Album Of The Week - Chas & Dave - Don't Give A Monkey's
It's been a while since I last covered Chas and Dave and with the upcoming release a collection of Chas Hodge's home recordings in a couple of weeks, now seems like the perfect time.
Their classic Rockney sound has been credited with soundtracking several generation's childhoods and also some's later life, with its instant relatability and bouncy melodies. That relatability in part comes courtesy of the genre's honesty that goes hand in hand with Chas and Dave's marvellous songwriting. The Don't Give A Monkey's EP portrays two blokes on the verge of major success and where that Rockney sound would create some of the most unlikely hitmakers of the decade. It's a record of two halves with the first being all studio releases and the second being a bonus addition as a marvellous gig that sees Chas & Dave perform at Abbey Road, a venue and studio that they'd frequent over their esteemed career.
The opening Gertcha is one track that can be said to have given Chas & Dave their big break, and as is the case with plenty of other songs, there's a great story to go along with it. It's intriguing to note that the particular version of Gertcha that propelled them to major fame isn't the original version. Entitled Woortcha!, the much slower and more soulful rendition of the now infamous Gertcha originated on Chas & Dave's debut record, One Fing 'N' Annuver and it's thanks to the song's integration and subsequent success within the Courage Best adverts that a full song was released. As Chas discusses in his book Chas and Dave: All About Us, “The album recording,’Woortcha!’, was slow and funky, but when we went into the studio to do the TV ad, it had to be sped up some to fit the gist into the allotted twenty-eight and a half seconds of advertising time. It’s amazing how precise you can get when you have to. After three or four takes we got it to exactly twenty-eight and a half seconds. The big bonus was it was all the better for it. It had energy and was more Rock ’n’ Roll.” It's the brilliant recklessness of the sped-up single release that makes it a perfect opening song for Don't Give A Monkey's as it encapsulates the rockney spirit and that fusion of rock and roll and a proper knees-up.
Gertcha also has another intriguing story attached to it relating to the classic television show Top Of The Pops. Alongside other gaffes and problems The Vapor's Turning Japanese and Dexy's Midnight Runners' Jackie Wilson Said, Chas & Dave would also fall victim to issues on the BBC music programme, and with this, there are a couple of notable ones. Firstly, the infamous stipulation that bands and artists had to mime - this clashed with Chas & Dave's commitment to playing live. After all, with Chas' incredible piano playing, it seems like a waste of talent to force the band to 'perform' to a backing track. At the time, there was a bit of back-and-forth between the BBC and Chas & Dave - as Chas himself puts it, "We always insisted that we played live on TV recordings. The TV people didn’t really want you to and most bands didn’t want to either. Neither had the confidence. The bands didn’t have the confidence to play and the TV people didn’t have the confidence to balance a good sound." In the end, a compromise was reached with Chas' vocal being done live and the backing track from the single recording.
Secondly, a problem arose with the song's lyrical content, and the issue here lies in the BBC's traditionalist attitude that had, some many years prior, seen George Formby's Little Stick of Blackpool Rock banned, as well as The Beatles' A Day In The Life. Gertcha contained an old swear word, namely "Cowson" which no-one at the time thought anything of - the term had fallen out of use after all. However, the BBC insisted, thanks to the producer's mother pointing it out, that they shouldn't say it. The process, as Chas describes went like this - "Someone had spotted this old fashioned swear word that we were trying to bring back in fashion. Who spotted it for fuck sake? Turned out to be the producer’s Mum. She heard it on the radio and rang him up. ‘Make ‘em cut it out son, there’s a good boy.’ So we weren’t allowed to say ‘Cowson’ on the recording. So what do we say instead? ‘Give me some alternatives,’ said the producer. ‘Okay, how about ‘Gertcha wanker’ ‘No!’ ‘Gertcha shit bag?’ ‘No!’ ‘Gertcha git face?’ ‘No!’ ‘Why can’t we just say ‘Cowson’ like the record?’ ‘Because you can’t!’ So we decided on leaving it blank where the word ‘Cowson’ should be." As a result, its early appearances on Top Of The Pops have been characterised by Chas continuously biting his lip and Dave grinning at the pettiness of the Beeb.
The same can be said for the following Rabbit which also gave Chas & Dave one of their biggest hits and is a song that quite easily became a true fan favourite over the years. Contrary to the story of Gertcha becoming faster on its later release, this version of Rabbit is notably slower than the kick-in-the-teeth romp it's become known for in later years. This is, once again, down to the Courage Bitter ads at the time, as the advertisers wanted a shorter version to fit into the commercial. The original version of Rabbit is the one released here and it's a nice change of pace from the preceding Gertcha with Chas continuously complimenting someone, although having one major issue with their continuous talking. The reason for the shorter version being chosen for the single release is simply because it's got more of a live feeling - there's not as much of a singalong to be had on the slower version here, but nonetheless, it still carries those jokey sentiments that make it a great listen.
The Banging In Your Head that follows is Gertcha's B-side and there's an argument that because it's by comparison an obscurity that it's a better song. It's got that traditional bounce to it that came to characterise Chas & Dave's work that makes it such a marvellous listen. What's more, with its short length, it's certainly the mark of an easily digestible song. As with most of their brilliant repertoire, the song tells the story of a man who ends up with a stinking headache as a result of inviting friends round with their homemade cider that's ended up playing this bloke up. Thanks to its direct address, it's easy to get the idea that Chas is sat next to you in a pub and telling the tumultuous tale of his weekend over a pint.
