“Rob was actually our lead singer when we first got together,” Burgman recalls. “We had a few practices with him – we learnt a bunch of songs, some Stooges songs, some of Jeremy’s songs. Rob would ask Jeremy how his songs went, and Jeremy would sing them. And Rob said, ‘I don’t think you need me – you’ve seem to have a perfectly good singer already’, and we agreed.” Sadly for the fanatical collector fraternity, none of those original rehearsals ever found their way to tape. “It was a different era back then,” Burgman says. “It was all analogue, nobody had a little digital recorder or phone they could just hold up and record it.”
Younger’s assessment proved correct: by 1981, The Sunnyboys, with Jeremy on vocals, were arguably the hottest new rock’n’roll band in town. The band’s debut album went gang busters; the first single from the record, the now classic Alone With You, captured perfectly The Sunnyboys’ blend of surf-rock licks and adolescent spirit.
The recording and subsequent release of The Sunnyboys’ second album, Individuals, wasn’t as enjoyable. Under commercial pressure to release an equally successful follow-up, The Sunnyboys’ record company dispatched the band to New Zealand – apparently, for tax reasons – with producer Lobby Loyde to record the album. While Burgman says the band had enough material from the first album to put together a new record, Jeremy’s songwriting had already moved on.
“Jeremy was writing a lot of new stuff that wasn’t like the first album,” Burgman says. “The songs were different, and we treated it differently – they weren’t as up, they weren’t as pop as the first record, but we really enjoyed learning and recording the songs. But it didn’t have a hit song the record company could get behind.” While the band was happy with what they recorded, when they listened to the final product, which Loyde had mixed in LA, it wasn’t what they were expecting.
Still young, and relatively green about the ways of the music industry, the members of the band were reluctant to criticise Loyde’s production. “At the time we just went with it. Lobby was our mentor and leader, and a bit of an all-round guru,” Burgman says. “We were immediately disappointed but we didn’t know what the consequences would be. We didn’t know if the album would sell or not. The first one was all youth and brashness, we were straight out of the box. But the second one was more thoughtful and deliberate, more considered. So we went with what we got, and the consequences were what they were.”
33 years later, and Burgman’s assessment is that Loyde’s efforts to make an album a commercial success had drained the songs of much of their original character. “It was like Lobby had taken them to Los Angeles and mixed them in a studio with an engineer while trying to shape the songs, sound-wise, into something that might appeal to the American pop market at the time,” Burgman says. “New wave, poppy, rock’n’roll, something for the American market – but I don’t really know. But that’s what changed it – the songs we recorded are actually very good.”
For the band’s third studio album The Sunnyboys headed across to the UK to record Get Some Fun. Burgman looks back on that time fondly: “It was a big adventure going to England,” Burgman says. “It was our first time outside of Australia. We needed to have a focus, and being there gave us that focus.” While special moments such as playing the legendary Marquee Club in London took the edge off Jeremy’s increasingly erratic behaviour, Burgman says The Sunnyboys were still unsure of their next artistic and professional step. While Get Some Fun – which included the hit single Show Me Some Discipline – was heralded as something of a return to form, by the end of 1984 The Sunnyboys were a spent force.
The Sunnyboys’ renaissance as a live band in the last few years, facilitated by Jeremy Oxley’s return to mental health, has brought with it the opportunity to revisit both Individuals and Get Some Fun and rerelease both albums, complete with bonus material. The discovery of some original demos done for the Individuals recordings has allowed The Sunnyboys to finally present the songs as they were originally intended, while the re-release of Get Some Fun includes tracks taken from The Sunnyboys’ appearance at the rain-swept Narara festival in 1983. “What I remember about Narara was the headliners – Midnight Oil and Split Enz. We played at about six o’clock, and then we hung around to watch the Oils play. And they were such an awesome live band. So that’s what I remember most about that festival,” Burgman laughs.
BY PATRICK EMERY