The story of the Armidale Food Emporium busker known as 'Sunshine'

MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC: At almost 80 years old, 'Sunshine' sits outside the Armidale's Coles shopping complex every afternoon to play songs from days gone by. Photo: Rachel Baxter.
MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC: At almost 80 years old, 'Sunshine' sits outside the Armidale's Coles shopping complex every afternoon to play songs from days gone by. Photo: Rachel Baxter.

He’s served in the Royal Air Force and jammed with Fleetwood Mac – but there’s only one thing “Sunshine” has ever wanted to be – a busker.

Born in Bournemouth, England, Sunshine moved to Coventry when he was 12 months old.

“The Second World War had just been declared,” he said.

“I watched Coventry get bombed when I was 20 months old and remember the conversation at the head of the stairs between my mother and my aunt.

“It destroyed our cathedral.”

The city was bombed many times during the Second World War by the German Air Force.

Sunshine said one year, he stood on the steps of the church after being “turfed out of the sermon” with most of the children.

“I suppose it was all too heavy for kids to be there, it was during the war,” he said.

Sunshine’s sister asked him to sing a song.

“I sang Onward, Christian Soldiers and it wasn’t until the year 2000 that I learnt that I’d started as the vicar went into the pulpit and he silenced the audience and they listened to my voice,” he said.

“Singing is a gift and I was given it.

“In 1946, a few months after the war ended, I was coached as a singer to apply for a scholarship to the Oxford School of Music.

“I became the second best boy soprano in Europe.”

Sunshine spent the next seven years of his life at boarding school.

“I got the best education in the world but I got the worst cultural education because we didn’t mix with anybody outside the school,” he said.

“During the war the Spitfire pilots would come over on the weekends and they taught me to fly a Spitfire.

“I grew up wanting to be a Spitfire pilot.”

When Sunshine left school he worked in accountancy before joining the Royal Air Force.

“I was an air wireless [radio] fitter and we did 14 to 18 hour shifts,” he said.

“On a day off I’d go as crew observer.”

In 1959 he visited Australia for the first time and went to the Adelaide School of Art.

“Finally I got involved in music,” he said.

“Cat Stevens and I worked in the same kitchen and the guys from Fleetwood Mac were just friends and Tim Hart and Maddy Prior who formed Steeleye Span were also friends.

“That was my background, but I didn’t want to be that.”

That was my background, but I didn’t want to be that.

Sunshine

The muso was invited into the Leicester Square buskers union.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash used to go down there in a Rolls-Royce, a bowler hat … change down to old jeans, an old shirt and a hat with a dandylion in the front and dance to a wind-up record player, or we’d play for him,” he said.

“He danced among the traffic … we’d do a cue three times a day and make a weeks wages in 20 minutes.”

But the world was calling.

With a guitar on one shoulder and a swag on the other, Sunshine toured Europe for many years and lived in France throughout the 1960s.

In 1965 he met his wife, Christine, and decided to settle down.

“I left music and became the industrial training officer for the biggest electronics company in the world,” he said.

“We had a luxury flat, two luxury cars and a van within two years.

“I said Christine, ‘a woman’s place is where her man is’ and she said ‘I agree’ and I set my van up and did shows on the side of the road.”

Eventually Sunshine left London and came to university in Armidale.

He did a doctorate in sociology at the University of New England researching marijuana in the workplace.

Today, Sunshine spends most of his time playing his guitar and singing outside the Coles complex in Armidale.

He’s also starting a new business in partnership with Black Dot Music.

“We’re trying to develop projects which allow people to sit at their kitchen table and earn a proper living wage,” he said.

He also paints and one of his works is on display inside the Armidale Food Emporium on the wall next to Liquorland. 

Soon he’ll celebrate his 80th birthday – but has no plans on slowing down.