“Gardening goes alongside my music very well. If I’m writing and my head gets cloudy, I’ll go round the allotment and get an hour there pottering about, doing a bit of raking, digging, weeding and sowing.
“I still get a thrill when I sow a seed and see the little seedlings appear.”
And on Sunday, September 24, Chas & Dave fans will get a thrill when the chirpy fellas, accompanied by Chas’ son Nick on drums, play their rescheduled show at MK Theatre.
Support comes from The Jackie Lynton Band.
Interview: Sammy Jones
To book tickets click here
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