Interview with East 17
If someone had told me when I was eight that I’d be calling Tony Mortimer’s mobile number in twenty years time, firstly I would have asked them what a mobile phone was, then I would have passed out… “You was eight, was you? That makes me feel SO old!!” replies the delightful Tony Mortimer in his unshifting Walthamstow lilt when I put this to him. East 17, pedallers of ‘House of Love’, ‘Stay’, ‘It’s Alright’ and the immortalised Christmas no. 1 ‘Stay’, were childhood idols of mine – and no doubt, yours. Honest about their path to reformation after a Snakes ‘n’ Ladders-like journey to this point, Tony reaffirms his idolatry status to me by being a bloody nice guy…
So Tony, what’s the plan at the moment, is this a rehearsal period for you boys?
We are rehearsing now; they’re actually all waiting downstairs for me because we’ve been doing rehearsals this morning.
And this time around, the music business is so unpredictable, so was it just instinct told you to get back together this time around and make a go of it?
No, well we tried it didn’t we a couple of times and we kept messing it up, so we kind of gave up on it, then Terry rang me a couple of years ago and said ‘do you fancy just going in to the studio to see what we come up with?’, ‘cause we’re mates originally, so I said, ‘yeah, cool, is Brian involved?’ and he said, ‘no he wants to do his solo thing’ – I think he’s editing movies, or wants to get into editing, so I was like, ‘alright, cool’. We tried it last time and we were like right, we need to do an album, we need to do a tour and put too much pressure on it. This time we just sort of had a laugh to see what would happen, and we’d kind of given up hope of anything happening, then we got offered a record deal. This record company’s fantastic as well; they’re like an old school company that do it the old fashioned way, the proper way, so it’s all been a bit amazing really. It’s been – as you say – an unpredictable thing. I’d love to say it was all part of my master plan, but I’ve got to be honest, it wasn’t.
Sometimes when you take something off the boil, you give it the space to do what it needs to do…
Yeah, and do you know what, I really believe in that now because that’s what happened. We were working with this producer guy who was young and really hip, him and his partner, and that’s Blair who’s ended up being in the band now because we let that friendship develop as well. We didn’t audition anyone, we just sort of asked him and said we’ll see what happens.
It’s been a very natural progression to add Blair in then; it hasn’t been engineered, so you must feel quite good about that?
Yeah, quite the opposite – we wanted a girl. Yeah, so that’s what we was thinking about. Thinking about that now, that’s just weird, but we thought a girl singer would be fantastic… it’d certainly cheer us up on stage!
Yeah, it’d give you something to look at and balance the smell of a tour bus with you smelly boys in it…
She would not want to be with men, she’d have to have her own one. I live at home with me missus and two girls, so I live in a very feminine environment that they rule, so when I go out with the boys it’s lovely! Sometimes you need that, just to go out with the lads and talk absolute nonsense and do things lads do, so I’m looking forward to the tour. Nowadays we know when each other needs space, which is really important; that’d be advice for any band, ‘cause sometimes you just need to walk off and get ten minutes on your own. You spend so much time in a close environment, I mean we’re gonna tour the UK first, so we’ll be on a tour bus together and things can get right up your nose after a while. You know, if someone picks their toes at the start of the tour, it’s funny, but by the end of the tour, you wanna kill ‘em!
You mentioned your lovely lady and your girls – how do you prepare for that mentally? Do you just think, it’s not forever, and it’s a really positive thing?
Yeah, I think exactly that: it’s not forever, and it’s a really positive thing and it’s good. It helps me be less grumpy at home and it helps the relationship as well; it kinda refreshes it when you go back, you know, which is always nice! Then that lasts about 10 minutes…!
I want to hark back to when I used to watch you on Top of the Pops. What you gave us back then, was a way into rap or urban music because you drew on those influences for your own music. What was influencing you at that time to write those tracks?
I was influenced a lot when I started writing in my childhood by Prince, really. Me and my friends would listen to Prince and he’d have a rock song, then the next song on the album would be a funk song, then the next would have a bit of rap, so it was always diverse. I’ve always done that really. I think the new album is slightly different from the old East 17, ‘cause it’s all of us writing together – it’s more of a live sound now.
Is that what you’re going to be bringing to the Norwich show, a live band? And what’s it like having these other bods on stage with you?
