DRAGON

Country New Zealand

Style Melodic Rock/AOR/Progressive Rock

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Dragon formed in Auckland, New Zealand, in January 1972 with a line-up that featured Todd Hunter on bass guitar, guitarist Ray Goodwin, drummer Neil Reynolds and singer/pianistGraeme Collins.All had been in various short-lived bands in Auckland, Collins is credited with using I Ching to provide the name Dragon.

1973 saw the band earn a regular wage with residencies at Auckland’s Levi’s Saloon, the Tabla, Do Re Mi and Rasputin’s. Each place they went to saw them bringing along their growing group of supporters. In 1974 they moved into Dante’s Inferno in the heart of Auckland’s red light district. and picked up first prize at the Auckland Festival’s all day Rock Marathon. With this success, a record contract was achieved and in June 1974 their debut album “Universal Radio” was released. Graeme Nesbitt, former manager of Mammal, became their full-time manager. He organised their first national tour to help promote the album and gained them a residency at Granny’s.

At the end of 1974 they headed off on another national tour, but while in Northland problems arose. Todd wanted to replace Neil on drums. All agreed except Ivan, so Neil and Ivan walked out. Geoff Chunn filled the drummers seat to fulfill the festive season commitments, but the foursome didn’t work out and the band temporarily disbanded. By early 1975, manager Graeme Nesbitt (ex-Mammal), who had obtained regular gigs and organised their first New Zealand tours, felt they should tackle the larger Australian market. Nesbitt was unable to travel with them to Australia – he had been arrested for selling drugs.

Dragon relocated to Sydney in May 1975, they toured Australia as support act to Status Quo in October. The band sent for keyboard player Paul Hewson who had a reputation, in New Zealand, as a pop songwriter. Hewson had been scouted by Nesbitt when Dragon were still in New Zealand but had declined to join at that time. In 1976 they secured a residency at the Bondi Lifesaver club,and landed a contract with CBS Records after being seen by record producer Peter Dawkins. Often courting or creating controversy, the band was rocked by the heroin overdose death of drummer Neil Storey in September 1976, aged 22.By then, founding member Goodwin had left the group, and their single “This Time” had begun charting.

After considering disbanding, Todd Hunter consulted with Nesbitt who advised him to continue and organised for Kerry Jacobson (ex-Mammal) to join on drums. Between 1977 and 1979, the line-up of the Hunter brothers, Taylor, Hewson and Jacobson had a string of major hits on the Australian National charts with singles “April Sun in Cuba”, “Are You Old Enough?” and “Still In Love with You” and albums Sunshine, Running Free and O Zambezi. These releases made them one of Australia’s most popular rock acts. They attempted a breakthrough into the American market with a tour supporting Johnny Winter, starting in November 1978, but this was foiled after a disastrous show in Dallas Texas,at which Marc Hunter incited a crowd by suggesting all Texans were “faggots”: band members had to dodge flying beer bottles.

Marc Hunter cleaned up in the post-Dragon years and released two successful solo singles, “Island Nights” (1979) from Fiji Bitter and “Big City Talk” (1981) from Big City Talk.”Big City Talk”‘s video was filmed in the Broadway Tunnel, a long and dreary pedestrian walkway linking Sydney’s Central Station with Broadway. It captured the seedy and unsettling atmosphere of the tunnel, adding extra mood to the song’s words. Todd Hunter had meanwhile teamed up with his partner (and later second wife) Johanna Pigott, formerly of indie punk group XL Capris, and together they became a successful songwriting team. XL Capris were not commercially successful, although their memorable re-working of crooner Tommy Leonetti’s “My City Of Sydney” became a minor cult classic. Todd Hunter produced both their albums Where’s Hank? (March 1981) and Weeds (October 1981), and was a member of the band for the second.

Paul Hewson moved back to Auckland and joined The Pink Flamingos, who became one of New Zealand’s top musical acts in the early 1980s. They were led by Dave McArtneyex-Hello Sailor, which had toured with Dragon but had also split. Dragon reformed in August 1982 with their classic line-up of the Hunter brothers, Hewson, Taylor and Jacobsen. When they disbanded in 1979, they had left some large debts behind. The main reason for the reformation was to do some gigs to pay off the debts. They did a quick tour, played all the old hits and packed in the crowds. It was obvious that there was still some magic there. With this in mind they decided to continue.

