On April 22nd 2012 for the first time in 21 years, all four original members of Sydney based band Sunnyboys walked on-stage at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre and performed as guests of the Hoodoo Gurus on their Dig it Up! Invitational.
From the opening chords of little known track As I Walk to the closing notes of the band’s most well know song Alone With You, it was as if time stood still. Appearing under the pseudonym Kids In Dust the band played with all the energy, verve and joy as they had all those years ago. It was emotional and inspired and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Some thirty years earlier, Sunnyboys had arrived in Sydney seemingly fully-formed. Brothers Peter and Jeremy Oxley(bass guitar and guitar / vocals respectively) and drummer Bil Bilson, were natives of Kingscliff on the NSW north coast. They had performed together in that environment in their early teens before, in 1979, both Peter and Bil ventured south to study and perform, Peter with the Shy Impostors and Bil with the Playboy Lords. With his schooling complete, Jeremy arrived a year later to attend art college and maybe start a band.
At just eighteen years of age, Jeremy was bursting at the seams with talent and had amassed a staggering amount of songs: Happy Man, My Only Friend, Alone With You, The Seeker, Tunnel Of Love, Tomorrow Will Be Fine, none of which had yet been performed live. When the Shy Impostors imploded early in 1980 Peter and Jeremy reunited and asked their friend Bil to join them. Former Shy Impostors guitarist Richard Burgman completed the picture while initial rehearsals also saw the band joined by ex-Radio Birdman vocalist Rob Younger but he left after just a handful of meetings suggesting Jeremy’s “unaffected delivery” and “always tuneful” vocals rendered him obsolete.
By August 1980, just two months after their formation, Sunnyboys played their first-ever show. Within weeks they were playing up to five nights a week to an ecstatic response. Jeremy’s every-man teenage lyrics finding familiar ground with the youth of the day and when matched with the hi-energy backing of a band, 3/4’s of whom had spent the better part of their youth playing together in the barns and scout halls of rural NSW, the result was undeniable.
Within the next 12 months the band would release the infamous Sunnyboys EP (featuring the original version of Alone With You), sign a contract with giant-sized Australian-indie Mushroom, record and release their eponymous debut-album (a record that quickly sold 50,000 copies and turned platinum, 75,000 sales, some 25 years later) and tour endlessly including one Melbourne visit that featured 27 shows in 10 days: 11 of them in just 3 days! It was this sort of workload that would later prove very telling on the band.
A follow-up album, Individuals, was recorded after a mere six months after the first and, although containing arguably superior songs, was marred by inadequate production – the record company flatly refusing the bands requests for a remix. Ultimately, the band would as good as disown it. As a result, album sales slipped. But while that happened the crowds only ever grew. Night after night, venue after venue Sunnyboys performances would leave behind a writhing mass of deliriously happy sweat-soaked bodies.
“The Sunnyboys were one of the last gigs that I’d ever seen where the walls where sweating with pieces of wallpaper coming off. It was just a great soundtrack for living in this part of the world. Some of the best gigs I’ve even seen”. Karl Bergerson (fan)
In 1982 a new single, Show Me Some Discipline, marked a change in direction for the band: a new sound and a new look. There was less of the everyday teenage fare in Jeremy’s lyrics as his thoughts turned more inward, more bleak.
“The basic idea behind this song is contained in the chorus lines Show me some discipline and I’ll show you mine.” Jeremy said at the time. “Which is a young man crying out for order in a world which seems to be filled with chaos and disorder. The verse lines have little to do with the basic theme, but exploit the word ‘discipline’ in as many ways as possible.”
The single charted in Sydney only yet remains one of the band’s most cherished songs. It was now three years since Sunnyboys had formed and the pressure of fame and reputation was telling. It hung on all of the band.
In 1983 the band left for London to record their third and final studio album, Get Some Fun – an ironic title if ever there was one. This time the production was marred by the excess of the time and despite containing some truly great tracks in the singles Love In A Box and Comes As No Surprise it did not resonate with their fans as much as the earlier material and remains the band’s least-selling album. Still, the live crowds only ever grew. Their reputation for a great live show remained permanently intact.
