On April 22nd 2012, for the first time in 21 years, all four original members of Sydney 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 biggest hit, Alone With You, it was as if time stood still. Appearing under the pseudonym Kids in Dust the band played with the same intensity, 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, three quarters 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 bandA follow-up album, Individuals, was recorded 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 lookThere 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 as a textile printer and graphic designer. 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 song: 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.
I cried and all the way through the first song of Sunnyboys… then danced and sang for the rest of the day/night Emotional return from the Sunnyboys. Not a dry eye in the house. They stole the show. Absolutely brilliant. Sunnyboys owned it! Welcome back lads!!!!
— Audience comments taken from the Dig it Up! facebook page
More good news followed with the band’s inclusion on the iconic Meredith Music Festival in December of the same year. Warner music, the new owners of the Mushroom catalogue, also approached the band about a long-overdue overhaul of their recorded output with a re-release campaign due to begin early 2013. Sunnyboys, Individuals and Get Some Fun are all to receive the deluxe treatment.
“I don’t mind, yeah, I’ve got what it takes”, I don’t mind, yeah, I’ve got guts of iron” (Guts Of Iron/J.Oxley)