The band began in 1992 when Tony Mortimer was promised a record deal after he showcased his own material. The deal was granted under the condition that he form a group, which was the format London Records were looking for. The original roles in the band were soon altered when Brian Harvey, who was intended to be a backup singer and dancer, was heard singing along during a recording session. He was duly promoted to lead vocalist. The group’s other members are Terence Coldwell and Jonathan Hendy.
Mortimer wrote the vast majority of the group’s songs, which often contained rap verses vocalized by him to complement Harvey’s more fluid R&B style vocals. The group was usually seen as a grittier, more political and hip-hop or rap-aligned band to rival boy Take That and much less so 5ive, since 5ive frequently included hip hop verses in almost all of their songs.
In 1994, upon the release of their second album, Steam, they scored their only UK number one single, the 1994 Christmas chart topper “Stay Another Day,” which remained at the top for five weeks. In 1996, they hit number 2 in a duet with Gabrielle called “If You Ever.”
They also appeared on the Childliners record The Gift Of Christmas alongside acts such as MN8, Boyzone, E.Y.C., Sean Maguire, Deuce, Ultimate Kaos, Let Loose, Backstreet Boys, Peter Andre, Michelle Gayle, Dannii Minogue and many more.
Following the somewhat low-key release of the album Up All Night, their drop in appeal in comparison to previous albums was attributed to the fact that Mortimer stepped down as the only songwriter. The album’s songwriting duties were split among the four members of East 17, although all of the singles released from the album were penned by Mortimer.
In 1997, Harvey was engulfed in a drug controversy when he claimed he took 12 Ecstasy pills in one night, saying, “It’s cool to take drugs”. He also claimed that Ecstasy “can make you a better person’. The act went against the group’s “boy band” image, and there was a huge media uproar, with questions being asked in the House of Commons. The group’s career and reputation was tarnished. Harvey was sacked, and Mortimer later decided to leave as well.
Harvey, Coldwell and Hendy all attempted a comeback in 1998 under the name of E-17, and got off to a good start with “Each Time,” which reached number 2 in the UK. But without Mortimer’s songwriting influence, the band struggled, and after rather disappointing sales of the next single, “Betcha Can’t Wait”, and album, Resurrection, the band eventually decided to disband in 1999.
After reforming for the one-off gig in 2006 it was reported that East 17 had split up again, since John was unable to fully commit to the band because his roofing business took a lot of his time. Friction also flared up again between Harvey and Mortimer, resulting in Mortimer’s departing and the rest of the boys have performed as a three-piece since then.