Victoria Pearson: You have just re-released your classic Christmas song ‘Stay Another Day’ Did you ever think that such a personal song for you would be such a big hit with the public?
Tony Mortimer : No I had no idea at all and it still… not baffles me but it’s a very pleasant surprise. I had no idea. It wasn’t planned. It was just one of those things where you plan songs, you write singles and you think: ‘That’s going to be big’ and then they are not, and it’s the one that you sort of don’t think about that people just like and from day one people said: ‘That’s nice we can all sing along to it.’
I should have written more songs like that.
VP: ‘Stay Another Day’ was the quiet song of the album wasn’t it? You wrote it about your brother and in a way it was a bit too personal a song for you too put out there. The record company made you put it out there.
TM: I didn’t want to put it out. It wasn’t so much that they made me do it, they just said it was a good song and they wanted to release it as a single so I said ‘No, you can’t release that one.’ They said ‘We are going to put this out for Christmas’, and everyone said yes! and I thought oh bloody hell I should have written a crap one! (laughs) it was a love song based on the loss of my brother and I thought it was going to be a little song on the album. Then it became a Christmas hit!
VP: I just remember it was so original because looking at East 17 at the time, you were all these streetwise guys looking like hard guys really, and then you all came out singing this beautiful sensitive song and I just thought wow! This is such a strong image! Such a beautiful song.
TM: Aww thank you that’s nice. It’s nice to hear that. As far as I see it I am the same person that wrote them all. The song was a different style from the rap and chanting style that we were known for. It was quite risky putting it out as a single because it was a different style, but you know that the public loved it and it is what it is, but I am so glad that they did release it.
VP: The re-release has been recorded with the Waltham Forest Youth choir. Is Walthamstow still an important place for you?
TM: I still have friends that live there. The majority of my childhood and my learning years were spent there. It’s where I developed my personality and it’s still an important place. I loved it there. It had everything I needed. On one side you had the urban station, that was the city life, and then on the other side you had the most beautiful forest which is Epping Forest.This used to be called ‘The Forest of Waltham’ hundreds of years ago and it was like this wonderful mix of two different worlds. It was like Narnia on your doorstep!
TM: I loved it, I loved it, and for me as a creative person, it was a very inspirational place to live as there are a lot of people that have come out of there that have done well and everywhere you look there are plaques on walls, you would go to the library, and there would be people going back 500 years that the schools were named after. I used to think they have come from here. I just thought it was normal you know when you are young you see things and you just think ‘Oh famous people come from here.’ It’s ok to be famous and come from Walthamstow. Because lots of other people have done it and they have gone on to become famous! There are big houses outside Lloyds Park there is that huge house to do with the art gallery and that used to be owned by William Morris and I used to think ‘How much money did he have 200 years ago?’
It inspired me. I thought ‘If he can do it so can I!’
VP: Totally and Walthamstow has a character when you go in the pie shops.
TM: For me to go back there, having gone through school there and now I am working with the school kids of today, it was fantastic and I was talking to them and telling them.
‘Just believe in yourself. Just follow your dreams.’ I hope that this latest version of ‘Stay Another Day’ is a real success for them and that it gives them wonderful experiences that they have never had before. I mean they were on ‘This Morning’ with Phil and Holly and that must have been fantastic for them. I hope it inspires the kids to go on later in life and do things. You know keep on going out there and kick some arse.
VP: I have to admit when I watched that video of ‘Stay Another Day’ of you performing the song with them, I felt quite emotional you know.
TM: Yes for me as well, when I was there. This is all coming just from some words I wrote in my bedroom.
VP: It’s looking at their little faces as they sing.
TM: Yes I know and the girl who sings on the second verse has got such an angelic voice, it’s pure. It’s fantastic and I hope that she goes on and does something more, she’s also a Grade 5 pianist as well, she’s talented.
VP: You have said that you are now ‘Mr Christmas’
TM: (laughs) yes! Obviously, it’s for a charity. It’s for CALM which is the Campain Against Living Miserably and that is a suicide charity. So if people want to play it in the future then the money goes there. That makes me feel really fulfilled in a strange way. I am blessed, it makes me feel better rather than people paying it towards me.
VP: It’s a really important charity as well isn’t it CALM?
TM: No nothing like that I didn’t get expelled I just had to change schools from Leyton to Walthamstow so I know all the schools all these kids come from but they have changed the names a lot of them. It’s lovely for me to hear that generation and now, this year it’s their song. It’s not about me at all. Obviously, it’s for a charity. It’s for CALM which is the Campaign Against Living Miserably and that is a suicide charity. So if people want to play it in the future then the money goes there. That makes me feel really fulfilled in a strange way. I am blessed, it makes me feel better rather than people paying it towards me.
VP: Absolutely and this particular version of the song in association with CALM it’s making people realise that there is another way. There is help out there for people who need it.
TM: There really is and the children involved all know about it. We have spoken about it. Well, they are young adults they are very mature. They are wonderful kids and they are singing it so well.