The drinking theme continues with The Sideboard Song, otherwise known as Got My Beer In The Sideboard Here on Don't Give A Monkey's. As with the likes of Rabbit and That's What I Like on the Job Lot album from 1982, The Sideboard Song makes use of the clever word play and lyricism that the duo have been known for for decades. The song's main verses seemingly get quicker over its duration and it, in essence, by Dave's declaration of "On top of that he says I tell you why I got the hump..." and the following lines, becomes a tongue twister and it becomes increasingly difficult to sing along. However, after a few listens, it is possible to get the hang of it and just about keep up. The song has had notable inclusions in British television series over the years, being adapted and fitted in to Catherine Tate's Nan, a spin-off of the hugely successful The Catherine Tate Show, which was first aired some seven or eight years ago now. At the end of the half-hour riot, Joannie Taylor invites everyone back to her flat for a knees-up and The Sideboard Song soundtracks the affair, although not by Chas & Dave themselves but the tribute Raz & Dave in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Asian people that live next door to Taylor, and the pair even did get the seal of approval from the man himself:
What A Miserable Saturday Night, as was the case with The Sideboard Song, showcases the pair's ability to write a clever and interesting song about everyday things. In this case, it's the fact that Dave is stuck at home on a Saturday night but all his mates have gone out to the pub, but at the same time, whilst at home, he's got little in the way of food and drink, and therefore elects to go to bed. There's a nice contrast between the outward voice of Dave speaking about how mundane home life is and the detailing of what all his mates are doing whilst out on the town such as being "down the boozer, knocking 'em back" or "smoking, joking, mucking about" whilst Dave is contemplating just going to bed.
It's at this point where Don't Give A Monkey's splits in two and the second half is devoted to a now infamous performance of the band at Abbey Road. For that gig, the London studio was converted into a pub, they performed for seven hours, and over £2000 was spent at the makeshift bar. For this short insight into that reckless performance, Don't Give A Monkey's majorly picks songs from the band's early days doing the pubs and working men's clubs in the early seventies and gives a nice insight into how they started out. This is first portrayed by the brilliant Pay Up And Look Big that comes courtesy from their debut album One Fing 'N' Annuver. With its bouncing piano and thumping drums that come courtesy of Mickey Burt, Pay Up And Look Big has got that compulsive foot-tapping melody to it that means it's absolutely fantastic, as well as its clever lyrics that look to mock whoever the speaker is having a conversation with about being "all mouth and trousers". It's got this aggression to it that their later work wouldn't have, so it's nice to hear one of those earlier tracks and also to hear it be done so well.
There's tongue-in-cheek discussions of the care system in the minute-long ditty Lunatic Asylum detaling a conversation between someone who works in in an asylum and one of the patients. In its short duration, the patient details how the man who is working for a living is stupid as the patient gets double money for acting "a little silly", and actively encourages the aforementioned Mr Jones to follow suit for the additional benefits of paid bills and new suits, alongside his own thirty bob a week income. Lunatic Asylum's thought-provoking lyrical content is contrasted by its groove thanks to Dave's bass that sounds similar to Labi Siffre's I Got The... which the pair also played on as session musicians and helped to arrange. That song would also be sampled by Eminem on My Name Is and allow for the working class musicians, in a way, to rub shoulders with American hip-hop's elite.
That aggression on Pay Up And Look Big continues on the outwardly confrontational Who D'Ya Think You're Talking To? that portrays a back-and-forth argument how over the song's duration, they both come to the realisation that there's no need to argue over what probably was such a petty matter anyway. As the song develops, there's some complimenting done about how they "don't make 'em like you no more" and how either one of them is there to lend a hand when need's be. Even with this, they still return to having a go at each other on the closing lines, before abruptly ending before one of them can tell the other to sod off in no uncertain terms.
The mad performance culminates in a seven minute long version of I'm A Rocker, a staple of the band's Jamboree Bag records of the time, as well as their debut One Fing 'N' Annuver from four years prior. Considering the original is around three minutes, it makes a change to see it performed for over double that length of time with more romping interludes complete with that signature of Dave's bouncing bass and Chas' rolling piano as well as Mickey Burt keeping time properly behind them holding the song together. Towards the end, there's a nice little bass solo from Dave which then builds back into the main band sound and a well-placed guitar solo from the incredible Albert Lee who is one of the twentieth century's most underrated musicians and became a core part of Chas & Dave's band on specials such as their Knees-Up series in the early eighties.
Don't Give A Monkey's finishes with one of the band's proper rock and roll tunes, namely Scruffy Old Cow, which had been abbreviated here as Scruffy Old *!*?* and slightly shortened in terms of the track's length from some eight minutes to a short and sweet four and a quarter. It picks up from where I'm A Rocker left off in terms of its mix between an actual song and small interludes that prominently features the likes of the aforementioned Albert Lee and his clever fingerpicking style that blows even Mark Knopfler out the water. It doesn't get more energetic than Scruffy Old Cow in terms of Chas & Dave offerings and this Abbey Road performance captures them at their best.
With Don't Give A Monkey's being a record of two halves, it makes it one of the more varied albums in the esteemed duo's vast back catalogue and also one of the best. Coming with some of their fan favourites as well as a rocking live gig on the second half means it's likely to please pretty much everyone, and if you don't have a smile on your face once you've listened to it then you must be doing something wrong.
If you want to pick up a copy, I'll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2Npqfm1
Or if you'd prefer, here's a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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