Marc Hunter Biography


The late 70s era of Australian contemporary music was dominated by Dragons fire and ice. They arrived after the mega-platinum pop burst of Sherbet, Skyhooks, TMG and Ol55 and reigned almost supreme until the rise of deliberately working class bands like Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl and Men At Work, they were a union blessed with charisma, arrogant energy and an incisive yet disdainful rock vision. Their deftly structured music teetered between sweet lyricism and thinly veiled near-satanic sexuality, often projected from a chilling confrontational stance. They employed no gimmicks and made no promises. How one found them on a given night was basically how they felt that day. Thankfully, each performance was imbued with its own rare ingredients of mood and motivation, and there was rarely a truly poor one.


By the mid 90s, Marc and Todd Hunter had been seriously making music together for more than twenty years; Marc having joined his elder brother's aggressively experimental and assiduously uncommercial head band Dragon at the end of 1972 (and the pair having grown up in the tiny New Zealand North Island town of Taumaraniu where they, as Marc once recalled fondly, "spent a lot of time in Maori clubs because we liked their attitude, they were into music, fucking and fighting.")


Those twenty years took Dragon through the full spectrum of the rocknroll crazies, weaving them in and out of obscurity, fame, disillusionment, overindulgence and acclaimed accomplishment, finally depositing them in the rarely occupied (and not necessarily all that revered) elder statesman category of Australasian rock.


The good thing about Dragon, once contended Todd, is that weve always been a bit unfashionable. That means you can enjoy periods of great success but not go out of fashion a year later. You just become a sort of hideous fact of life! Certainly the band was long able to engender warmth and trust in the hearts and minds of those who had grown up with its passionate, full-bodied, fluid pop. "We still really dont give a shit about the fads, fashions and trends of rock music" said Marc in 1989. "To us, its still pop music, thats always been the prime attraction. I like the idea of making basically disposable music which, through fluke or artistry, can last for a long time and become a part of peoples consciousness. Id say Dragon made good pop. I think people probably think about us that way, having first heard us at a party somewhere. You get folded into peoples lives. Pop doesnt receive enough honour. It can sometimes be a high art form.


"We were always incredible pop slags - we always like the pop culture" expanded Todd in 1998. "We'd been an art rock band early on for a couple of albums, then we tried a Little Feat thing on a single, but we knew we had to get out of that so we dragged Paul Hewson over from New Zealand after we'd failed miserably with our first single in Australia [Starkissed ] because we knew he had a great pop sensibility. We didn't know that much about him except that he wrote great songs, he was such a natural songwriter and the first CBS single he wrote for us [Show Danny Across The Water ], even though it didn't work, was a step in the right direction. Just before we'd left NZ we'd got into this whole Lou Reed thing, playing songs like Heroin and White Light/White Heat . It was that whole attraction to the dark side that we had. We'd got here and we were completely stuffed - we couldn't get any jobs, so we had to somehow get on television and radio, that sort of thing. We did finally decide to pull our fingers out and go for it as a straight pop band, though it was forced on us to some extent.


"Robert Raymond, who'd toured Sinatra in Australia, came along said 'O.K. boys I'll manage you. Bring your instruments into my office at 4 o'clock'. By the time we set them up it was about five and he said 'Alright, here's the key, I'm locking you in. I'll be back in the morning to let you out by which time I want you to have written two hit singles.' So we stayed there and wrote This Time . The other one, I think, was The Dreaded Moroczy Bind , which was about a chess move."


Through the brittle, tensile exhilaration of their early hits -This Time, Get That Jive, April Sun In Cuba , Still In Love With You and Are You Old Enough? among them - Dragon dominated the Australian charts for three intense years, from 1976 to 1978. In commercial terms they were unstoppable, the medals couldnt be minted fast enough - Band Of the Year, Album Of the Year, Most Popular New group. They collected a stack of gold and platinum record plaques, toured America twice and, inevitably, collapsed under their own awesome weight. We were incredible boasted Marc Hunter during a 1986 interview. I dont necessarily subscribe to that vision of Dragon as a dark, malevolent, destructive force but there used to be this composite energy that reared its head whenever we were together. I still dont know that it was or what caused it but I do know that it remains in the spirit of our music.


