When East 17 stumbled into the Walthamstow limelight in late 1991 they had little idea that their rabble-rousing brand of boy-band pop would create such a storm. Indeed, at the outset, a young Tony Mortimer had been on the verge of signing a solo deal with London Records until ex-Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins suggested that what the world needed was a boy-band antidote to Take That and a band that bad girls could fall in love with. Of course, what Mortimer says now is that he really thought the world needed a UK version of New Kids On The Block and when you think about it this is not a million miles from the inevitable truth. The resultant chaos produced a 1992 debut single, House Of Love, which sold 600,000 copies and a debut album that hit the No.1 spot the following year. The band went on to achieve 18 Top Twenty hits (including Deep, Steam, Let It Rain, It’s Alright and Christmas No.1 Stay Another Day, the latter remaining No.1 for five weeks) as well as four Top Ten albums and sales of over twenty million records. And when East 17 finally split in 1997 it was heralded (and still remains) one of the greatest break-ups in pop history.
EAST 17 are Tony Mortimer, John Hendy, Terry Coldwell and Blair Dreelan but it hasn’t always been this way. Back in 1991 Mortimer’s school-friend Hendy had been hired to provide backing vocals whilst Coldwell and Brian Harvey (who were three years younger) were originally commandeered as dancers. Tellingly, however, Mortimer heard Harvey singing along in a recording session, noted that his own songwriting skills and rap sensibilities absolutely suited Harvey’s fluid R & B vocal overtones and the latter was elevated to lead singer. The ploy worked and soon East 17 were ubiquitous not just in the UK but throughout the world; It’s Alright made them the biggest band in Mongolia, stayed at No.1 in the Australian charts for seven weeks and when the band visited the country the airport was so mobbed with fans they had to sneak out through the back doors; in 1994 the band’s second album Steam reached No.1 and spawned the epic ballad Stay Another Day which earned Mortimer an Ivor Novello Award; in 1995 the band played to 100,000 in Moscow’s Red Square then watched boggle eyed as the usually stony faced security services danced and sang along with the crowd (some of whom, the band found out later) had sold their shoes in order to be able to attend the show; and in 1996 even a duet with Gabrielle called If You Ever reached No.2.
In 1997 with little serendipity East 17’s world came crashing down around them. Harvey did a radio interview in which he suggested drugs were cool and “ecstasy can make you a better person” and whatever one thinks of his comments now it’s plain to see that they were ill-timed: the country’s media had barely recovered from the ecstasy-related death of Leah Betts and the subsequent tabloid furore was part-fuelled by the singer’s apparent moral abandonment; Harvey was sacked, then Mortimer left and the band imploded. A year later Harvey rejoined but it was never going to work without Mortimer and a No.2 single entitled Time on Telstar was an isolated incident. It was time to call time.
Fast forward to 2011 and if a new single called Secret Of My Life is anything to go by then new lead singer Blair Dreelan is a revelation. Recruited like Harvey after Mortimer heard him singing backing vocals, Dreelan is no stranger to the pop firmament having enrolled at performing arts school East Berks Langley where he studied acting and singing. Some years later he reached the latter stages of the finals of X Factor, signed a publishing deal with Buck Music and penned the chart-topping Shout For England for Dizzee Rascal.
Interestingly, Dreelan remembers one day arriving back from school and a friend announcing that he just had to see this amazing band on Top Of The Pops. “It was East 17 performing It’s Alright,” he recalls now, “and he was jumping all round the room. After a minute or so I joined in.” Dreelan has retained this schoolboy energy somewhat, a fact that is borne out when you meet him. And if you take a second to consider the man’s dulcet tones then you come to realize that East 17 have stumbled upon a rare, latent talent.
Earlier this year T Mobile commissioned a Royal Wedding spoof commercial which garnered more than twenty million You Tube Clips in a couple of weeks. To soundtrack the ad you can bet they were looking for something cheeky, ireeverend and loved by the great British public. And you can bet that they didn’t have to look much further than East 17’s The House Of Love.
In June this year East 17 signed to FOD Records and in July the band will be releasing Secret Of My Life, the first fruit of recording sessions that will see an album release in September. The song is as catchy as hell and the strongest record the band have released since Stay Another Day – although one listen to the new album will convince you that there’s plenty more where that came from. It’s great to have them back.
All content © 2011 by FOD Records and East 17