O2 Academy, Oxford
2nd September 2011
As is customary these days, “edgy” 90s boyband East 17 have (yet again) reformed, though this time the gaffe-prone proto-Dappy, Brian Harvey, has been replaced by the requisitely tattooed and baseball capped Blair Dreelan. Songwriter and rapper Tony Mortimer is back, sometimes brandishing a guitar (sadly hard to hear in the mix). The other two, John Hendy and Terry Coldwell – who don’t seem to have aged – look delighted to still be there.
The poppier stuff like House of Love, It’s Alright, Let It Rain and the slightly risqué (if you were in your early teens at the time) Deep and Steam is still fun, but John and Terry – who do the occasional harmony and now stand in line with the others rather than dance behind them – still seem underused. In the slower, more R&B ones like Hold My Body Tight, Someone to Love, If You Ever and Around the World (which I’m sure didn’t use to sound so Lighthouse Family), Tony’s rapping seems lacklustre, but that could be due less to lack of effort and more because what worked in 1994 doesn’t work now.
Oddly, given the marketing opportunity, they only do one song from their imminent new album; if the rest of it is anything like the sub-Olly Murs Secret Of My Life, it’s probably just as well.
Tony’s songwriting is still impressive – Stay Another Day has outlived the output of most mid-90s boybands and remains one of the most memorable ballads of that decade – and he could surely still do a Gary Barlow and churn them out for X-Factor finalists. But for all the nostalgic excitement of the audience, it feels a little flat. Brian was the band’s Robbie and Mark in one, but Blair’s voice and banter seem to work so satisfactorily that it makes me wonder how necessary Brian was in the first place. Yet it still seems a bit pointless without him.