There are those who witnessed Dragon during their first peak who do subscribe to the impression that Marc dismisses. Those who saw him select sweet young things from the front rows at outdoor concerts and mock rape them on stage. And those who saw the loss of two members of the band from drug-related deaths. Although Marc now talks of Neil Storey's 1976 death, just after the recording of This Time , as "an amazing shock to the band", it was not one which very much altered their approach to the rock'n'roll lifestyle of the day.


"I think it was one of the original punk bands, totally fucking outrageous" boasted Marc in 1994. "Thats why its hard to describe Dragon because what the songs were and what the band did live on stage were so opposed to each other, it was quite schizo really. We had nice happy songs but mock rape scenes happening on stage, people vomiting into buckets. I guess I did approach performing in a living theatre way. I used to think that if people wanted something then give it to them and let them decide if they like it or not."


Today, Todd marvels over his brother's extraordinary stage presence. "Marc had this command, the whole thing. No matter the audience, he would be so in their faces. He'd push it, always. There are so many instances. It was hot in a hall and he'd say 'Alright I want all the women in the room to take off their tops ........ We've got something to look at now, we'll keep playing' and get away with it! At Milton showground, one New Years Eve, we're playing on the back of a truck to 4,000 bikies. All the other bands are shivering in a corner saying 'We're gonna get killed'. Our turn to play and Marc yells into the mic "Which one of you fuckin' faggots wants the first fight?' All these mad bikies stand up, scream furiously and run at the stage. We say 'Marc, we're gonna get killed! No, it's o.k., this is good.' And it was. The last I saw of him that night was him roaring off into the blackness on the back of a Harley."


"One thing I know is that I dont believe weve ever been scared of anything" says Marc. Dragon was a very strange band but I dont think people are ready to embrace how libertine the 70s were overall" says Marc. "Anything went in the 70s. Everyone was really quite outrageous and there was still a huge amount of loonies left over from the 60s. I dont imagine itll ever be that crazy again in Australia actually. "


"Whatever was supposed to have happen in that era happened" recalls Todd. "We got to the States and the guys grabbed the limo at the airport and rushed off into the hills with Hello Sailor to score a deal. It was dumb stuff but we played it for all it was worth. Dragon was just a procession of things that should never have been done. There was so much bad luck, like having all our gear stolen when we first came over here. It was terrible and very wearying too, but it was sometimes hugely hilarious along with being the worst thing ever; a catastrophe but also great fun, if you can understand that."


The pinnacle of Marc madness came during Dragon's second American tour, when moments of pure Spinal Tap were occurring. It was, as he later put it, "the tour before I got emptied out the band because I became too weird." Record company heavyweights had flown down from New York to see the band. They were supporting Johnny Winter in Dallas, Texas and Marc recalls feeling "unwell".


After a terse conversation with an audience member about razor wire along the Mexican border he made some general stage observations about redneck buddies, illegal oral sex and pick-up trucks. Upon which, with apologies to Bob Dylan, a hard rain began to fall.


"I remember seeing someone standing holding a pistol and shouting 'Im gonna kill you, you son of a bitch he related in 1994. "I didn't know it but by this point the rest of the band had left the stage. I was still singing because I could still hear the music in my head. It took ages to clear the pile of debris on the stage - broken glass, bottles, chairs, half a table - but I was totally unaware of this, I though I was going over really well and Im standing there in a crucifixion pose with my arms out, really gone, with heaps of eye make-up on, looking like some sort of twisted priest. And apparently Johnny Winter was taking bets on the side of the stage as to how long it would take before somebody shot me. Then I turned around and saw no one was on stage so I realised I wasnt going over too well after all and I went back to the dressing room and everyone was just standing there. Sebastian Chase, our manager, had a totally white face. It was the first time Id seen everyone with the blood drained out of their faces. I said We went great, werent we terrific? At that stage of the band I was really a shocking sod. And all the record company people were just staring at me like I was an insectoid from Mars. And so that was it for us for that trip to America. "


"He was demonic" says Todd. "Things like Dallas happened all the time. The Miss Mary mock rape thing lasted until these feminists started getting up and punching him in the face. Most of the time I wasn't drinking or anything and, from my perspective, this Fall of the Roman Empire thing was pretty wild. I hated a lot of it. People came along because they wanted to see Dragon decombust. They were enjoying it but Marc was just killing himself. We had to fire him or he'd have destroyed himself."


