East 17

Retro Tuesday: The 90s, And…

IF THERE’S A DECADE that isn’t exactly noted for the durability of its music, it’s the 1990s; even so, a little gem — masterfully reworked in an almost-contemporary context — roared back onto my radar a couple of weeks ago, and whilst my “retro preference” is to focus on the 70s and 80s, today we’re going to indulge that awful decade for a couple of great gets.

But first, the good news, or I hope it is: with a little more time on my hands over the next few weeks — just until things go off with a bang again once the silly season is out of the way — I should find the time to post a little more regularly on this new site, finally, in addition to Retro Tuesdays, which (at least) are already becoming a regular feature; first cab off the rank will be something for those heading to London at any time soon, thanks to a chance conversation I had at the weekend.

British food is wonderful — if you know where to look for it — and I’m going to share a few tips to help keep people travelling to the UK well fed and stodge-free (and yes, for those who know me, Marcus will get top billing, but that’s tomorrow’s, or maybe even Thursday’s, story).

But with the 90s on the radar today, I realise I came very, very close to committing a sin I assured readers I wouldn’t; in thinking through some of the possibilities for today’s feature, one of the first acts that came to mind was La Bouche: a dance band I was introduced to by the beautiful and free-spirited black girl I was sometimes found in the company of in Brisbane during my early to mid 20s in Brisbane, and which (even if it had been crap, which happily, it wasn’t) would have still scored highly on my scale at the time simply because it was a favourite of hers.

La Bouche, of course, is another German group, and having already featured Nena and the Scorpions in the past few weeks, I didn’t want to make it a habit; even so, before we move onto today’s double shot, treat yourself to a a retro bassline and a bit of boom and shake.


I guess it becomes relevant to today’s selection, for there are crossovers everywhere; since I moved to Melbourne 18 years ago next month, I have seen the lovely lady to whom I allude just twice: once back in Brisbane, and once here. It was something fated never to be, although as is the way of such things that do not end acrimoniously, I know that if I were to run into her tomorrow, the warmth and friendship — e’er dormant — would still be well and truly alive, and we’d just pick up where we left off, and have a good old catch-up. (Last time I saw her, in Melbourne, we sang karaoke at a beachside cafe in Port Melbourne — badly — with a few other friends and some cheap fried food, but it was one of those impromptu social events that “just happen” and remain fondly remembered for many years afterwards).

In fact, everything about this unorthodox girl was impromptu.

When I lived in Brisbane (and remember, this is a girl I was supposedly dating) I got a phone call at about 9am one morning; still working rotating hospitality management rosters back in those days and having been out partying the previous night on a day off — a Monday, from memory — I wasn’t really with it when the phone rang, and it took some time for the disbelief to dispel once the call was finished.

Hung over, sleep deprived and struggling to do much beyond providing simple but cogent acknowledgement of her sentences, this girl — the ultimate free spirit — had rung me up to tell me, without a hint of malice or irony, that she was going to Thailand that afternoon.

I had seen her on three of the previous seven days: not a word of it. But do you know what? She did go to Thailand that day, and it was another month before we saw her again. She said she needed a rest and to let her hair down, and to catch up with her cousin, who was also having a holiday there as well.

Most people in my shoes would have been offended, to say the least. I was. Until, years later, I realised that that was just the way she was. No plans, no ties, just whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.

The restaurant I was managing at the time had one of those $2 per play jukeboxes in it that were all the rage in the 90s; it featured a “Top 5” countdown (sometimes topped by Mariah Carey’s Hero) that generally featured a track from precursor British boy band East 17. From time to time, if no money was inserted into it, the jukebox would randomly blurt out whatever song was in the number one spot. All too often, this was it.


It’s funny how you associate songs and music with events in life, be they good, bad or excruciating; after a period of being sporadically informed by the jukebox that “everything’s going to be alright” when I not only didn’t think it was but found the contrary assertion rather provocative and not dissimilar to the effect of a red rag being waved at a bull, I started feeding it $2 coins to push another song — that was neither the East 17 number nor the God-forsaken arpeggio-fest of Carey’s — to the top of the countdown and keep it there.

At least a burst of something disconnected would stop me brooding.

Of course, my lovely black girlfriend and I didn’t last, didn’t make it, and didn’t walk off into some mythical stereotype of ochre sunsets and flying horses; a benignly anarchic, liberated, ethereal free spirit of the most unruly and unpredictable kind and a city creature as thoroughly urban as I was were never going to last. I used to liken her to the girl in The Sound of Music (you know, “how do you solve the problem of Maria? How do you catch a cloud and tie it down?”) to which my best mate, the redoubtable Mr Oxford, retorted that if I ever bought the 3-Series I had been casing out at Brisbane BMW (I didn’t — like any good Scotsman I jibbed at the price tag, even though I could afford it once upon a time) I might find it a bit hard to load her, and her cloud, into it at the same time.

When she announced she was moving to England (again, at extremely short notice, although more than the few hours’ warning I received about the field trip to Thailand) I hastily concocted a scheme to race off after her, armed with a large diamond, and bring her back: it really was all right in the end, because I was dissuaded from doing so, and poetically enough, that dissuasion also came at almost literally the last minute possible to abandon the plan.

The happier outcome in this instance was the disjointed but enduring friendship with a perfectly lovely yet truly unique individual; but others walk away into the sunset — and this brings up the double shot of East 17 today, and the contemporary rebirth it enjoyed in 2011.

Monarchists and republicans alike were captivated when global mobile telephony giant T-Mobile landed a cheeky marketing strike to coincide with the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton; some colleagues and I found ourselves talking about it a couple of weeks ago, and you can enjoy their handiwork here.


One’s life is for sharing…which, in some respects, is the point of this column: I trust readers have enjoyed another little story from memory lane woven around some old (if socially awkward) soundtracks. More will follow next week.

But the pretext to talk food, finally, has fallen into my lap, so in the next couple of days, it’ll be two of my favourite subjects in the world: food and London. (And anyone from the Ministry of Culture who sees value in hiring me as an ambassador should feel free to contact me…so long as the job comes with an entry visa and serviceable salary 🙂   )