One look at the roster of artists touring Australia this year and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d set the DeLorean back to 1998: late-’90s cheddar-heavy pop acts like Vengaboys, Aqua, Hanson and N-Trance are all visiting our shores in 2012.

If the success of those who’ve already come is any indication, audiences are excited, invariably inebriated and eager to relive the music of their not-too-distant youth.

Add to that list of visiting acts S Club 7, the post-Spice Girls puppets of music mastermind Simon Fuller, who enjoyed a steady five years of fame from 1999 – 2003 with hits like Bring It All Back, Don’t Stop Moving and S Club Party.

There’s an undeniable budget feel to the upcoming S Club tour — from the dodgy Photoshopping of the tour’s sole publicity image to the fact that UK R&B also-rans Big Brovaz are the support act. But perhaps the biggest thing keen S Club fans will have to adjust to is that, for an act whose very name signposted their surplus of members, they’re operating on less than half their previous capacity.

Australian fans are getting S Club 3, to be exact: Jo O’Meara, Bradley McIntosh, and Paul Cattermole. Fear not, though — powerhouse singer that she is, O’Meara always did the vocal heavy lifting for the group, while McIntosh provided occasional raps.

The other five? Well, they were very nice dancers.

“It happened as a bit of an accident, to be fair,” McIntosh told the Star Observer of this reunion of 42.85 percent of the group (we did the maths so you don’t have to).

“After the band finished I started doing a few nights DJing here and there in different clubs. One day I decided to bring Paul with me. I’d always put an S Club song in the set, and that I night I brought Paul up on stage to dance to it.

“We ended up doing a couple of songs and having a really good time.”

Minus their lead vocalist, that just sounds suspiciously like two blokes old enough to know better leaping about to S Club songs on stage, so the next step was to approach O’Meara — whose broad Cockney accent took this writer by surprise as she spoke to us from her home in Essex.

“After I ’ad me baby, Bradley just said to me, ‘Ow’d ya fancy doin’ it,’ and I thought, yeah, why not,” O’Meara said.

“I thought it’d be fun and get me out of the house and stop me bein’ a mum for a few hours. That was four years ago.”

There has been talk of a full reunion in recent months, after all seven were snapped at the opening of a show (some tabloids unfairly remarking on how they’ve aged in the past decade — not all pop stars have access to Madonna’s anti-ageing stockpile of stem cells and shark cartilage, you know).

“All of us are good friends, and we’ve met up a few times, but it’s just friends catching up,” McIntosh said.

“But because we all get on, if the timing was right, we’d definitely do it. To all be on stage together one last time would be fun.”

The idea of a full reunion must surely be looking more viable now that Steps have successfully tested the water. A laughing stock even in their ’90s heyday, the group made S Club sound like Metallica and yet have somehow managed to pull off the most unlikely of comebacks in their native Britain.

“There’s not really any cheese music out there at the moment, is there? It’s all really cool stuff — hip-hop beats and dance beats,” McIntosh offered by way of explanation.

“Our music was for everyone, really, and I couldn’t name one band or artist who’s doing that sort of fun, cheesy music at the moment.”

He’s right — just look at what dominates our radio waves: Rihanna crooning creepy bedroom duets with the ex-boyfriend who beat her half to death is a million miles away from the sugary, escapist pop S Club offered up.

But McIntosh and O’Meara admitted that some of the group’s songs were too saccharine even for them.

“None of us liked [2000’s half-million selling single] Reach at all at first. We wanted to be cool, and we had what we considered to be quite a cool track lined up as the single, then Simon played us Reach. We were just like ‘Really? Just when we thought we were starting to get cool, you give us this song?’”

With a chorus that includes choice couplets like ‘Reach for the stars/ Climb every mountain high! And when that rainbow’s shinin’ over you/ That’s when your dreams’ll all come true,’ the song is indeed pitched exactly halfway between a Pride march and a Bible camp.

“To be fair, it’s our signature song. We always leave it till last in our set, because it’s one of those songs that everyone responds to,” McIntosh said.

One common misconception about the pop star’s lot is that a brief run on the charts will set you up financially for life. Obviously that’s not true — just ask the ex-Scandal’us member who served you your coffee this morning — but there were rumours S Club members got a particularly raw deal out of their time on the charts, under the management of ruthless svengali Fuller, and with wages cut seven ways.

