They have become something of an institution in the music scene in Australia and, of course, across the Tasman in their homeland of New Zealand. Notwithstanding a hiatus here and there, rock band Dragon has managed to endure forty years as a major part of our musical landscape. Yes, the line-up has changed. Bass player and founding member Todd Hunter is the only original member remaing and is now joined by Mark Williams on vocals, Pete Drummond on drums and guitarist Bruce Reid. However, their back catalgoue of songs still hits a chord in us and sounds as good today as it ever did. And their new material is, as Todd describes it, 'fresh and melodic'. just as we have come to expect from a band that has given us some of the best and most memorable pop songs ever produced in this country and their current tour, dubbed 'The Trilogy Tour', serves as a reminder of just how much a part of our lives Dragon has been... and continues to be. The show covers the three eras of Dragon's career: the Young Years (1973 – 1979), the Glory Years (1982 – 1998) and the Phoenix Years (from 2006 to the present day and beyond) with three sets, each centred around a particular era. I last spoke to Todd as the tour kicked off earlier this year and I had the pleasure of catching up with him again recently, as the band approaches the final leg of the tour. "It's been great," says Todd. "It's been a lot of fun and people really seem to get the concept. It's been really nice. One of the incredible things... on this tour, the first set we do, we play all the current stuff and the crowds just go 'Wow!' at the end of these songs. It's just amazing. Recognition is everything of course except for this stuff, they're responding to it on the spot, which is really good. We start off with The Phoenix Years. It's like an archeological dig. You do it in layers. So the first set is 35-40 minutes of current stuff then there's a break and we do the eighties and then the seventies. It's funny when you present it like that. It's a lot of fun."
I ask what songs were getting the biggest reaction on this tour. "It's weird, you know," he responds. "Sometimes it's 'April Sun'. When we played that recently and they heard the opening chorus, they went nuts. Sometimes it's 'Rain' and sometimes it's 'Are You Old Enough' and for different reasons." Todd always enjoys performing 'Rain' and he says that song has changed over time. "It now plays itself. We just play the central riff and the drum stuff and it sounds huge. It's almost techno and it works well. It works like a contemporary song."
Looking back over the three eras of Dragon, Todd remembers the 'Young Years' as a 'pretty wild time.' "We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make songs that would last for forty years," he recalls. "And we didn't have a clue. It wasn't until Paul came along and we had these beautiful pop songs and we thought 'This just might work' so I guess my memory of that time is that we were such a bunch of weirdos and the combination of characters was quite dark but our music was bright, shiny pop so there was a big disconnect between what came out and the kind of guys that we were which was lucky I think because if we had made very dark, Velvet Underground type music, I don't think we'd still be around now so always I guess the music was the redeeming thing in those early times."
And it's great music. Music with a life of its own. It always was. It still is.
"I guess you're right," he agrees. "If you look at the music itself, it is a separate entity to life in some ways and now we just play the songs in a way that makes us happy. I guess that's all you can do. If we play in a way that makes you happy, then it might make everyone else happy as well. People respond to that. You have to be having a great time and there has to be a lot of non vocal communication going between the band and thecrowd and between the crowd and the band for the night to lift off. We're lucky having Mark because he just works his butt off every night, getting people involved and the sweat flies off and it's like he is in a trance or something."
The reformed Dragon, with all new blood, (with, of course, the exception of Todd himself) is a very different band from the one we knew in the seventies and eighties... and even the nineties. Although they still play the same classics that made them a household name back then, the songs are approached in a new and different way but still distinctly Dragon. "It had to be like that," Todd insisted. "I wouldn't be doing it for a minute if we were trying to just be a cover band and slavishly reproduce all that stuff. There'd be no point. I don't think the audience would like it either. I think they'd feel cheated. You have to take into account everything that's happened in music; otherwise it is just like a nostalgia thing I guess."
Not that there is anything wrong with nostalgia but you have to move forward too.
"Although, in the seventies," he points out, "Nostalgia was characterised as an illness. But now... what the hell!" he laughs.
In addition to the songs we know and love, Dragon will also be previewing some new material at these shows. The songs will be included on a forthcoming album, due to be launched around August/September at The Basement in Sydney, according to Todd. "We will finish this tour and then we've got a month or so of not a lot of shows and we'll just write the rest of it then and record it and away we go. We're playing a few of them 'live'. It's just very fresh and guitar driven and melodic, as we always are. The album is out in August/September and we're playing a lot of interesting shows between now and the end of the year. We're doing one up in The Warrambungles, one in Alice Springs and we're playing in Perth, Cairns, and we'll go back to New Zealand and then at Christmas time, we'll do a New Zealand tour, a summer tour and then we'll come back here to the south coast and do an end of summertime tour at the end of January. We love going back to New Zealand. You go to all those places that you remember because all those landscapes are imprinted in our minds. And when we go to New Zealand, we are like an international band so that's fun as well." A few weeks ago, Dragon played in Christchurch to 15,000 people. "It was beautiful," says Todd. "The sun was going down. It was a huge park and you look out at the crowd and I couldn't see anyone older than about twenty. They were leaping up and down and having a great time." He is chuffed to see so many young people enjoying their music. "The fact that they actually understand it for a start," he adds with a laugh. "It's interesting," he muses. "Crowds differ all the time. I get a lot of emails saying 'I'm 17 and I want to come to your show next weekend but it's 18+.'" He is not too sure what the answer is. "What do we do? It's an interesting phenomenon. Maybe because of 'Are You Old Enough' and You Tube too. There's no age barriers anymore. It's just a huge range of crowd."
But those young people in the crowd might never have had this wonderful opportunity if it hadn't been for a night about eight years ago when Todd happened to play at a concert at his son's school. "That's right," he confirms. "That was the first time I played 'live' in about eight or so years and it was thrilling just to be the bass player. I had completely forgotten that whole part of my life because I'd been so involved in working in the studio but it just all came flooding back and I said. 'Yeah, I'll do this... for a while.' But it's just such an incredibly simple thing to do and it's great. I just thought Well, I'll do this until I feel like going back into the studio... if ever." Luckily for us, Todd is quite content to continue doing what it is he was always meant to do and feels grateful that he still has the opportunity to do it. In his words: "I'm incredibly happy to be alive."
by Sharyn Hamey
There's still time to catch Dragon's Trilogy show at the following venues:
Saturday 14th June 2014
The Palms at Crown, MELBOURNE VIC
www.ticketek.com | 132 849
Tickets on sale Monday 5th August 2013
Friday 20th June 2014
Kedron Wavell Services Club, BRISBANE QLD
www.kedron-wavell.com.au | (07) 3359 9122
Tickets on sale Monday 5th August 2013
Saturday 21st June 2014
Twin Towns, GOLD COAST QLD
www.twintowns.com.au | 1800 014 014
Tickets on sale Monday 5th August 2013
Last updated by Sharyn Hamey Jun 10, 2014.