With extra members Richard Lee on violin and Billy Rogers on sax and harmonica, Dragon operated for nine months in 1979 without their lead singer, scoring a minor hit with Love's Not Enough and recording a lost-in-the-rush album called Power Play . "We had some good nights" Todd recalls, "sometimes it was just fantastic - but not enough nights were." While Dragon floundered commercially in those confused punk/new wave days without a proper lead vocalist, Marc did have a last laugh of sorts.


He landed a solo deal with CBS and scored himself a 1979 top twenty hit with the bright and light Island Nights , from his Fiji Bitter album.


"I got fired and was told to piss off" Marc recounted in 1994. "So I went. I pissed off to Morocco and London. I was gone for about seven months. I vaguely came back to sanity after a very intense five years. I think the work load broke up the original band. In those days youd do two or three gigs a night and we did that for five years. I was kicking up about the constant touring, the fact that we were still travelling around two to a room even though we were raking in an enormous amount of money. Also that was the stage when I did have problems with drugs and alcohol."


All of this was not something that the Hunters choose to hide or dwell upon when they reunited the classic pop-era quintet at the end of 1982, after four basically lost years. They declared publicly: Were united in a common purpose and theres something seductive about that. We hadnt done what we set out to do - the drugs, drink and dissipation sidetracked us. We were too tired, wed lost contact with reality.


We were lucky, I suppose, that we went through that whole exploitation thing fairly early on, believes Marc. Yknow: I wanna be in a band and meet girls and run up a big room service bill. We did all that, we were our record companys big band for a year and they did the huge PR number on us. Somehow we got through all that and came out the other side. It was totally different when we came back in the 80s. It became more business-like because we couldnt survive otherwise. The days of trashing the amplifiers were over.


Though they were a little world-weary for their troubles, the dark cloud had lifted somewhat. "Wed done a lot" later reflected Marc. "We'd had a lot of hits and a lot of experiences but things change. I dont necessarily believe now that you should live out peoples fantasies for them all the time. You grow out of things. The people who come to the shows now see the band like a touchstone and they sing along with every song. You can hardly mock-rape someone while the audience is singing Sunshine. Dry humping is a definite phase!.


"There had been this weird, cynical attitude which fed off itself, this tail-eating thing" offers Todd. "CBS would ring and say all excitedly 'Hey you've been signed in America' and we'd go 'Oh yea, whoopee'.


We were so stubborn and pig headed. We lasted because we stayed together longer, everyone else just dropped off the perch.


"I think that our 70s success was mostly due to Paul's songs and Peter Dawkins' production. Peter really knew what was needed, though we despised him at the time for making us sound so poppy. We'd hear ourselves on the radio and we'd say dismissively 'there's that ant band again' because we thought we sounded so small. Are You Old Enough? was a really weird song to play - it was all over the place. April Sun In Cuba is probably my favourite Dragon hit, though I hear it now on the radio and can't believe the production, how thin the sounds seem in the 90s."


April Sun In Cuba also remains the favourite of Peter Dawkins, a New Zealand expatriate who signed Dragon to CBS just after Ariel and Air Supply. He had been alerted to the band's swaggering stage prowess by Spectrum/Ariel leader Mike Rudd. "It was never easy but when they were on, it was all worth it" he says now. "They had a real good rhythm section and, even though no one ever mentioned it at the time, Marc and Todd had great vocal harmonies. I guess I was a real tyrant in the studio because that was the only way it would work. It was because they just didn't want to be there. They weren't a band that demanded more studio time, they wanted less! If I didn't get a song in two or three takes I'd lost them. It was 'Do we have to do it again?' 'Yes!'. We had some rows and an angry Paul Hewson once rang and said he wouldn't promote Are You Old Enough? if CBS dared to put it out, things like that, but every time it came time to do a new album and they were asked if they wanted to work with me again they'd say 'oh yeah, o.k'. We ended up did four of them together."