There’s no real way to put this delicately, but … are they OK for cash?

“I don’t think we was exploited. We were very young when we started and we all felt very blessed to be given the opportunities we did,” O’Meara said.

“We all managed to buy a car and buy a house at 20 years old. We wasn’t multimillionaires, but we didn’t do too badly. We wasn’t hard done by.

“We’re all very lucky to say we were part of S Club 7 and live a comfortable life because of it.”

But more than the means to live a comfortable life, O’Meara said her proudest achievement with S Club 7 was being responsible for a handful of stone-cold pure pop classics. She admitted that, to this day, she gets a thrill out of hearing some of their biggest hits.

“D’y’know, the other day I was on the way to pick my little boy up from school, and Don’t Stop Moving came on the radio. I must’ve looked quite sad but I turned it up loud and I was bopping along to it in the car.

“But do you know what? It is a really good song. I love it! That’s quite shameful, isn’t it?”

Never.

THE ’90S COMEBACK KIDS

SPICE GIRLS
The ultimate ‘90s pop group did it all again in 2007 with a record-breaking world tour that, er, only really went to America and the UK (infamously snubbing Australia at the last minute). There are rumours the girls will re-form for the London Olympics, but one thing’s certain — we’ll see all five back together again for their long-awaited Jennifer Saunders-penned Spice Girls musical, set to premiere on the West End this year.
KEY TRACK: Who Do You Think You Are

VENGABOYS
These guys arguably kickstarted the current Australian ’90s fad when they sold out three shows at iconic Melbourne rock venue the Corner Hotel, a sticky-carpeted pub used to housing capital indie artists, rather than a Dutch dance troupe who look like the devil spawn of the Village People.
KEY TRACK: We Like To Party (The Vengabus Is Coming)

STEPS
Talk about an unlikely success story. Pretty naff even in their late-’90s peak, Steps relaunched themselves onto an unsuspecting public last year with a TV doco that painted them as a latter-day Fleetwood Mac, all inter-band tiffs ‘n tears. One chart-topping album later and they’re currently on a sold-out arena tour of the UK, subjecting a whole new generation of listeners to their tinny tracks.
KEY TRACK: Tragedy

HANSON
Distinguished from a lot of their ’90s colleagues by their — shock! horror! — actual musical talent, Christian brothers Hanson never really went away, at least not to the hordes of loyal tweenage female fans they first charmed back in 1997. They’re touring Australia later this year.
KEY TRACK: MMMBop

AQUA
Just finished a massive Australian tour and moved away from the innocent, bubblegum sound of their ’90s hits with comeback album Megalomania — although whether that’s a good thing remains to be seen, given their current single is called Fuck Me Like A Robot.
KEY TRACK: Lollipop (Candyman)

…AND THOSE WHO DIDN’T QUITE MANAGE IT

ALL SAINTS
The moody counterparts to the Spice Girls went down in a blaze of scrag fighting in 2001, but managed to put it all behind them for ace 2005 comeback album Studio 1. Said comeback was a dismal flop, and founding member Mel Blatt recently remarked that they were only in it for the money and never speak to each other any more. *tear*
KEY TRACK: Never Ever

NO DOUBT
Can you believe it’s been more than a decade since the LA ska-rockers released an album? They say they’re putting the finishing touches on a new record — but they’ve been saying that for about four years, so until we see hard proof, they’re staying in this category.
KEY TRACK: Don’t Speak

B*WITCHED
An act whose sole defining feature was its members’ shared love of double denim was never going to age well, was it? After that brief run at the top in 1998 (C’est La Vie! Rollercoaster! Blame It On The Weatherman!), the four Irish lasses faded into obscurity. Sisters Edele and Keavy Lynch were last seen raiding Lady Gaga’s dress-up box for underwhelming electro project Barbarellas.
KEY TRACK: C’est La Vie

ACE OF BASE
The Swedish poppers did release a comeback album — trouble was, they’d replaced their two distinctive female vocalists with brand new, decidedly anodyne singers. Cue a war of words in the press when former vocalist Jenny revealed she would’ve loved to have been part of the reunion, but wasn’t even asked.
KEY TRACK: All That She Wants

INFO: S Club and Big Brovaz Australian tour, May 23 – June 2. Full tour info at www.bigapachee.com.au

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