When one thinks of music of the nineties, the most prevalent genre (apart from grunge) was that of the boy band. From the UK’s Take That to America’s *NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys right through to our own Human Nature, they were everywhere during the decade. One boy based group that really stood out for a number of reasons was East 17.
Hailing from Walthamstow, London, and formed in 1991, East 17 achieved eighteen Top 20 singles and four Top 10 albums in their homeland. Worldwide, they sold over twenty million records. Australia, in particular, seemed to rabidly embrace the band and the gleefully serrated edge they took to the ‘boy band’ formula, with their shaved heads and tattoos. Take That they were not.
After splitting up in 1997, they are now back as a three-piece consisting of original members Tony Mortimer, John Hendy and Terry Coldwell, and set to return to our shores this year.
“We kept trying to reform the band three times and it hadn’t worked previously. This time, I think we’ve got it right,” says reunion member Tony Mortimer, with a refreshing down to earth and unpretentious vibe about him. “The record company, FOD Records in Italy, are big fans of the band. Once we got the new deal, there was no pressure to move to any deadlines of anything like that. We just said to ourselves that we would go with it and see what happen; to write and have fun. Once being in a band stops being fun, it isn’t worth doing”. This reconvening has resulted in this year’s Dark Light album, the band’s fifth full-length studio release.
“It’s great to be making music again. I think we have at least another three albums in us. We’re very much taking it as it comes,” recounts Mortimer. “I’m really enjoying the song writing process in particular. That challenge to make words and music fit together and being inspired by the world around me is one of the most compelling experiences and processes of making music”.
East 17 in 2012 are very much a band that have learnt from their past excesses and misdeeds. The most infamous of these would perhaps be former member Brian Harvey’s controversial and rather foolish comments to the media regarding the positive aspects of the drug Ecstasy. Harvey’s comments caused an absolute whirlwind of negative press for the band in the U.K., to the point where the comments were discussed by then-Prime Minister John Major in the House Of Commons.
Mortimer has a rather refreshing and interesting take on the whole affair. “I think the band was over by the time Brian said what he said,” he explains, “it didn’t really impact on us like the way everyone thinks it did. It was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for the first part of our career.”
East 17 has nothing but fond memories of Australia from their tour in their heyday here. “There were over a thousand people waiting for us at the airport when we arrived. We had honestly never seen anything quite like it. It really was Beatles-like: screaming girls at the concerts and sheer pandemonium wherever we went,” remembers Mortimer excitedly. “It was a truly unforgettable visit. The people are so genuine and charming. I’ve been dying to go back there for many years.”
Refreshingly, Mortimer is determined to move East 17 forward as a musical entity and refuses to solely rest on the band’s past fortunes. “I can promise the world that this reformation is not an easy money grab and us hitting that button marked ‘easy nostalgia’. Reforming the band is quite an invigorating experience. For me, it has to progress, hence the passion and focus towards taking the band in new directions musically. If that stops happening, it’s not worth doing it.”
Older and wiser, it is heartening to see East 17 picking up where they left off and creating music again. Those old enough to remember the halcyon days of the boy band will undoubtedly be excited about their return to Australia in the near future.