Yeah, it’s lovely. A live band, that’s what we’re doing at the moment. You get nervous an’ that, but I’ve known these guys for a while; I’ve been touring with them for years and years, so we know each other. When I’d go out and do anything on my own, I’d use these guys. We know each other well, we’ll see how it goes and hopefully it should be a bit of fun. So yeah, it’s gonna be live; we’ve got a live drummer, bassist, keyboardist – I’m playing some live guitar – couple of backing vocalists, so it’s a nice live band.
With a live band though, it makes the stage space smaller for dancing; you were a very energetic band back in the day, but now you’re just a tad older, do you break out any of those moves?
We’ve kind of said that when we get to big stages, we will but as a rule on the smaller stages, we won’t ‘cause this is gonna be nice, close, intimate stuff. We’re gonna give Blair a chance to get to know the crowd; it’s very difficult for him because he’s nervous as well. He’s filling big shoes there, you know.
I’ve watched some of the interviews with him now though, and he seems to be dealing with it just grand…
He’s a great character, a big character and you need that because most people would crumble at the thought of it and say, ‘look, I can’t do this.’
I have to talk about your style back in the day… I think you were the only band ever to champion Eskimo fashion with your big white coats in the ‘Stay’ video –
- Yep, we were famous in Eskimo land!
So who gets the honours of styling you now?
Well we sacked the Eskimo off to the North Pole and now I speak to John; I get advice from John really. John’s the stylist really, in the band; he’s a very cool guy. We were having these conversations earlier today actually, which shops to buy stuff from, so if I need advice, I go to Johnny boy! He’s like the band stylist! Sometimes you’ll go to a video shoot where they have stuff for you, but sometimes it’s nice to wear what you feel comfortable in. I’ve got my stage pants that I’ve been wearing every show for 25 years… nah, I’m only joking.
It’s important to say that this isn’t just a retrospective tour because obviously you’ve got Blair, and you’ve got new material as well. Is there a new album on its way?
Yeah, we’ve got an album coming out for October, I think, called ‘Recharged’. That’s us, the old boys are recharged.
Apart from paying homage to the old tracks, is new material your focus now?
Yeah, we’re looking forward to getting some old stuff out there, but this tour is gonna be, like, all the old songs really. We can’t just turn up and do new stuff, ‘cause people will be like, ‘what you doing?!’ and throw more tomatoes than they’re gonna throw anyway! We’re gonna do ‘House of Love’, ‘Deep’, ‘Stay’… we want all the crowd to be energetic because you’ve got 10 years on us!
What’s interesting is that you guys achieved domination all over the world without the aid of the internet – do you think it’s easier or harder to get their sound out nowadays?
I think it’s easier, isn’t it, ‘cause it’s all going into one giant world. I think it’s easier now, but it’s harder to make money! I think it’s harder to sell records nowadays because they’re all becoming free. It’s all changing in that sense, but I don’t know, as a UK act it’s very difficult to break into Europe because we’re an island nation, we’re a little bit cut off from what’s happening, so it can be tricky. Luckily though, we’ve always had a bit of luck in Europe and we’re doing well at the moment in Germany and Italy, which is always nice!
I’ve noticed you’re on Twitter – that’s a different world as well, as you never had to think about social networking the first time around…
I am on Twitter, but I don’t want to bore people, d’you know what I mean?! Saying, ‘I’m now going into the studio,’ or ‘I’m going to the toilet!’ People would get bored of it. I get accused of not tweeting enough.
I thought that actually Tony – I think you should tweet more… Maybe not your toilet activities though.
Yeah, alright, not the toilet stuff but alright, I’ll do some tweeting today.
Now Tony, I have to get to a serious matter – whatever happened to the East 17 dog?
Do you know how many people are asking that?! Three times today!
No way! It’s very important, that’s why!
It is very important but the dog… died. There you go. Levi died – it was John’s dog and I think she was about 18 when she died or summink, so she got a good life out of it. Isn’t it sad?!
East 17 come to the Waterfront on September 11th. For tickets, go to www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk.
Thanks to the Waterfront, you can make your childhood dreams come true, by being one of two people to win a pair of tickets to the gig, including an exclusive MEET AND GREET with the band, plus a T-shirt to take home as souvenir.
To win, just tell us WHAT THE NAME OF THE EAST 17 DOG WAS, and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 8th along with your telephone number.