Following that album release and a tour as support to UK supergroup The Police in mid-1984, Sunnyboys announced they were disbanding: internal dissent and the pressure and stress of industry expectation being cited as the reasons for the break-up. A tour was booked for later in the year, and a live album Real Live released. The tour was another national sell-out culminating in two performances at Sydney’s Graphic Arts Club on December 23rd & 24th.
The band members then went on their separate ways: Peter and Bil to the short-lived Sparklers (with another Oxley, sister Melanie) before embarking on non-music related projects, Peter as the chef and owner of a popular Sydney restaurant and Bil – self employed in various purstuits. Richard Burgman joined The Saints and then Weddings, Parties, Anything before choosing a new life in Canada, working in I.T and as a guitar teacher. Jeremy Oxley meantime, formed The Fishermen and The Chinless Elite (releasing a single and mini-album respectively) before, in 1987, reviving the Sunnyboys name with an all-new band (even including a pre-Whitlams Tim Freedman) and recording an album, Wildcat. However, despite the quality of the songs the chemistry of the original four was not there and the new-look Sunnyboys quickly dissolved.
In 1991, after bowing to continual public demand, all four original Sunnyboys returned to the stage. This time the chemistry was there and the fans old and new alike were united in their praise of this most treasured band. Play the Best (a Sunnyboys best-of) was released and again the public were reminded of the band’s brilliance.
Following the reunion, Jeremy released an excellent though little heard mini-album A Little Bit Of Me In You, under the guise Jeremy ‘Ponytail’ Oxley. Despite it’s obvious quality the release was met with indifference. Combined with on-going health problems Oxley then decided to take leave from the stage, retiring from public view (and scrutiny) for the next twenty years.
In his time away from the spotlight Jeremy would write poetry, paint prolifically (landscape oil paintings in the main) and record two albums: Sanctuary 9 (a collection of instrumental piano pieces) and Monastery (an acoustic affair) at his home west of Brisbane. These albums remain unreleased.
Jeremy would reemerge just once during his hiatus when, in 1998, alongside Peter and Bil, all three agreed to play as Sunnyboys (a younger Oxley, Tim, deputising for Richard) at the Mushroom Records 25th anniversary concert at the MCG. They played just two songs: their biggest hits; 'Happy Man' and 'Alone With You' to a rapturous response.
In 2004 'This Is Real', a 2CD Sunnyboys retrospective was released. It contained all the band’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides, rare tracks (many of these them appearing on CD for the first time), plus a full live CD showcasing the band’s hi-energy performance. Again interest in the band was reignited and a tour mooted however, the stars were not yet aligned.
Then, in 2012, the unthinkable happened. Jeremy, now happy, content and living in domestic bliss, agreed to the idea of a Sunnyboys reunion after the Hoodoo Gurus had requested them for 'Dig it Up!', their 30th birthday Invitational. The audience response, as always, was ecstatic.
More good news followed with the band’s inclusion on the iconic Meredith Music Festival in December of the same year and in January 2013 a tour with new wave icon Elvis Costello for winery festival A Day On The Green cemented the bands legacy as one of our most loved treasures. Then in mid-2013 the Sunnyboys official ‘coming out’ happened when they headlined a sold-out Sydney Opera House Concert Hall as part of the Vivid Festival. The show ran in conjunction with the premiere screening of The Sunnyboy, a documentary of Jeremy’s life made by Kaye Harrison. It was a triumphant night in all respects.
“Some bands re-group so they can play the hit songs and fly home, pockets jangling full of money. Watching the Sunnyboys perform felt like they were making up for lost years that should have been on stage. Graciously happy to be there and genuinely thrilled by the audience participation.” – Weekend Notes.
Since then the band have completed hugely successful national tours in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. All three Sunnyboys studio albums have been released and are available on CD, itunes or spotify formats (no vinyl yet) as has a brand new live album Best Seat In The House recorded at a sold out Enmore Theatre in Sydney 2015. Perhaps most remarkable is that the 2018 edition of Sunnyboys (featuring all original members) have existed longer than the bright-eyed young men who burned so brightly back in the eighties but also burned-out so fast. The time around without the pressure of recording schedules and the demand for chart hits and with a mutual love and respect for the music they made, Sunnyboys can just do what they do best; play live.
“We really didn’t think we would ever play again as a band. But wow, we have and we sure are having a bloody great time doing it.” – Peter Oxley