Monday, April 28, 2014

"Now if they ever made a comeback together what a day that'd be..."

A little bit skiffle, licks and flecks of country, dollops of music hall and barrels of rock(ney)’n’roll – those expert and epic musicians Chas’n’Dave do do it all.

The recent announcement that this there duo were about to hit the road with Status Quo seemed an ironic comment on feverishly hipsterish 20th-anniversary Britpop celebrations/condemnations.
Why, back then the integral battle between Blur and Oasis was framed by some – including some of the central participants – as rehashed Chas’n’Dave (er, -Blur) vs Status Quo-asis.

Yet if, with Kinks-ish "Country House" over the workaday "Roll With It", Blur won the battle, then Oasis won the war – then, thanks to Damon Albarn’s meanderings over Noel Gallagher’s stagnating, Blur won the peace.
And yet. And yet. Let’s head back a bit. Well, why not?

Best to sit and set alongside, in London’s classic rock-writer lineage, amid Blur’s voyeuristic park-life and the Kinks’ village green preservation society, the quotidien capital details of Chas’n’Dave and their Ponders End allotment club.
(‘It’s everybody’s local pub...’)

This city’s larger-than-life sights may be central but its spirit rests most organically - if diversely - in the many sprawling suburbs and their different interests specific yet also unifyingly general.

Damon Albarn’s milk of human kindness curdled over the course of Blur’s London 'Life' trilogy, between the warm-heartedness despite the name of Modern Life Is Rubbish and the characterful yet chilled The Great Escape.

Chas’n’Dave might often appear unimpressed by much of the rest of the world’s, well, frippery - and yet their songs do tend to remain affectionate about their subjects.

Even on those three most famous hits - "Ain’t No Pleasin’ You", "Rabbit" and familial teaser "Gertcha" - the over-riding sense is one of fondness, albeit tested.

And the barbs of the beautiful "I Wonder In Whose Arms" are all the more affecting and empathetic for being so transparently, emphatically envious and defensive.

For a supposedly ‘comic’ act so tempting to mimic - for example, the Two Ronnies’ well-delivered yet oddly-jokefree pastiche - Chas’n’Dave’s lyrical wit can be surprisingly subtle.

And yet their emotional tributes sound startlingly tender, even if invariably involving the sonic equivalent of a nudge or nod to the camera - as with (the also-sadly-unplayed-live) "Wish I Could Write A Love Song".

‘If I give in to my emotions then I might get hurt,
If one day you run away ... with my Uncle Bert...’

Perhaps the song was a little too downbeat to play on that roisteringly feelgood Friday night just past, no matter how endearing overall otherwise.

The first half of that gig was dominated by covers of the sort of acts dominating the lyrics of "That’s What I Like", from "Midnight Special" to "Railroad Bill" and other nostalgic classics revisited on their latest LP.
To wit, the historic namechecks for Little Richard and Jerry Lee, banjo-pickin’ Bill Keith and, of course, Lonnie D - the latter fondly re-covered several times over.
(To quote Bob Stanley's enviably-knowledgeable and lyrical music bio, "Yeah Yeah Yeah", on that there Lonnie D and his "scrunched-up tinfoil" sound: "It's one of the unlikelier facts of history that a song about illegally transporting pig iron is British pop's fountainhead.")

Chas’n’Dave have been backed live mostly by merely their drummer Mick - as immortalised by, well, "Give It Some Stick, Mick" (and he usually did) - but now they’re backed by the relentless thudding of Chas’s own son, er, Nik.

He bashes away with admirable relentlessness - like pounding on blocks of wood, the excitingly ‘dull’ rhythmics like listening to Ringo Starr on speed. (That's meant in a good way, honest.)

Yet it was a surprise to see and hear further augmentation this time - that is, four saxophonists, wielding what would otherwise sound like the devil’s own instrument yet, joined joyously together, came across cheerily.

Chas always plays any keys like a barrelling piano but it felt refreshing to have these songs orchestrated, adorned, not by synths but viewable, hearable people.

Not that the tunes themselves couldn’t stand alone. Just that this seemed an extra-special occasion.

That central duo, nevertheless, are not only expert musicians but also expert music historians, with key CV references stretching back a half-century or so - and millions of gigs’ and sessions’ experience an' all.

The pair could doubtless turn their duelling banjos’/basses’/those old pianos’ hands to any song at all, yet manage to remain the right side of Ukelele Orchestra-esque twee.

That is, the right place to be. The bolshy way to stay. The gutsy location to remain.

This is no novelty pop, mind – despite the patronising instincts of Nick Owen and Selina Scott back in those early eighties, wonderingly asking whether our heroic duo really spoke like that and why they wore those braces.

(Back came of course the instinctive rejoinder, in bemused unison: “To keep me trousies up.”)

Never mind the b*llocks: Chas’n’Dave are, indoor shades aside, authenticity incarnate, from their Edmonton Green upbringing – celebrated, of course, in one song – to their Ponders End hanging-about to their Tottenham proper Tottenham proper p*ssed-off-itude.
Why, this reporter had a chat with Chas way back when in 2001 as Spurs prepared to take on Arsenal in an Old Trafford FA Cup semi-final that ended up the most comprehensive 2-1 thrashing any Spurs side can have suffered.

Yet he spoke optimistically, while Dave drove, about the all-new FA Cup final song they had long since written and had ready to release at any time, just whenever Spurs eventually deigned to re-reach such an event.
Sadly, it still hasn’t yet happened, meaning no successor – so far – to that "London Girls" rewrite of 1991, “When The Year Ends In One”.

Those Spurs-specific lyrics came to mind, and instinctively to the lips, as the actual old original “London Girls” got played out the other night, a saxophone foursome adding ballast and a thousands-strong audience linking arms and lustily bawling along.

The Albert Hall's Muppet Show-esque setting felt especially incongruous for the Friday-night-out knees-up we all enjoyed, and yet the apparent majesty of the surroundings brought out all the more of the best in the performers.
Having previously heard Chas, Dave and a drummer do their stuff in such unglamorous surroundings as, well, the Wyllyotts Centre in Potters Bar and also the Worthing Pavilion, this here did seem like something unusually special.
And, of course, they stepped up a gear by expanding beyond a threesome to a ninesome – those four saxophonists, but also a few extras plucking a double-bass or sucking on a harmonica.
Apparent finale "Ain't No Pleasin' You" could bear any - or no - augmentation, yet had the whole Albert Hall audience on their feet with arms reaching towards the roof. Making the very most while presuming that majestic musical complaint would be, well, the end.
And yet, even as the final plangent chord rang out and Dave summed it all up by saying, “We’ve had a good time tonight”, the pair couldn’t help but pre-empt encore calls and lurch into one last singalong: “The Sideboard Song”.
And then that really was that.
No further teasing, just lights-up again and their own recorded songs on the all-surrounding stereo.
The trilling piano, that sauntering bass, those chirping harmonies - live, or otherwise, it's a sound that gladly keeps on rock(ney)-and-rolling.

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