After a one-off single for EMI, Ramona , and an aborted album with producer Trevor Lucas, the reformed Dragon signed up with Mercury/Polydor (their original company from the New Zealand cosmic wonder days) and settled down to some serious, focused hit making, again becoming one of the most reliable sources of classy chart hits in the country, with an exceptionally distinctive sound of crisp melody and gritty emotional texture.


Ive come to believe that there actually is a Dragon Sound, said Todd in 1989. We dont go after it but what we do ends up on the record sounding that way. Its really weird; sometimes we put songs down and hey dont sound like Dragon at all.


Then we muck around with it for a bit and it suddenly becomes Dragon, though we cant put our finger on what it is we did to make it happen. From Marc's view: Our polarisation results in a creative tension and thats how our ideas get sort of mutated into a distinctive sound, without us even being aware of it at the time.


This sound reached its peak with the irresistible 1983 national number two hit Rain , a song which slightly fractured the reformation. Drummer Kerry Jacobsen, much given to the bluesy-boogie side of the band, basically said "what is this Rain shit?" and took his leave. He was replaced by former XTC member Terry Chambers. Rain brought American keyboards master and adept multi-instrumentalist Alan Mansfield into the picture. He had produced Marc solo and was enlisted to produce the single. During the sessions the Hunters told him that if Rain didn't go to number one he would have to join the band. He jokingly agreed and, when Austen Tayshus' Australiana kept it from the top slot, being a man of his word he joined up (and was still with the band a decade later). "He took up the function of being between Marc and I at certain times which was very useful" says Todd, enigmatically.


Rain had a dramatic impact on the band's fortunes, introducing it to a new radio generation. "We'd hear that in all sorts of places" recalls Todd "like out on beaches on headlands in Northern Queensland, coming out of a radio with people singing along loudly." Off the back of the hit came the accomplished, accessible and unashamedly commercial Body And The Beat album - recorded in five London and two Sydney studios - which made top five and re-established Dragon as a major league Oz Rock entity. Just brimming with pop singles (all of which had slick, punchy one word titles - Rain, Magic, Cry, Fool, Wilderworld ) it brought out the songwriting talents of virtually every member and established a new creative dimension for the outfit.

Although he was listed as a member, there was but one minor co-write credit for the once-prolific Paul Hewson on the album. Like guitarist Robert Taylor he was gone before 1984 was over, their last record appearance being on the concert album and video Live One , recorded in August 1984 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and released almost a year later. Paul died in Auckland in January 1985, officially by misadventure", occasioning a second profound shock for the otherwise-inured band members. "I still have a big picture of him in my studio" Marc said in 1994.


"He was a good friend. He had scoliosis you know, his spine was breaking apart. He had to soak his hands in very hot water before he could go on and play, it give him incredible arthritis. He would have been in a wheelchair in a couple of years. It was inoperable."


The tag of "reunited band" was now hardly appropriate. With all the original or near-original members apart from the Hunters now gone, a lot of the band's "baggage" was also jettisoned. There was a clean slate of sorts and upon it was drawn what must be seen, musically, as the most impressive Dragon formation of all. Marc, Todd and Alan were augmented by young Australian guitar wizard Tommy Emmanuel (who had been playing almost since he had been walking and talking and had scored hits with Doug Parkinson's Southern Star Band a few years before) and dynamic American drummer Doane Perry.


This outfit was responsible for the expensive and ambitious 1986 album Dreams Of Ordinary Men , recorded in upstate New York under producer Todd Bat Out Of Hell Rundgren. "Todd Rundgren was a very strange guy" understates Todd, "not your normal producer. He and I would argue as to who could care less about something. You couldn't impress him, often you couldn't even interest him. He took to Tommy for a while, he said he was the best three guitarists he'd ever heard.


"With Doane and Tommy that band was really hot. Some nights the interplay between them was just fantastic. Doane was just incredible, he was a friend of Alan Mansfield who'd played with Bette Midler, Jethro Tull and Robert Palmer. Tommy and Marc would do all this outrageous stage stuff too - always trying to one-up each other. Even if we played at Jindabyne before 150 people we still sounded like a stadium band. So when we went out on the Tina Turner tour in Europe it was so easy to play before 120,000 people.


