Sunnyboys were a delicious tetrahedron-shaped frozen ice treat very popular with Australian school kids back in the pre-internet era. Around the same time, the band The Sunnyboys were an extremely popular Aussie outfit with the youth of the day.
They had a string of memorable top 40 hit songs (many of which were directed in the studio by the legendary producer Lobby Loyde) and a strong live following. Aussie rock trivia moment – The Sunnyboys were the first Sydney-based band signed to Melbourne’s Mushroom Records.
Fast forward some 40 years later, after long periods of ‘resting’ (the band had an extended break just four years into their career) this iconic band were back playing their catchy set of upbeat power pop hits and charming the listeners once more. The December 2020 Sydney Opera House show celebrated 40 years since the release of their first single ‘Love To Rule’.
With the live performance industry largely decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Sunnyboys (just) managed to stage a concert at the iconic Sydney Opera House. It was a really close call that the event even happened, with interstate borders opening just a week before the show and closing again shortly after due to the Northern Beaches COVID cluster. The audience was thinned down to 50% capacity due to safe distancing regulations, with full houses now a distant memory. Thankfully, the Sydney Opera House are prepared to present shows that are currently commercially unviable for other venues.
Focusing on the technical perspective, the show utilised the in-house crew and equipment at the Joan Sutherland Theatre. On board were also the band’s own techs, who were very happy to finally have a gig after many months of being at home. On front of house sound duties was the Brisbane based engineer and owner of the Production Dungeon, Derek Bovill, assisted on stage by Troy Purnell. On lights was Damien Oxley (yes, the brother of front man Jeremy), so the lighting cues were spot on. The house techs looked after the stage monitors and almost everything else. The vibe during setup was great, with everyone very happy to get back to work.
This event was also part of the Opera House live streaming series, so there was a five-camera shoot supplying the angles from onstage and out front to the in-house broadcast studio, staffed with the Opera House’s own OB team. The band supplied studio audio engineer Jason Blackwell to look after broadcast sound.
Audio-wise, the show utilised three sound mixing consoles; an Avid Venue for the front of house sound (Derek’s preferred console), a Midas PRO 2 on stage monitoring duties, and a Yamaha Rivage system in the broadcast studio. These consoles received shared inputs via an analogue three-way split, with the broadcast studio having some extra inputs for capturing the sound of the room and audience. The auditorium’s sound system featured d&b audiotechnik speakers on stage and out front. The OB studio used top-class monitors from ATC.
Lighting was controlled via a grandMA console sending instructions to the 50-odd moving light fixtures. The light show was styled in the old-fashioned way to emulate a Par can show, with static pastel beams painting the stage and performers in a way that was period correct with the band’s most popular years. As old crew sometimes remark, “none of that distracting moving light stuff.”
The band’s lead vocalist Jeremy Oxley played most guitar hooks and solos on a well-loved Gibson Les Paul sunburst via a Marshall JCM 800 (2204/50W)/1960A quadbox stack with two speakers disconnected to keep the stage volume down. He has a unique and youthful string bending style that has not changed much since he was (as his hit songs states) a young ‘happy man’ rehearsing in the garage with his mates.
Richard Burgman on rhythm guitar and backing vocals spent most of the show running around the stage with a red Gibson SG or a TV yellow Les Paul Junior via a stereo pair of Fender Hot Rod Deluxe tweed amps. His antics were made possible via a wireless system.
On Keyboards was Dr Alister Spence, imitating the original studio sounds on a modern Korg CX-3 and Nord 88 key machine.
On Bass and harmony vocal duties was Jeremy’s brother Peter Oxley, playing a Fender Precision bass plugged into a stunning Avalon DI, then into a classic Ampeg valve stack.
Completing the rhythm section was Bil Bilson, holding it all together on a Yamaha drumkit that was roughly set up by this author.
The Sunnyboys had a string of hits and played an impressive 20 song set including two encores. These tunes have not been forgotten by their audience, who were up on their feet singing and dancing along to their favourite tunes. This show was a great demonstration of Mum and Dad passing on their musical history baton to the next generation. Many of the audience were family groups with parents and mostly adult children enjoying the show together. Maybe Mum and Dad met at a Sunnyboys gig?
There were plenty of audience highlights. The set opened with a nod to the band’s 40-year anniversary with the band’s first release – ‘Love To Rule’. Notable was a guitar-less Jeremy singing the dark and moody ‘Gone’. Featured was the hit ‘Discipline’ (show me some disiplin’ and I’ll show you mine) which was considered quite a sexy song back in the day with its ‘open to interpretation’ lyrics. ‘You Need A Friend’ got a big ‘woooh’ from the punters and was a great sing along, which made the effort of setting up the audience microphones worthwhile. ‘Alone With You’ was a huge hit, and was certainly an audience favorite, with the audience on their feet one final time.
A quick chat with some of the audience near the front of house control position confirmed the show sounded and looked great. The night was a celebration of being able to go to a gig again, and to pay homage to one of the great bands of the fabulous 1980s Australian music scene. Thanks to the band’s crew and Opera House staff for offering me the opportunity to attend.
Love To Rule
My Only Friend
Catch My Heart
Why Do I Cry
Guts Of Iron
Tunnel Of Love
What You Need
Stop And Think
It’s Not Me
To The Bone
Let You Go
You Need A Friend
Alone With You
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