Although a single “Ramona”/”Blacktown Boogie” was released, and failing to do anything, only making it to 79 on the charts, they never gave up. In July 1983 the single “Rain” was released. This proved to be a monster hit, reaching number 2 on the charts. In November, “Magic” was the follow up single, reaching 33 on the charts. Both singles were produced by Alan Mansfield, who had worked with Robert Palmer. Alan’s relationship with the group was so successful that he was invited to join the group on guitar and keyboards. Late in 1983 drummer Kerry Jacobsen fell ill with a badly infected finger. He was replaced by Terry Chambers, formerly of English band XTC.

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A new album was released in June 1984, called “Body and the Beat”, it reached number 5 on the album charts. Although it contained no Hewson compositions (he only had one shared with all the other members), it still rates as one of their best efforts. Including the two already released singles, three more singles from it were released over the next four months. They were “Cry”, “Body and the Beat” and “Wilderworld”. They began touring again, but it wasn’t long before trouble started brewing again. Robert Taylor left and shortly after Paul Hewson decided that he needed a break as well. There last appearances being captured on the concert album “Live One”, recorded in August 1984 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and released almost a year later.

Paul Hewson returned to New Zealand for that well earned break, but instead of doing that he teamed up with the All-Stars where he enjoyed the return to less demanding performances. On the night of January 9 1985, Hewson reached a decision, phoning Todd Hunter in Sydney to inform him that he wouldn’t be rejoining Dragon. Following this, he and friend Paul Hartland hit the town, ending the night asleep in Hartland’s car outside All-Star Neil Edwards’ Henderson home. Paul Hewson didn’t wake up. Paul was one of the greatest songwriters New Zealand has produced. An unfortunate victim of the drug world he has been sadly missed by thousands of rock fans, but his songs will lay tribute to him forever.

1985 saw the release of only one single, “Speak No Evil”/”Witnessing”, which had a reasonable run on the charts, making it to number 19. Meanwhile Terry Chambers left and he was replaced by English drummer Doane Perry from Jethro Tull. Robert was replaced by Don Miller-Robinson (from Lifesavers) and he was soon replaced by a young guitar wizard named Tommy Emmanuel. The Todd brothers were the only remaining New Zealand connection left with the group. It was this combination who were responsible for the expensive and ambitious 1986 album “Dreams Of Ordinary Men”, recorded in New York under producer Todd Rundgren. It was released in August and made it to 18 on the album charts. Three singles were released from it, “Dreams Of Ordinary Men”, “Western Girls” and “Nothing To Lose”. Sharon O’Neill, who had now teamed up with Alan Mansfield, made her first contribution to the song writing credits on “Western Girls”. Sharon and Alan were to add many more songs to the list in time.

In 1987 they toured Europe as support to Tina Turner. So as to not sound like a heavy metal band, their name was changed to Hunter for the tour. The “Dreams Of Ordinary Men” CD was released in Europe and the US under the name Hunter, with a different cover. “Rain” was added to the track list, and all of the songs, except “Midnight Sun” and “Start It Up” were remixed in the US. They all sound different to the originals. During the European tour, they had been playing Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”. It was so well received that they decided to record it when they got back to Sydney. Doane was no longer with them, his place was taken by David Hirschfelder. David had played keyboards in the Peter Cupples Band in 1981, before joining the Little River Band in 1983, replacing Beeb Birtles. The single was released in November 1987 and climbed to number 11 on the charts. It was an appropriate song to help celebrate the Australian bi-centenary in the new year. It was also the only non-original Dragon single ever.

In 1988, the group reverted to just its Marc, Todd and Alan combination, adding temporarily guitarists Peter Grimwood and Randall Waller from Avion, plus drummer Barton Price from Models. A follow up single to “Celebration” was Todd’s “River”. Although it lingered at the bottom end of the charts, it still gave them an important presence during 1988. Also that year, J&B released a compilation album called “Their Classic Collection”, while Portrait released a four track EP as part of their series that included Sharon O’Neill and mainly international artists.

