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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.