VP: You have also said that ‘Stay Another Day’ is a song for people to speak up when they are struggling. Is it still hard for men, in particular, to talk about their feelings?
TM: I have spoken about this a lot. It’s hard for what men view as a weakness perhaps and to speak about that sensitively. It has to be coaxed out of us it’s very difficult for a man to ring a person up that they don’t know and say:
‘Hello mate, I’m struggling.’
You can say that in a much lighter way, that when we are in our cars and we are lost, we won’t ask for directions. We are completely lost but we won’t wind down that window and ask someone and I think it’s the same that we get a bit lost in life and we won’t ask for directions. I think that’s how we should look at suicide. I feel like I am at the end of the road and I wonder if you could help me out and keep me going.
VP: Now I was reading about you staying sober for eight years. Is that right?
TM: Well….. yes. I stayed sober and then I fell off the wagon, and then the wagon ran me over. Now I haven’t drunk for just over two years again.
VP: (laughs) It ran you over? What happened when it ran you over?
TM: I fell off the wagon then it ran me over. I am not good with alcohol.
VP: I think a lot of people aren’t but they think they are. I want to go on a health kick over Christmas. Have you got any tips? how did you do it?
TM: I sort of made myself the designated driver, so that people are relying on you so you can’t drink. I find myself like Jekyll and Hyde so I am now too scared to drink. I will never drink again. I am okay for a while, but then I am not, and that stops me from drinking, I think you need to find the trigger that stops you from drinking. Whether that is a weight goal, or trying to stay sober for a month that’s always a good one. The eating, that’s part of the festivities, isn’t it?
VP: It is but I am trying to go for the healthy Christmas food.
TM: I think the turkey is quite healthy in itself it’s the cakes though, isn’t it? I think men are more inclined not to speak about their feelings and women are more inclined to eat sweet things.
VP: It’s funny when people say ‘Oh you are not drinking you are boring.’ I feel like saying to them: ‘Have you got any idea how boring I am when I’m drunk? I just keep saying the same bloody thing over and over again and then I say ‘I love you’ even when I don’t and then I try to snog people and that’s the worst bit.
TM: (laughs) I love you! Yes, I think it might be good this Christmas to lay off that! You could get yourself in trouble. Don’t go near any mistletoe! Good luck with the not drinking. You picked a hard time to do it.
VP: I have but I think if you can do it at Xmas you can do it at any time.
TM: I always think there is ‘just one’ but there is never ‘just one’ it’s like the key to the door. I stopped for eight years, then I started for another couple and then I stopped for two years again.
VP: Nobody ever has just one drink and the people that do are the most TM Yes I have never found it a good thing, but some people can drink and they are great. You know they are happy…Well that’s right but then out comes the tongue and it’s game over. Once that rolls out like a roll of lino you have lost it haven’t you?
VP: To change the subject did East 17 reinvent the boy band?
TM: Did we reinvent it? No, we attempted it. There wasn’t really boy bands around at the time there was ‘New Kids on Block’ and the boy band wasn’t really a thing then. That was a name that came afterwards. That was around 1993 or 1994 when they all started to spring up coz record companies thought: ‘Ooh ‘East 17’ and ‘Take That’ are making loads of records, let’s make another one and another one. ‘
VP: You were before ‘Boyzone’ and all those bands.
TM: Yes before ‘Boyzone’ and ‘Westlife’ and ‘Five’ was based on us. Obviously ‘Westlife’ was based on ‘Take That’ it was a boy band era in the end.
VP: You started it all off
TM: Yes us and ‘Take That’ it was our rivalry which was a media thing. That made them and ‘East 17’ really famous.
VP: With you I always feel you mean it. There is nothing fake about you. With ‘Stay Another Day’ you meant it as you were singing.
TM: With the lyrics, I did mean them, I used to take ages on it. You have to mean it in that sense and when you sing those songs of your youth it takes you straight back to that time. That’s not me anymore but it was me then. It’s nice to perform songs through time as you change.
VP: And it’s lovely that ‘Stay Another Day’ still resonates so strongly with people.
TM: Yes it went off on its own as a song and did its own thing. It has its own fame. ‘Stay Another Day’ has its own life. I had a dream of being famous I had a dream of being a pop star but I never had a dream of having a Christmas hit. It’s kind of what I am known for now.
VP: It is and long may it continue and thank you for talking to me Tony I love you and I love the song. I am so happy about what you are doing with this it’s fantastic.
TM: Oh thank you hope you really enjoy it and I hope this song will really get people talking this Christmas.
VP: Thank you
TM: Alright Victoria thank you very much.
Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019 and London Records have chosen to re-record the track to remind people that we need to look after one another, and to celebrate life.
Tony Mortimer said: “Everyone remembers Stay Another Day as a Christmas record, but underneath the white parkas and fake snow is a song about male mental health and a story about my brother who took his own life. CALM is a charity very close to my heart and I hope this release gives people who are struggling the confidence to speak up and seek help.’’