The Turner tour was supposed to be Dragon's relaunch to the world almost a decade after the Dallas debacle. It cost their new record company a packet, which made even more puzzling the absence of any stock of the Dreams Of Ordinary Men album in most of the record shops of Europe while they were there. Not that anybody who knew Dragon would have been able to find it anyway, because the band had been corporately retitled. "It was just stupid" says Todd. "There was pressure from everywhere - 'oh no, Dragon sounds like a heavy metal band, blah blah, blah.


At that stage we didn't give a shit so we said O.K. we'll call ourselves Hunter. Then we get over there and they say 'Hunter? Heavy metal band ja'?"


The album made top twenty at home (where the name Dragon was retained) and threw up two top twenty singles, though it failed to ignite the sort of spark its budget might have warranted. After its momentum wound down, the band eventually reverted to its Hunter/Hunter/Mansfield core. "Through the last year he played with us I thought that Tommy should have been doing a solo thing " says Todd, "it was just obvious that he should not be in a band anymore. "


The Polygram association ended during 1987 and Dragon, still very much a viable commercial entity, were signed to Glenn Wheatley's imprint through RCA/BMG. They took to their new masters the always welcome bonus of an out-of-the-box hit. During the Tina tour in Europe they had taken to playing Kool & the Gang's Celebration . It was always so well received that they decided to record it. The only non-original Dragon single ever, it shot into the top ten at Christmas 1987, just in time for the Bi-Centennary celebrations of the new year. A water-treading follow-up single, Todd's techno-ish River (which he now describes as "just a demo") made the lower reaches of the Top 100, enjoyed considerable popularity in dance clubs and gave them at least some presence during 1988.


These were, by comparison, sedate years. A process began around the time of the reformation whereupon Todd and Marc forgave each other for a catalogue of real and imaginary sins. For a very long time the two had devoted considerable energies to convincing people that they couldnt bear each other. Certainly there was a time when their blood seemed to run in each others veins as acid, when they pulled so far apart that it appeared unlikely the rift could ever be healed. Like so many rocknroll siblings - the brothers Gibb (Bee Gees), Wilson (Beach Boys), Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and Davies (Kinks) among them - the Hunters did much of their growing up in public and passed through bitter phases of assimilation. But long after their heads had been turned and their hearts hardened by the rocknroll sycophants they came back to the security of each other. It just made sense.


"Marc and I are so completely different that we fought all through the 70s - huge fights, throwing furniture at each other, trying to run each over with cars" says Todd in 1998. "And only when we reformed in the 80s did we realise that we were both going in the same direction, even if it was from completely different angles, so all that stopped. We stopped taking each other so seriously and from then on it was really easy. Well mostly. In the 80s we had these hired guns in the band and Marc and I would sometimes get furious with each other and be screaming the worst possible personal insults back and forward and these guys would go 'Oh no, this is horrible, so embarrassing' Two minutes later we would be roaring with laughter but everyone else would still be in a state of shock, feeling terrible."


One of the plusses of the relationship, Marc later expanded, is that no matter what the other does, nothing is going to be so far out or shocking or weird that we cant go with it. We know each other. Were always on good terms. We only seem to be on bad terms when people dont understand the dynamics inherent in the relationship. I absolutely love and adore Todd. Hes my best friend. Hes the only one who knows what the jokes are. Hes the only one with the key to the puzzle. Todd was the rock the band was built on. We wouldnt have existed without Todd. We have a respect for one anothers opinion and we listen to each other. "


In 1989 Dragon was back in the upper reaches of the charts with the slick Bondi Road album and Young Years hit. Gone was the bombastic lushness of the Spectoresque Dreams Of Ordinary Men . In its place was a solid, confident, more mature sound; it didn't so much strike and overwhelm as much as it rolled and seduced.


