Friday, March 20, 2009

Sunnyboys Experience An Inclement Demise

With a gruelling tour schedule to contend with, the Sunnyboys were expected to make time to write and record material for a new album, with the dust barely even settled on the first release. Mentor/ producer Lobby Loyde guided the quartet (plus keyboardist Steve Harris) through the sessions for their sophomore set ‘Individuals’, which was recorded in New Zealand (something to do with a tax incentive deal). The band had little time to prepare, and arguably insufficient energy to deliver up their best work on the album, due to its rush recording in between live tour commitments. The pressures on songwriter and singer/guitarist Jeremy Oxley, were especially intense during that time. ‘Individuals’ was released in May of ‘82 (against the band‘s wishes - who wanted more time to polish some tracks), and eventually went on to peak at #23 nationally during July. The lead out single ‘You Need A Friend’ edged inside the national top 40 (#38), but the follow up single ‘This Is Real’ missed the cut completely. For mine, ‘You Need A Friend’ remains one of my favourite Sunnyboys’ tracks. The song as a coursing pop-rock energy, which puts me in mind of some of the Stranglers best work, and I never fail to be entranced by the haunting harmonies in the outro.

The touring commitments continued almost unabated for the Sunnyboys over the latter part of ‘82 and into 1983. During this period the band began to encounter problems with singer Jeremy Oxley’s increasingly erratic behaviour, even going so far as to hire a fulltime minder for him, in an attempt to reduce some of the more outlandish elements. The reasons behind Oxley’s difficulties would eventually be defined, but at the time it created an increasing level of tension within the group. Tension had also mounted between the Sunnyboys and their label Mushroom. Both parties felt some grievance over the ‘Individuals’ album, Mushroom due to the relatively poor returns, and the band due to the unreasonable timeframe in which they had to record it.

In June of ‘83, the Sunnyboys released their fifth single ‘Show Me Some Discipline’, which hit a peak of #30 in Sydney, and #44 nationally during July. As the single was climbing the charts, the band hopped a plane to the U.K., which finally broke the relentless cycle of touring, and allowed them sufficient time to prepare for their third album. Now under the management auspices of Michael Chugg (who also managed the Church), the band performed two sell-out shows at London’s exalted Marquee Club (mainly in front of enthusiastic ex-pat Aussies), before beginning work in earnest with producer Nick Garvey (ex-Motors, see Aug 08 post) at Ridgefarm Studios, Surrey and Townhouse Studios, London (originally Sunnyboys had intended to record the album with AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ producer Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange). The extended planning and pre-production time paid off, with the resultant album. ‘Get Some Fun’ (OZ#36), offering up a diversity of material, with a confidence and maturity of playing, not realised on earlier efforts. The album hit stores in April ‘84, and was preceded by the single ‘Love In A Box’ (OZ#46). To support the album’s release, the Sunnyboys kicked off their first national tour in almost a year. The follow up single ‘Comes As No Surprise’ (OZ#99) went largely unnoticed, but it came as no surprise that no sooner had the Sunnyboys hit the road, than internal problems once more hit the band, most often centred around Jeremy Oxley’s declining mental health.

By June of ‘84, the Sunnyboys announced that the sun was setting on their time together. They embarked on a farewell tour soon after, which resulted in the live album ‘Real Live Sunnyboys’, recorded over two nights at Sydney gigs, and released in November ‘84, a month before the band’s last farewell gig at the Graphic Arts Club in Sydney. The following year a French based record label, Closer, released the double album ‘Days Are Gone’ for the European market, a compile of the band’s first two albums, satisfying a growing demand for Sunnyboys material on the continent.

Immediately following the setting of the Sunnyboys project, Jeremy Oxley launched a new band under the playful moniker of Chinless Elite. The line-up featured Oxley (vocals/guitar), Marcus Phelan (guitar, ex-Numbers - see Nov 08 post), Jon Schofield (bass, ex-Grooveyard), Mark Fuccilli (sax), Sean McEleogue (trumpet), and Andrew Robertson (drums). The band signed on with the Big Time label, and released the single ‘I Got To Get To California’, and an EP in late ‘85, before calling it a day. Oxley then formed a stripped back three piece combo called The Fishermen, alongside Andrew Denison (bass/vocals), and Ian Potterton. The back to basics pop-rock outfit quickly built up a strong following around the Sydney live circuit, but only released a solitary single ‘Can’t You Stop?’, on the Waterfront label, during January ‘87, before splitting.

