Dragon – Chasing The Sun

Dragon, everyone knows the band, everyone can hum more than a few of their songs. They’re icons within the Australasian music industry, they broke half of the rules before many bands even thought about anarchy and excess. Yet here they are 40 years later still playing to packed shows every week. 40 years! That’s a long time to be ahead in a game that can make or break you.

Todd Hunter has been there from the beginning, the original member through the heady highs and the lowest of lows. Hunter first began his love affair with music at the age of 6.  “I went and played with my Uncle’s band.  It was amazing.  Since that time I’ve always turned up with stuff and I’m ready to play”. He still uses that turning up anywhere and anytime mentality with gigs he plays today. “I just love to play, and sometimes you feed off of the audience to get the feel to move forward”.

Dragon began their musical dream in 1973 in New Zealand. “We ran out of places to play in New Zealand. At the time there just weren’t enough venues, and we were restricted in how we could grow”. The band then moved to Australia to try their luck.

Once in Australia the band would play wherever they could book a gig in order to score a free feed and enough taxi fare to get the band home. “This was back in the days where in order to get served alcohol on certain days, pubs had to give you food as part of licensing restrictions.  So we’d play a gig, get a feed and then go home to do it all again”.  Does Hunter still eat mince-meat, the staple pub grub?  “No, never!  We’re past that now!”  He laughs.

I asked Todd whether he believed artists of today were at a disadvantage with the loss of places to play. “It’s a different world out there now. With Facebook and Twitter you can conquer the world from your bedroom so long as you have a great song. We will play anywhere, be it a room of 100 to a festival of 10,000, I don’t care so long as someone wants to hear us.  We are booked out now until May 2015.  We’re heading back to New Zealand, doing some Day On The Green shows in Australia as well as the regional show tour that we are currently doing. There’s always somewhere to play so long as the audience is there”.

Reinvention is the key to Dragon’s ongoing successes; How does Hunter keep it fresh?  “Easy, there are constantly ways to have fun with sounds, and even the old songs.  We play at many different venues and these shows lend to different feels. We played a recent tour in New Zealand of Churches and Cathedrals. It was amazing just the different sounds.  You have to play quietly in these venues and the acoustics within those walls leant itself to a whole new feel for the band”

Hunter also leads a varied career outside Dragon, working with his wife, Joanna Piggott whom he met during the production work of her then band XL Capris in Sydney. The pair forged together producing and writing for other artists as well as establishing a strong repertoire of musical scores for television and movies.  “We then produced some boys for a while too, when they went off to boarding school, I went back to music again” recalls Hunter.

Working with many different artists over the years, I asked Todd whether there was anyone that had really made an impression on him.  “Tina Turner was amazing. Todd Rundgren was insane, it was a real experience, he was amazing. I was at a dinner recently and Paul Mac was there, I was asked whether I knew him, and without actually knowing one another, we’ve always worked around each other. The music industry is like that, we are a small circle, there’s always a connection”.

In 2006, Todd Hunter made a decision, one that he agonized over, the re-formation of Dragon after losing his brother Marc, and lead vocalist of the band, to throat cancer.  “I was pissed off.  I was pissed that Dragon had disappeared; it was like we never existed. I wanted to have another go and have a legacy for my brother.  On the night we played live for the first time, we opened with ‘Still in love with you’, and I was thinking Oh God how is this gonna go, and by 4 bars in the crowd were singing along too. It was great, and really emotional”.

But why Mark Williams? “I wanted a completely different image than Marc. Mark Williams sang a heart wrenching acoustic version of ‘Are you old enough’ at Marc’s funeral, and maybe that stuck with me, I’m not sure.  I’d been working with Bruce (Reid, guitarist) on another project and I called him up and he said sure I’m in but do you have a drummer, I said no, and he suggested Pete (Drummond, drums), it just all flowed from there”.

The band has recently notched up their 600th live show, and is still going strong.  After such a massive milestone, I asked Hunter how he kept finding the energy to get up and play. “Its what you do.  To be able to do your own thing in the week and then meet up at the airport and jet off and play is a privilege – that people want to come and see your shows,  and to see so many smiling faces singing, its amazing”.

I mentioned that my 16 year old started singing some of his tunes when I announced I was doing this interview.  I asked how he felt about having a new generation of fans. “That’s the best thing!  They have so much energy!  We can feed off of the crowd and keep growing. We now play a plugged in show as we couldn’t hear ourselves play over the singing of the audience. Its amazing to see everyone singing and happy.  Everyone now is on Facebook and Twitter, our culture doesn’t sing together anymore.  When we were young, we all sat around the piano with mum and we sang as a family.  My mum is half Fijian and she’s always singing.  She’s just moved to a retirement home and she’s there still singing up a storm with her piano, the people there love it”.

Dragon played at Vertigo in June 2013, the shows went off and were a talking point for days afterwards. I asked Hunter what the crowds can expect this year “Come along and sing.  There will be all of the songs you know, as well as a few you don’t, and we’ll play anything if you ask!”

Cherie Kitto