Were now taking a lot more responsibility for what we do." said Todd at the time. We got together and made this album ourselves, without hiring a producer. We just fought it out, with the help of David Hirschfelder from John Farnhams band, and this is the result. Were taking the blame for everything. For Marc there was "A real thread of wryness throughout the album, which comes from being this particular age, in this particular situation doing this particular job. A lot of the lyrics on Bondi Road are to do with water and change. " He insisted that the liquid flow of the album was a consequence of Bondi air.


Personal relationships also came to bear on the flowering of the band. The three principals - Marc, Todd and Alan - all established secure relationships with creative women. Alan with leading Kiwi singer/songwriter Sharon ONeill, Todd with musician/writer Johanna Pigott (they wrote Age of Reason for John Farnham) and Marc with clothes designer and occasional lyricist Wendy Heather.


The Dragon of 1988/9 was seasoned and knowing. We dont have a crusade to be the biggest band anymore, nor are we interested in watching fearfully over our shoulders at other bands" said Todd. "Everyone is older and looking after their families, and its very relaxed. Its so much looser without the pressures we once had. Now we really enjoy being able to make records that enable us to work with great people and great players. Im not sure if you can expect more than that. As Marc saw it, Weve got back to the first reason why bands make music, because you really love it and it does something to you. You get a sort of loyalty to your craft after a time that sort of transcends the fripperies. Maybe you even get a craft interjected Todd.


"Bands should be around for two years - they should go up like a skyrocket and explode" declares Todd. "But I was in Dragon for almost 25 years, and then it went on for a couple of years after I left. It was like one of those endurance tests. It's not one of those groups that ever gets included in the Great Aussie Bands list, it's more a footnote, which is quite good. It was never a Cold Chisel or a Skyhooks. We were always weirdo outsiders, even though it was such a pop thing."


Admired weirdos though. The list of Australian rockers and even country stars who name Dragon as a major influence on their own evolution is a long one. Indeed, when Todd, Marc and Alan came out for a last hurrah in 1995 with the Incarnations album on Roadshow (unplugged meets unexpected) there was an interesting and impressive array of admirers and old friends to help them put together a most engaging album - Renee Geyer, Keith Urban, the Rockmelons, Lee Kernaghan, Kevin Borich, Sharon O'Neill, Kirk Lorange, Robert Taylor, Kerry Jacobsen and Tommy Emmanuel, among others.


Dragon, effectively, is no more but the music still flows. Todd composes and records inventive music for television soundtracks. "I don't have any regrets at all.


It could be an incredibly stupid band and there were some phenomenally wasted moments but if I'd had it to do again I wouldn't have done anything else. Even though I have to say I'm having a better time now than I ever did then!"


"Its still pretty much a driving force because I cant stop it" said Marc in 1994. "Its not a case of something you can turn off. The songs still keep coming through and if you dont get them out you get a log jam or poisoned by them. I feel Ive been very lucky to have been in Dragon, lucky to have been born with talent, lucky to have had parents who didnt crush it and allowed us to exercise it. Im really lucky to have been in a band and come over and be accepted here in Australia, to sing great songs."


Even if Dragon had never made their way across the Tasman to become scream-dream pop sensations with a decidedly dark side, they would still have been the stuff legends are made of. "Few groups in the history of New Zealand rock have covered as much ground or attracted as much attention from the general media as Dragon" wrote John Dix in his Stranded In Paradise book. "New Zealand's top band when they flew to Australia in 1975, they left behind two moderately successful albums and a reputation for decadence".


Dix' Ponsonby Rock - Sordid Tales of Dragon essay is the place to uncover the blow-by-blow rise of Dragon. Suffice to say, within these space confines, that Todd and Marc grew up in the tiny town of Taumaranui, the marshalling area in the middle of new Zealands north island where trains stopped for a famous pie and the Maoris sat around with guitars and sang traditional songs and American soul they picked up from the radio. Marc and Todd, one sixteenth Fijian from the matriarchal line, came to an early understanding of Mauritanga, the Maori world view of life, art and culture. Marc remembers his own heritage, particularly a great grandfather who was one of eight living brothers, all over 80. But mostly he remembers singing, in local choirs, in his bedroom and at school. Of plucking classic pop songs from the airwaves and running them ragged. We got guitars for Christmas one year, Marc recalls. I broke mine but Todd played his. He was two years older than me and always more interested in music. I only saw it as a way of wagging school."


