After a lengthy hiatus the band’s primary songwriter Tony Mortimer has stepped back into the spotlight with the release of his debut solo album Songs from the Suitcase. A mature collection, it's a timely reminder of the songwriting powerhouse that lit up the charts for almost a decade.
East 17 hit the charts running with their first single House of Love, composed by Tony and Robin Goodfellow and released in the summer of 1992. The frantic track not only reached number 10 on the Official UK Singles chart but was a smash across Europe, Japan and Australia.
The band’s debut album Walthamstow was released the following year and shot to number one, delivering six UK chart hits including top five singles Deep and It’s Alright.
However, it's their 1994 Christmas number one Stay Another Day that became the band’s signature hit. The ballad won Tony a highly coveted Ivor Novello Award and is now synonymous with seasonal radio programming.
We talk to Tony about his return to songwriting...
I started to record some songs for both East17 and myself that I had previously written. There was no intention for an album as such, I guess because I was so unsure as to what they would sound like all together. However after about 5 songs in both the record company and myself were convinced I could continue with my stuff and have an album and that's how it came about. I am so glad I took the chance, it has changed life enormously.
Stay Another Day won you an Ivor Novello Award and has become a perennial Christmas classic. How did the song come about?
My brother committed suicide when I was 19 and I wanted to write a song about it. A song about missing someone and how I wish I could have them back for just a day so I could do and say all the things I should. I am blessed and grateful that the public accepted such a personal song and made it what it is.
You’ve written so many other great pop songs such as Deep and House of Love. Other than Stay Another Day. Which East 17 song are you most proud of and why?
Firstly that's a massive compliment thank you. Different songs have different meanings and come from so many different places so there isn't one that cover's everything but my fondest little baby I guess is Deep. I was a young teenager and spent so many weeks on the lyrics in my bedroom. Its so embarrassing to sing live now it's hilarious and always makes me laugh. It was based on LLCoolJ's I Need Love. The chord progression like so many songs is based mostly on Johns Lennon's Imagine (C to F) Also it has one of my earliest and coolest basslines that I have ever written.
When you look at the current feud between One Direction and The Wanted does it make you feel nostalgic about the old Take That/East 17 rivalry?
This is the first I've heard it said, I had absolutely no idea there was a feud. to be honest we wasn't a manufactured band (we all grew up together and I put the band together based on New Kids On The Block). We wasn't styled or had songs written for us so no they don't really remind me of us although there can be comparisons made. Good luck to them I hope they enjoy it, live the dream like I did and raise a little hell haha! It's over so quickly.
Yes definitely. End Of The Line was captured in probably my darkest moment. I love capturing moments like this so I can look back on them in the future. Songs for me are like photos, with a week long exposure on my life at that time. Its interesting when I sing a song that comes from a place where you no longer are, tiny little freeze frames. 'All I Got' is also a song from around that time. I have made myself a promise to try and cheer up on my next album haha!
Is there a song you wish you’d written?
Oh the list is endless. It will change while writing this but I will put four cos I'm such an indecisive Libran.
Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley (Mark James). Games Without Frontiers by Peter Gabriel. Tears Of A Clown by Smokey Robinson. In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins... wow I could go on and on...and on.
Which songwriter, alive or dead, do you most rate and why?
Well I think Prince. He just has it all. His lyrics are amazing and sometimes quite abstract. His music in his songs create many fusions. His vocals are so versatile he is more like three artists than one. He is for me the closest thing we have to a modern day Mozart or Beethoven. Just my opinion.
Do you prefer performing or songwriting?
Ah the question. They are such separate animals pleasing two completely different sides of my personality but if I'm pushed I'd say... songwriting.
Words: Russell Iliffe, PRS for Music