The Rise and Fall of East 17 – What Went Wrong?

Twenty years ago, the music world’s perception of boy bands include good-looking young boys who can sing, dance and make young girls (and gays) fall for them. Take That’s marketing strategy worked. Gary, Howard, Jason, Mark and Robbie are the types of guys your mom would want you to marry. The good boy image they project meant they need to follow some very strict rules like no partying in public, do not comment on political or social issues and no girlfriends.

East 17 - The Original 'Bad Boys' of British Pop.. hip-hop and RnB

East 17 – The Original ‘Bad Boys’ of British Pop.. hip-hop and RnB

East 17 did the opposite. Actually, I was surprised when I found out that East 17 were the ‘rival’ group of Take That. While Gary Barlow and the boys loved to sing ballads and revival hits, East 17 were original in the sense that Tony Mortimer wrote majority of their songs (all originals… am I right?), they’re not afraid to speak their mind and they’re sincerely project the ‘i-don’t-care-I-will-live-my-life-just-deal-with-it’ type of image.

People close to my age here in the Philippines might remember East 17 when they became E-17 on the late 90’s for the song ‘Each Time’ (included in the Now 5 compilation album). As a fan of MTV Asia Classic (every weekdays 11-11:30am), I’ve seen the music videos of the boys for House of Love, Deep and Stay Another Day.

East 17 is composed of Tony Mortimer, Brian Harvey, Terence Coldwell and John Hendy. Tony Mortimer is a young rapper/songwriter who impressed the bosses of London Records. He was offered a recording contract but there’s one condition – he needs to look for male members to form a boyband.

Later on, he recruits breakdancers Terence Coldwell and John Hendy. Brian Harvey was originally hired as one of the back-up dancers. His designation was changed when they heard him sing in one of the recording sessions. From a backgrounder, he was promoted to lead singer.

EAST 17 - Terence, John, Brian and Tony

EAST 17 – Terence, John, Brian and Tony

For me, the boys of East 17 didn’t really bank on good looks and sex appeal. They actually look like normal guys who are in a state of rebellion. I think that is the reason why they clicked. While other boybands serenade on how they want girls to fall for them due to their happily ever after plan, East 17 wrote songs on how they will love you from your head to your toes. On the bright side, the boys also produced songs related to youth concerns like violence and achieving your dreams.

We can say that East 17 was a versatile band – they do hiphop, pop dance, rap and even ballad. The biggest hit of the band that is often played during Christmas song is the 1994 single ‘Stay Another Day’. The listeners loved the song because the lyrics is very personal. Some might relate it to being away from your loved ones during the holiday season. The story behind the successful song has something to do with Tony Mortimer’s brother, who committed suicide.  Imagine four bad boys singing a ballad like that on Christmas? Tony Mortimer even won numerous awards for it.

The ‘bad boys with a heart’ image proved to be beneficial to the group… until that one 5am radio interview that triggered the decline of East 17’s success.

Sometime in 1997, lead singer Brian Harvey got involved in a controversial morning radio interview, where he revealed his use of illegal drugs and even said that there’s nothing wrong with it. Yes, they do project that punk image, but he needs to keep in mind that teenage fans look up to the group. The group even reached the House of Commons. From then on, music channels and radio stations refused to play their music. Brian Harvey was sacked from the group and the lead songwriter Tony Mortimer left the group a few months after. Just like that, the once leading UK ‘boy band’ was dropped by the music industry.

A few years after, Brian Harvey reunited with John and Terence to form the RnB group ‘Each Time’. They weren’t as successful and eventually disbanded.

So what happened to the members of East 17 after the band’s demise?

Brian Harvey
pursued a solo career. Man, this guy can really sing and his voice is unique! He was on his way up until he got involved in another accident. As of writing, he is busy working on solo stuff.

Terence Coldwell traveled and did various gigs to support himself and his family.

John Hendy now owns a roofing business and is married to a very lovely woman.

Tony Mortimer is the only member who was able to save up his earnings and can still live a comfortable life due to the success of the songs he penned during the peak of East 17. I am just not sure if he worked with other artists.

EAST 17 reunited in 2006... for one gig and a sad documentary

EAST 17 reunited in 2006… for one gig and a sad documentary

The group had a one-time reunion gig in 2006, which was captured in a documentary. The supposed major reunion attempt turned out to be a riot. They were supposed to sign for a new recording contract, but Tony punched Brian when the latter didn’t show up on time in an important meeting.

The documentary turned out to be a heartbreak for loyal East 17 fans.

EAST 17 Today (minus Brian Harvey)

EAST 17 Today (minus Brian Harvey)

As of writing, Tony Mortimer, Terence Coldwell and John Harvey reunited for an album released late last year called ‘Dark Light’ which is more of rock and ballad. Well, they’re now in their 40’s now. It would be awkward to watch them release new hip-hop singles again with their female daughters watching lol. In an interview, the trio said that the music of their new album is a bit similar to the sound of U2, Beatles and Kings of Leon.

I know that East 17 failed a lot of times, but I am still hoping they’d continue their craft particularly Tony Mortimer. I think the lyrics of the songs he penned are better and edgier compared to Gary Barlow (sorry haha). I saw some of their recent gig videos on YouTube and their fans still know the lyrics to their songs by heart. Gah, I want to watch them perform live!

Do you like the songs of East 17? What can you say about the group’s history? In any way you look at it, public image is everything for in the music industry. Just like that, East 17 collapsed. I’m still hoping Brian Harvey will rejoin the group… but he needs to be serious this time.

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