Sunnyboys guitarist Richard Burgman had joined up with the latest line-up of Chris Bailey’s Saints, and played with them over the course of ‘85 and most of ‘86. He went on to tour with the acclaimed folk-rock stalwarts Weddings, Parties, Anything during 88/89, before eventually emigrating to Canada, where he married and embarked on a career as a computer programmer. Peter Oxley and Bil Bilson had both formed a soul-pop outfit called The Sparklers, alongside Peter and Jeremy’s sister Melanie (vocals), Chris Abrahams (piano, ex-Benders), Gerard Corben (guitar, ex-Lime Spiders), and Ernie Finch (guitar). The Sparklers remained together for several years, undergoing several changes in personnel along the way. Once more Phantom Records stepped in, and released the single ‘Overworking’ in October ‘86, before the band signed with the Mighty Boy label. The Sparklers released a string of singles and one album, ‘Persuasion’ (1988), before splitting in June of ‘89. Peter Oxley and Chris Abrahams continued to work together for a few years, and released two soul/pop style albums together in the early 90s. Oxley eventually left the music business to run a successful pizzeria, whilst Bilson returned to the quiet life in the country.

But that wasn’t all she wrote as far as the Sunnyboys were concerned. In late ‘87 Jeremy Oxley revived the band’s name, albeit with a completely new line-up backing him. Nick Freedman (guitar), Phil Smith (bass), and Peter Hinchenbergs (drums), rounded out the new look Sunnyboys’ roster. The revamped Sunnyboys hit the road, this time with keyboardist Tim Freedman in support (future founder of the Whitlams). RCA signed the band to a new recording deal, and in early ‘89 released the first Sunnyboys’ single in nearly five years with ‘Too Young To Despair’ (OZ#74). Highly acclaimed producers Graham Bidstrup (ex-Angels) and Garth Porter (ex-Sherbet) were at the helm for the recording of a new album ‘Wildcats’ (OZ#81), released in August of ‘89. Neither of the follow up singles, ‘Sinful Me’ or ‘Sad Girl’, managed to chart, and on the whole the album fell short of reviving the vitality and energy of earlier Sunnyboys’ sets. With Oxley’s health again in decline, the Sunnyboys MkII had folded by 1990.

In July 1991, Mushroom issued a new compilation album titled ‘Play The Best’ (OZ#90), and the original Sunnyboys’ line-up of Jeremy and Peter Oxley, Richard Burgman, and Bil Bilson reunited to play a national tour. The tour was a success, and realised an ‘official bootleg’ album titled ‘Shakin’: Live August 1991’ (released in December 1992). But the reality was that Jeremy Oxley’s health would prevent any long term plans (he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia), and the other group members had also moved on to other life interests, so once more the Sunnyboys’ name evaporated into the ether of Australian rock legend. Jeremy Oxley made an attempt to launch a solo career, as Jeremy ‘Ponytail’ Oxley, and released the EP ‘A Little Bit Of Me In You’ in October 1992. Oxley has continued to write and occasionally record his own music (in addition to taking up painting), occasionally released as collectors items via the official Sunnyboys’ website, but has essentially retired from any high profile involvement in music.

The Sunnyboys have only reformed once since 1991, for the one off Mushroom 25th Anniversary Concert in 1998 (minus Burgman - Tim Oxley played guitar). With the likelihood of any new Sunnyboys’ material now remote, long term fans of the band welcomed the release of the Tim Pittman compiled double CD ‘This Is Real’ in 2004. Released on the Feelpresents label, it contained a stack of B-sides, rarities, and live tracks, that previously hadn’t seen the light of a Sunnyboys’ day.


observer said...

thanks for posting this, i really enjoyed reading it

my brother was s sunnyboys fan, i became fans of theirs by hearing them in the background when i was little, i saw them play several times in Brisbane and the gold and sunshine coast s

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Hi 'observer'. Thanks for your comment. I think the Sunnyboys were a much underrated band. It's great that you got to see them play live a number of times. It's a shame they didn't have more longevity, but they did leave a legacy of great music.
A.FlockOfSeagulls :)

mttbrntt said...

I also really enjoyed this. I was a total fan and was just leaving school when they broke up (84), but I did catch a show at Cronulla Leauges. I enjoyed it but even at the time I knew it wasn't the original line up. I remember goin to the Trade Union Club (What an institution!) in Surrey Hills to see the Fishermen also, and I recall that it was a great show. I live on the Sunshine Coast now and I'm an artist. Would love to see some of Jeremy's paintings. Is that at all possible? Anyone know?

mttbrntt said...

Btw I was listening to The Sunnyboys album today while workin on my 3D art.
Then i decided to google Sunnyboys that's how I found this blog. It still gets to me...because its just great music. Way underrated, but not by me.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Great to hear from a genuine Sunnyboys' fan, thanks for your comments 'mttbrntt'. I haven't been able to uncover anymore information about Jeremy Oxley's painting. All of the interviews I've come across, the more recent ones anyway, all make reference to his living a fairly secluded lifestyle (in most part due to his illness), and I haven't come across mention of any exhibitions of his paintings. If you haven't already read it, the following is a link to a good 2004 interview with Peter Oxley -