Bristol concert review
Comebacks are funny things. Compare and contrast Take That and East 17, two of the biggest boybands of the 90s. The former containing boys your mum wouldnít mind you bringing home; the latter full of more disreputable characters who would be less courteous around the family dinner table.
Take That lost a member, split up, reformed, regained their lost member, and now sell out stadiums. East 17 lost a member, split up, reformed, gained a new member, and this evening played upstairs on the smaller stage at the Bristol Academy on the first night of an eight-night rescheduled tour.
An attempted full reunion in 2006 was scuppered not only by band member John Hendy needing to spend more time on his roofing business, but also by Mortimer punching lead singer Brian Harvey for turning up late to a meeting.
In place of the now-departed Harvey, a talented musician and singer with an unfortunate predilection for saying stupid things about recreational drugs and a habit of running himself over with his own car, is the heavily-tattooed Blair Dreelan, whose smooth voice belies his imposing physical stature.
Dreelan may be the lead singer, but songwriter Tony Mortimer was the star of the show tonight. The only band member playing an instrument, guitar, he also played to the crowd, often standing on a raised step at the front of the small stage, accepting the plaudits and revelling in most of the audience (in which girls outnumbered boys at least five to one) knowing every single word of all but one song, their new single which was played first in the encore.
This gig was like travelling back in time two decades. Apart from a new member, East 17 have made no attempt at reinventing themselves. There were no dubstep breakdowns here, only pure 90s pop. New single Secret of My Life was the only curve ball of the night, a song with daytime airplay firmly in its sights and with its jangly guitars, a song that could comfortably have been recorded by someone like Olly Murs.
It was the classics that fans had come to the Academy 2 for, and it was the classics that they got, starting with House of Love and ending with Itís Alright and one of the many group sing-alongs led by Mortimer, a songwriter with an Ivor Novello to his name for Stay Another Day, the song he wrote for his brother Ollie who committed suicide, and as much a part of Christmas music nowadays as Slade and the Pogues, although the version played in Bristol didnít include sleigh bells.
Someone to Love showcased Dreelanís strong voice and a key change that Westlife would be proud of, while backing singer Julie took Gabrielleís role on If You Ever, with many in the crowd singing both the male and female parts at the top of their voices.
Tonight, East 17 turned back time to the mid-90s when they were at their peak and the show was all the better for that. The slightly re-jigged lineup gave their fans all the hits that they wanted to hear, letting Mortimerís songwriting shine through rather than the huge robots that their contemporaries now use as part of their shows. Who needs stadiums anyway
East 17, Bristol Academy 2, September 1, 2011: setlist:
House of Love