MUSIC / Double take: Joseph Gallivan on Charles and Eddie at the Cambridge Corn Exchange

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The Independent Culture
DUOPHONIC, the CD by salt-and-pepper soul duo Charles and Eddie, has been one of the continuing delights of 1993. At last, a pair of classy singers who could handle a harmony and write a decent lyric. As 'Would I Lie To You?' went to Number One in 14 countries, they seemed like a fresh set of tyres for the big wheels of Motown. Re-treads, maybe, but in the age of sampling and rap their as-live approach has made them many friends.

Having done only a few acoustic showcases (to record company 'suits') in this country they were understandably apprehensive as they limbered up for the first show of the tour at the Corn Exchange, Cambridge. Not of blowing it through nerves, you understand - quite the opposite. 'We didn't want to over-rehearse the band,' said Eddie (the Hispanic one with the long hair, a dead ringer for Neil in The Young Ones), at the soundcheck. 'Two weeks in New York, and a few days here are enough. We want to save something extra for the actual performance. We're feeling great. Cambridge must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.' Eddie greeted enthusiastically the news (not true, as it happened) that the Professor of Musicology would be attending the show that night. 'Man, we were only giving it about 10 per cent there,' he said, after they had run through a couple of numbers, hands in pockets, for the benefit of the sound man. 'Just wait.' Since their voices rang sweet and clear through the empty hall, this was quite a promise for the evening ahead.

And the 700 people who turned up were not disappointed. The remaining 90 per cent delivered by the boys consisted of looking smart, goofing about, and digging deep into themselves for that precious element of soul. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, all the way from America, Charles and Eddie]' hollered the MC after several minutes of funky workout by the six piece band, and the pair squeezed themselves between a couple of shin-threatening podia and skipped across the stage. Launching into 'Where Do We Go From Here?', a mid-tempo pleader, we knew at once we were starting from Marvin territory. On CD they're clearly cooking with gas, as they smoulder in unison, but under live conditions, Charles' smooth tones went electric, coming over crisp and reedy. From there, they slipped straight into another sad number about a broken relationship, 'House Is Not A Home'. On record you imagine Eddie to be the one who provides the supplementary whoops and hollers while Charles holds the melody, but on stage you can see how skilfully they blur the line. After singing the chorus together, climaxing with the simple 'I miss you so. . . ', Charles threw it open - 'Sing it Eddie]' So Mr Chacon rendered a verse in his version of their rather rococco style, splitting syllables, leaping into falsetto, sighing and crooning. Clearly they were enjoying themselves.

'Hey Cambridge, why you so quiet?' Charles teased, after orchestrating the first of many singalongs, this one in 'Father To Son'. Charles and Eddie's nascent stagecraft owes plenty to the world of hip hop. Like rappers they tossed lead lines back and forward between them. So too, their cordless radio mikes left them free to roam the stage, staking out their territory and, as they warmed up, making fun of each other. Bare-chested beneath his four-button safari jacket, Charles wriggled about doing 'the nasty dance' and ritually humiliated his partner for his wholly unfunky grooving. In his big-cuffed Hamlet shirt, leather trousers and suede jerkin, Eddie seemed otherwise content to concentrate on his lungs, and to stroke his long glossy hair. (After all, this is a man who in his album credits thanks 'Diane Kessler at Guiseppe FranCo, for taking care of my hair and being a best friend'.)

Eddie's second instrument (after the hairbrush) is guitar. 'December 2,' his acoustic elegy for a friend who died of Aids, is another song that's high on pain, but suffered from being a little rushed under the hot spotlight. However, the mental candyfloss of 'Love Is A Beautiful Thing' was the perfect follow-up. The duo were beginning to yield a surprising number of songs that are worth the price of going to hear them. The little guitar (stolen from Buffalo Springfield) and the way both singers can slip into the purified tones of Michael Jackson are comforting quality reference points.

'Would I Lie To You?' was a hit all over again, but they finished with the old Stevie Wonder song 'Never Had A Dream Come True'. A cynic might suggest that going out on a cover version smacks of extreme caution. If you had been there, however, you would have seen that by then, they deserved to go out on any high of their choosing.