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For 1989 they brought back David Hirschfelder and added New Zealander Mike Caen (from Pink Slips and Scribble) on guitar and Mitch Farmer and John Watson (from Australian Crawl) on drums. It was back to the recording studio for a new album. The result was “Bondi Road” released in May 1989 and reaching 18 on the album charts. There were four songs from Sharon and Alan on the album and the first single was “Young Years”/”Runaway”. This reached number 18, with the following two singles, “Here I Am”/”Good Time Girl” and “Summer”/”Heart Of Fire” not fairing quite so well.

It was a great time for the three principal members, each having now linked up with creative women. Alan was with singer/songwriter Sharon O’Neill, Todd with musician/writer Johanna Pigott and Marc with clothes designer and occasional lyricist Wendy Heather. Todd had met Johanna during his stint with XL Capris and together they wrote “Age Of Reason” for John Farnham. J&B released an updated version of their previous vinyl collection in 1989 on a CD called “Dragon – Their Classic Collection – Limited Edition”.

Polygram released a compilation album called “Cuts From The Tough Times” in 1990. It comprised all the tracks from “Body and the Beat” and a selection of tracks from “Dreams Of Ordinary Men”. By early 1990, Dragon had effectively disbanded, but not for long. Todd, Marc and Alan were to come together only once more and that was for the album “Incarnations” in 1995. It was basically an unplugged album of their previous hits, involving a number of old friends to help put it together, plus their final single “Chains Of Love”/”Still In Love”.

By 1997, Todd had left, and that only left Marc and Alan and a few studio musicians. In November 1997, Marc was diagnosed as having throat cancer. A benefit concert was held in Melbourne in February 1998, consisting of many artists from the Australian rock music community. On Friday March 27, 1998, a second benefit concert was held in Sydney. This was captured on “Good Vibrations”. With his treatment not going very well, Marc and his wife Wendy, flew out to Daera Chun, South Korea, to try one last shot at a cure. After a few weeks, Marc returned to Sydney, where he sadly passed away on July 17th 1998.

Two albums were released in 1998 on Raven, a greatest hits and a collector’s edition. These albums are a must for anybody who is remotely interested in hearing the sounds of one of New Zealand’s greatest exports. Dragon broke up a second time after Marc Hunter’s illness had been diagnosed. Todd Hunter continued composing music for TV and film with Heartbreak High to 1999, Walk the Talk (2000 film), Out There (2003 TV series) and Out of the Blue (2008 BBC-TV series). Mansfield and O’Neill continued songwriting including “True Love” co-written with Robert Palmer for his 1999 album Rhythm and Blues. They both performed with Leo Sayer during his tours in 2006 and 2007, O’Neill would sing “Young Years” in honour of Marc Hunter.

Todd Hunter (bass) reformed Dragon in 2006 with a line-up of Mark Williams (vocals, guitar), Bruce Reid (guitar), and Pete Drummond (drums). The new line-up released Sunshine to Rain on the Liberation Blue label. On 1 July 2008, Dragon were inducted by Richard Wilkins into the ARIA Hall of Fame, Dragon were joined on-stage by James Reyne and Ian Moss to perform “April Sun in Cuba” and “Rain”. In October 2009, Dragon released Happy I Am on Ozmo Records, distributed internationally by MGM Records. Dragon have played 400 shows with the current line-up including the Rhythm and Vines Festival in NZ, New Year’s Eve 2011. The band toured with Jimmy Barnes in NZ over the summer break and is booked to play six Day On The Green concerts from February till April 2011.

DISCOGRAPHYdiscography

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– Universal Radio [1974]
– Scented Gardens For The Blind [1975]
– Sunshine [1977]
– Running Free [1977]
– O Zambezi [1978]
– Power Play [1979]
– Body And The Beat [1984]
– Dreams Of Ordinary Men [1986]
– Bondi Road [1989]
– Incarnations [1995]
– Sunshine To Rain [2006]
– Happy I Am [2009]

notes from band

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