Shannon Molloy: A bubblegum pop song from ’90s group S Club 7 saved my life

Of all the ways a particularly horrible day at school could’ve ended, the very last thing I imagined was my life being saved by a cheesy late ’90s bubblegum pop song.

But there I was, in mum’s Toyota Corolla Seca, watching with bewilderment as she cranked the volume on an S Club 7 cassette single that she’d bought especially with me in mind.

When I was a kid, the family car wasn’t just a means of getting from A to B, but a kind of karaoke joint on wheels.

And growing up in regional Queensland, in a town most wouldn’t have heard of, meant we were in that white compact mean machine a lot, whether it was driving to the town an hour up the road to go shopping or taking off on a family road trip.

So, while it wasn’t unusual for mum to blare music and screech along enthusiastically to the words, a group like S Club 7 wasn’t in her regular rotation.

Her taste comprised songs that I would’ve considered to be “oldies” from an almost unimaginable era in the distant past – the 1980s.

Hungry Eyes, Mony Mony and Footloose were among her favourites, as well as even bigger retro throwbacks like Big Girls Don’t Cry, It’s My Party and Walk Like a Man.

The year was 1999 and I was 14, in my second year of high school at an all-boys, NRL-mad Catholic school where footy was king and anyone who didn’t play it was a loser.

I liked to read and write, and I was skinny and dweeby with the physical co-ordination of a bean bag, so I copped it.

But added to that social status-killer, making me a prime target for boys trying to prove they were mean in the making, was the fact I was very clearly gay.

I didn’t really know it or understand it. I certainly never said it out loud. But it was just about the worst thing you could be.

Tasmania had only just become the last Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality after an ugly and highly divisive campaign.

The tragic shadow of the devastating AIDS crisis still loomed large over perceptions of what it meant to be a gay man.

Hell, Ricky Martin was still straight at that point in time.

In many parts of the country, but particularly in the regions, being gay was a sure-fire way to be cast aside and to face intense bigotry.

For me, there was regular physical violence. There were daily relentless taunts. I had no friends and either hid in the bushes behind the library at lunch or lingered near my older brother and his group of mates, making them my unofficial bodyguards.

There were cruel pranks, like someone inking “Shannon Molloy loves cock” on a whiteboard in permanent marker, filling my backpack with yoghurt, or grabbing me and tying me to a tree so a mob of boys could take turns flogging me with a canoe paddle.

The worst by far came when someone penned an absurd but very graphic love letter to the footy captain, detailing all the things I’d love to do with him, and then signed my name at the bottom.

A teacher found it and read it to the class, word for word, including those final three words – “From Shannon Molloy”.

That’s the day I tried to take my own life at home, seeing no possible escape from my living hell and fearing that this horror was how things were always going to be.

I’d never be able to be my true, authentic self. I’d have to peer over my shoulder when walking down the street. I’d have to always be on guard.

And I certainly would never know what love is.

My mum, a single parent and the local hairdresser who worked tirelessly to keep a roof over our heads, was my constant support.

She’d storm into the principal’s office every other week when I came home with a bloodstained shirt or a black eye, or if she’d found me sobbing uncontrollably in my bedroom.

Mum tried to lift me up when I was hopelessly down and reassure me that I was going to be OK, that I’d get out of that town one day and show them all.

When she didn’t know what to say or how to say it, she turned to popular culture, innocently putting on movies where characters suffering extreme adversity would overcome it all.

On one particular afternoon, seeing that I was about as broken as I could be without falling apart completely, she sought help from seven British 20-somethings.

Assembled by mega music manager Simon Fuller after he was dumped by the Spice Girls, S Club 7 was initially designed to appeal to little kids.

They had a television show that was a modest hit in North America, with catchy, overly cheery, extremely positive and G-rated songs.

One of them, which rather unexpectedly went very mainstream, was Bring It All Back.

That’s the song mum put on, looking over at me with a wry smile as she did and giggling at my confused and somewhat horrified expression when the lyrics began.

“Don’t stop, never give up. Hold your head high and reach the top. Let the world see what you have got. Bring it all back to you.”

On “you”, she reached across and gently pointed her index finger at my chest.

She sang her heart out, having taught herself the words to each verse, until I joined in for what was an impassioned but tone-deaf duet.

“This is your song,” she told me breathlessly when it finished.

“It reminds me of you, Shan. Hold on to you. When they push you down, get back up. Don’t let them win. You’re an individual and that’s OK.

“Your time’s coming around, so don’t you stop trying.”

Some 35 years on, that song remains an anthem and a go-to on my Spotify playlist.

I listen to it when I’m sad or feeling uncertain about the world. I listen to it when I’m happy or in a silly mood. Sometimes I listen to it for no reason at all.

Whatever the occasion, every single time I hear it, I think of my mum and her sage borrowed advice decades earlier, at a time when I could see few reasons to carry on.

“Your time’s coming around, so don’t you stop trying.”

Bring It All Back is now the marquee song in a very congested soundtrack of kitsch and camp ’90s pop that features in a stage production based on that horrid year of my life when I was 14.

I wrote a book about my experiences of growing up gay in regional Queensland in the late 1990s, chronicling not just the hellish hardship, but also the glimmers of hope, kindness and love that got me through – the reasons I survived.

Fourteen was turned into a stage production in 2022 for Brisbane Festival and was a sell-out smash hit. It’s now about to tour nationally.

Teenage me couldn’t imagine that his story would resonate so strongly – not just with queer people, but with parents and siblings who’ve had to step up for someone they love, for kids from broken homes, for those from a suffocating small town, and really, for anyone who’s ever felt like they don’t belong.

He wouldn’t have dreamt of writing a book and then helping to create a heart-wrenching, inspiring and extremely fun play based on it.

And he never could’ve guessed that at the centre of it all was a nice, harmless but live-saving song called Bring It All Back.

Fourteen tours nationally, kicking off in Parramatta in Sydney on May 3 and taking in 20 other stops across the country. For details and tickets, visit Shake and Stir Theatre Co’s website

Shannon Molloy is a senior reporter for news.com.au

Leave a Comment

URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL