Formed in 1992, Walthamstow boys Tony Mortimer, Brian Harvey, John Hendy and Terry Coldwell reached worldwide fame as East 17. Launched at a time when the boyband was prevalent, East 17 were the grittier alternative to nice boys Take That. All went well for five years as the quarter achieved hit after hit — from “Deep” their Gabrielle duet “If You Ever” via Christmas Number One “Stay Another Day”, however things turned sour when in 1997 singer Brian Harvey claimed Ecstasy “can make you a better person”. Harvey saw himself sacked and soon after songwriter Tony Mortimer parted with Hendy and Coldwell due to creative differences. All of a year later, Hendy and Coldwell invited Harvey back into the fold and they relaunched themselves as the trio E-17 with somewhat limited success. Mortimer, till now, has refused to rejoin his former band mates. However, having been asked by Born Free to join Bryan Adams, Peter Andre, Mutya Buena and Gabriella Cilmi in the line-up for their Wild & Live concert on November 14th, Mortimer decided that instead of launching his new solo material he would treat fans to much awaited reunion. zap! bang! jumped at the chance to find out more from Tony Mortimer.
East 17 has reformed in the past without you. What made you decide to get all four members back together?
It just seemed the right thing to do like a natural progression but it was kind of a bi-product of us all talking previously and getting along.
How does it feel to be back with the guys?
It feels like a cloud has been lifted. It is so good to move on from the past because we all go back a long long way. I mean I was in the same class at school with John for years.
You left the group after Brian Harvey’s controversial ecstasy comments. Were they the sole reason you left?
Not at all, it was merely the hair and the camel’s back. I was just so tired, I wasn’t eating and I was very ill. I simply didn’t have the fight left in me that was needed to continue.
Christmas number one was pretty cool.
How did you feel when the other three continued as E17?
I watched with great interest because if it were more successful than when I was involved, it would have been a nightmare.
Will this be a one off, or will there be an album and tour to follow?
We are not sure what will happen, at the moment we have put no pressure on us and that seems to be really working. I will always be able to write songs and Brian has a tremendous tenor voice so it’s always there if need be.
East 17 was one of the biggest boy bands of the 90s. What was the highlight for you?
There are so many but Christmas number one was pretty cool.
What was your favourite East 17 song?
At the moment it’s “Deep”.
If you could have been in any other pop act, which would it have been?
Wouldn’t have changed it for the world and everything else would probably have been a step down.
You solo material is quite different from East 17. Is this due to a change in your musical taste as you have aged?
I love all types of music. I am always evolving as a musician and songwriter but I did make a conscious effort to move away from rap as I find that easy and wanted to sharpen some of my other tools a bit more. I’m still searching and clearly have some commitment/decision making issues and cant stick to one type
How hard have you found it to establish yourself away from East 17?
Hmmm… very difficult but luckily it has given me the most important thing, which was lots of time to enjoy being a father and watch my girls grow. They have been a blessing.
I am always evolving as a musician and songwriter but I did make a conscious effort to move away from rap as I find that easy.
Did you ever consider the reality TV route?
Yes I would like to do a survival thing where I am tested definitely. I think an Osbourne type thing would be fun. I would struggle in the jungle though to be honest, as I don’t even like vegetables let alone insects.
What are your views of the instant celebrity offered by programmes such as X Factor?
I feel for them, one minute they are on top of the world and the next they are back where they started. This can have a terrible effect on people but I hope there are no casualties, but I guess there always will be with exploitation. Fame is very hard to adjust to if you take it too seriously. I just hope there are proper therapists with some personal experience of fame available for them.
If East 17 were at the start of their careers, would they have got past Simon Cowell?
You are currently working on a solo album, what can people expect?
Hopefully some good musicianship to show what I have been upto. I think overall perhaps a slightly more bluesy funk sound.
Is the dream to reach the fame you enjoyed at the height of East 17 or are you happy to just keep making music?
I think that’s probably thinking a little to far ahead but I would love to visit different towns and maybe countries playing my songs and letting people hear their youth. In fact I would be honoured with doing simply that.
You will be performing at the Wild & Live concert in aid of the Born Free foundation, how did you get involved?
I bought a re-location truck for Born Free back in the 90s that goes around Kenya saving elephants, rhinos and hundreds of animals. I hope to one day get out there to Kenya and help out and be a bit more hands on, I love the Jungle, perhaps I just want to be like Tarzan deep down.
Wild & Live takes place at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 14th November at 7:30pm. Tickets start from £45 and and are on sale now here.
The Born Free Foundation is an international wildlife charity working throughout the world to stop individual wild animal suffering and protect threatened species in the wild.
East 17 fans will be offered a special 10 percent discount by quoting code 5172 when booking.