■ The piano-playing half of Chas & Dave, 74, on how hit song Rabbit woke a boy from a coma and being groped by a killer producer
What can people expect from your new album?
It’s half self-penned songs and half obscure songs we’ve made our own over the years. It’s the first album we’ve produced for 30 years.
There’s a song about your cancer treatment on the album…
Yes, it’s a song we’ve been doing since the 1970s called Sling Your Hook but I’ve written a new verse — it suited my situation with the cancer. I’ve had treatment for cancer of the oesophagus, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I have check-ups every three months. I feel strong, I can play the piano, do gigs and my voice feels stronger than it did years ago.
You worked with 1960s producer Joe Meek, who killed his landlady then shot himself. What was he like?
He was an eccentric character but he had amazing technical ideas. His studio was in three storeys over a leather shop on the Holloway Road.
Did he ever threaten to shoot you?
No. He groped me one afternoon. I said, ‘No thank you, Joe.’ I suppose he thought he’d have a go but he was all right after that. He could lose his temper. He’d once bought an expensive new microphone and one of the band accidentally knocked it over when we were going into the studio. He came in from the booth and started shouting ‘F*** off, the lot of you’, so we f***ed off because he was kicking tape spools over, throwing anything he could get his hands on. It was a bit over the top.
They got me to ring him because I was the only one who could talk to him. I apologised about the microphone but he said it wasn’t because of that — he thought we’d messed up a recording session with his singer Heinz Burt the night before by deliberately playing in the wrong key. We’d been known to play tricks, like when Ritchie Blackmore put a condom in Joe’s coffee, but we’d never ruin a session.
Would your hit Rabbit be considered sexist today?
It was just a bit of fun. It was about a girl who had everything going for her but would talk at all the wrong times. We got a few feminists on our backs. We were doing it live at a university for Radio 1 but the producer told us to do a pre-recorded version as well just in case the feminists stormed the show. We turned up in the afternoon and there were even a few blokes shouting, ‘You sexist bastards.’ We went over the pub and there were girls in there with banners about ‘women are equal’ and all that. I thought, ‘It’s only a fun little song kids will like.’ The majority of people who bought Rabbit were little kids who thought it was about actual rabbits and blokes who wanted us to sign copies for their mothers-in-law.
How did it go in the end?
There were 700 students in the audience, we did Rabbit and we got the biggest cheer you’ve ever heard. There was no trouble. We went back to the pub and there were still a few girls with their banners who gave us a wave, so they can’t have been that upset. A few weeks later we went to see a young boy in a coma who was a Chas & Dave fan — we did a bit of Rabbit and got a response from him. There was a letter in the paper saying the feminists are saying how terrible Rabbit is but it’s brought a boy out of a coma. So think on that.
The Duchess of Cornwall is a fan of your work. Anyone else unexpected?
The first one was Princess Margaret. We did the Royal Variety Performance in the 1980s and went to the bar for a beer afterwards and we walked past her table. She put her hand up and motioned us over in her regal manner. What else could we do? She made us sit beside her — she talked about the old music hall days and asked us to play certain songs. She said, ‘I learned that from my grandmother, she loved the music halls.’ She meant Queen Mary. She said she’d been a fan of ours since she first heard us.
That was at the Royal Variety we did a few years ago. She said we reminded her of parties she used to go to years ago. ‘We always had Chas & Dave on,’ she said. Charles said: ‘You should have been on longer.’ I’d go along with that as well.
Chas & Dave’s new album A Little Bit Of Us is out now. For UK tour dates, see chasndave.com