Back on the sunny side
The Sunnyboys reunite for three shows – two of them on the Coast – against incredible odds, writes Kathy McCabe
LIKE staring too long at the retina-frying yellow which was their trademark, looking too long at the Sunnyboys seemed destined to turn them to dust. For those whose youth was soundtracked by the songs which made them burn so brightly on our airwaves 30 years ago – Happy Man, Alone With You, Show Me Some Discipline, You Need A Friend, Love In A Box – would feel the same goosebumps now.
That feeling of goodwill is only heightened in 2013 by the fact that Sunnyboys have managed to reunite against unimaginable odds.
After four heady years in the early 1980s when they signed with Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom records only six months after their first gig, the Gold Coastreared Sunnyboys disintegrated.
The post-punk power pop band who had found success among their mainstream peers including Midnight Oil, INXS, Mental As Anything and The Models, faded out too soon.
Subsequent releases enjoyed less success after their stellar debut and the deteriorating health of frontman Jeremy Oxley ruled out a commitment to a fulltime touring and recording band.
It was later revealed that Oxley was suffering schizophrenia and while he reignited the band name at various times in the intervening years, it wasn’t until last year that a semi-regular Sunnyboys featuring its original members seemed at all viable.
His brother, Peter, recalls the catalyst for their most unexpected reunion. Their mates from those early days, The Hoodoo Gurus, decided to stage a mini inner-city festival called Dig It Up! which celebrated its second anniversary last month, and contacted Peter suggesting he and his brother may want to do an acoustic set under a pseudonym. No pressure. Just if you want to.
For years, industry promoters and agents had chased the band but they just couldn’t do it. There were no guarantees when it came to Jeremy’s health.
‘‘Initially, it was maybe an acoustic set for me and Jeremy to play. I put it to him and Jeremy said ‘No. Let’s play electric’ I asked him if he meant everybody, the band. He made the decision to say he felt confident enough to want to play,’’ Peter says.
So, original members Richard Burgman and Bill Bilson, from Kingscliff, were summoned and under the pseudonym Kids In Dust, Sunnyboys performed at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre at the festival and a legend was reborn. You could feel the goodwill then and it has been evident at the handful of gigs since.
While people are aware of Jeremy’s condition, it doesn’t matter when he is onstage and in full frontman mode, performing the songs the audience love.
‘‘I think we feel very lucky and privileged to be able to play. We never thought we would be able to again because of Jeremy’s illness and him not being in a good place and having enough confidence to actually perform in front of people,’’ Peter says.
More one-offs were added. At the same time, a documentary was being made about Jeremy’s life dealing with his illness and his now-wife Mary and her influence on his health. The planets aligned for the film, which was two years in the making, and yet another gig – to be staged at the Sydney Opera House for the annual Vivid Festival. Peter admits that every time he is approached to book a show he wonders if the pressure will be too much for his brother.
The band will warm up for the film launch and Opera House show with two highly anticipated, exclusive home-town gigs at the Coolangatta Hotel this month.
‘‘It’s very scary; we just want to be good. And we will be. We will have a good time,’’ Peter says.
‘‘For the people who see the documentary (at the Sydney premiere) and then see Jeremy walk on stage and perform, they will have some insight into his pain and what he has to deal with.’’
The Sunnyboys, Not OK and Redglo play the Coolangatta Hotel on May 24-25. Tickets are $45 + booking fee.
Above: The Sunnyboys (from left): Peter Oxley, Richard Burgman, Bill Bilson and Jeremy Oxley. Below: The band in 1982 (from left): Burgman, Bilson and Peter and Jeremy.