Todd left home to enrol at Waikato Teachers College in 1970 and hung out and occasionally played with local musicians and bands, such as Zeke and Heavy Pork; eventually picking up a bass and joining forces with guitarist Ray Goodwin and drummer David 'Div' Vercoe to become O.K. Dinghy. This, in turn, became Anteapot, Staff and, on the occasion of a gig at the Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival, Dragon (a name suggested by early, cosmically inclined member Graeme Collins's delve into the I Ching ).


Marc had followed Todd to Auckland. He worked as a door-to-door salesman, kitchen hand, general dogsbody and occasional drummer/singer with an MOR band called Quintessence before Todd got tired of seeing him laying about the flat and said, You might as well get up and sing with us. He did just that and the band found itself in a residency at Levis' Saloon in June 1973 and, a year later, Phonogram recording artists (having been initially rejected) with a firm instruction, in those hippy, trippy days, not to come up with anything that sounded like a commercial hit single.


"Residencies at Levi's, the Tabla, Do Re Mi and Rasputin's gave the band a wage through 1973" relates Dix, "the frequent venue changes coming about through Dragon's refusal to temper their progressive rock to fit management preference. The parties at Mandrax Mansion [a Herne Bay house they shared with what was to become Hello Sailor] were getting pretty wild and everything came together when they began the new year at a Karangahape Road dive called Dante's Inferno, right in the heart of Auckland's red light district..... February saw them collect first prize in the Auckland Festival's all-day Rock Marathon. They were destined to become New Zealand's top band by the end of 1974."


The meandering albums Universal Radio and Scented Gardens For The Blind were received warmly. "This album is the best New Zealand rock music to be recorded to date" decreed reviewer George Kay of the first, "easily transcending the past hallowed, yet amateurishly contrived efforts of Human Instinct, Highway and Ticket". By the time the second album arrived, reviewers such as 'Neville' of Hot Licks were gushing "Dragon have made a swift and remarkable metamorphosis from a sporadic experimental band into a tighter, completely self-contained rock unit, capabilities still intact, artistry better than ever, influences and idea in better perspective. To simplify, they are now, without a doubt, the finest band in the country."


As the finest band in the country, eventually with two admired albums and a clever single, they supported Osibisa and Uriah Heep, toured both islands repeatedly, played in Fiji, and drew massive crowds at Mon Desir. Outrageous incidents abounded (such as a naked pregnant stripper at a gig known as Buck-A-Head), Geoff Chunn (later in Split Enz) came in and out on drums, and musical differences flared. By the end of 1974 Dragon had collapsed. Inevitably, New Zealand had become too small for them, they were going around in ever-diminishing circles.


Put back together by determined manager Graeme Nesbitt as a slicker, snappier outfit, they recruited bluesy, Little Feat-besotted guitarist Robert Taylor from Mammal. They also wanted keyboards player/songwriter Paul Hewson on board, but at that stage he was quite happy in his band Cruise Control. He did, however, turn up backstage at their 'farewell' Auckland Town Hall concert on 12 May 1975, joining in some of the photos.


Nesbitt produced a single of Taylor's Education , which was their parting gift to New Zealand. In Sydney they got one crack at their old label, recording the punchy and poppy Star Kissed for Phonogram under producer/manager Wayne de Gruchy, who would soon mastermind John Paul Young's rise. When it didn't work (spectacularly so) and Ray Goodwin took his leave to play with John Paul Young's All Stars (and eventually Punkz/Cheek, the Silver Studs and Monsson), an urgent call went out to Paul Hewson, who soon arrived in Sydney with his wife, children and extraordinary talent.


The tale thereafter is well covered in the accompanying booklet for the Snake Eyes On The Paradise album. This disc continues on with a selection of b-sides, quality album songs, live tracks, an alternate take, an unreleased impromptu soundcheck performance, songs from the short-lived Dragon sans Marc, and a film title song from a Marc solo album written by Cold Chisel's Don Walker. Within the two discs the breadth of a beloved band is presented - more than 21 years of evolution and expression. A fine feast, to be sure.



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