Celebrating the three ages in the evolution of the iconic rock band Dragon. The Young Years, from 1973 to 1979: The Glory Years, from 1982 to 1998 and The Phoenix Years, from 2006 on.
In the first half of the Young Years the band played in the wilds of New Zealand. Before Dragon was even named Todd Hunter and Ray Goodwin (the founders of Dragon) formed an acid jamming band to provide music for NZ’s infamous version of the Kesey Happenings, namely The Great Good Friday Acid Bummer of 1971, but that dear reader, is another story altogether.
After a year or two in the wilderness Dragon was named on NYE 1973 and Marc Hunter joined a few months later. The band played all around NZ in the mid 70s and released two quasi-progressive albums for the English prog rock label Vertigo. They lived in the infamous Mandrax Mansion with the nascent Hello Sailor and quickly ran out of places to play. Robert Taylor and drummer Neil Storey joined in 74 and in May 1975 the members of Dragon packed their meagre belongings into a few tea chests, boarded a 747 and made the move across the Tasman to Bondi.
Paul Hewson joined the band a few months later and what followed wasn’t pretty. Ray Goodwin left and the band scraped shows together and lived on the dark side of Sydney until they were plucked from obscurity (and by obscurity I mean playing for a bowl of mince each at The Recovery Winebar) where, at the end of the night the band would have to circulate through the room and borrow the cab fare to get it, and it’s miserable instruments, home). One night the big cheeses of CBS Records USA dropped in to the aforementioned mincetaria and decreed that the band should be signed and recorded (thank you Mike Rudd for the heads up to Peter Dawkins) . Before long Dragon was on Countdown and the crowds were going nuts. Not as nuts as the band however and the 70s proceeded in a riotous fashion.
Marc Hunter stepped up out of nowhere into the spotlight as one of Australia’s few, true rock stars and the rest is history.
During these young years the band wrote and recorded a bunch of songs that became part of the Australasian psyche. Songs so evocative that they are still the staple of heritage radio in 2014.
The albums released during The Young Years were Universal Radio (1973) and Scented Gardens For The Blind (1973) in New Zealand. Sunshine (1976) Running Free (1977) O Zambezi (1977) and Power Play (1979) were released in Australia. The classic singles Sunshine, This Time, Konkaroo, Still In Love, April Sun In Cuba and are You Old Enough were all over radio in the late 70s.
The band toured until they were overcome by exhaustion, ennui and various lifestyle issues. After a disastrous tour of America in late 1978 supporting Johnny Winters the band broke up for the first time on NYE 1979 and the Young Years were over.
In 1982 Dragon reformed to pay off a mountain of debt left over from the excesses of the 70s. They got sick of grim faced men serving summons for unpaid limousine hires, unpaid charter flights and hotel room service bills. They decided to do something about it. They got a good lawyer, went on tour and paid their creditors off in a month. The Dragon circus was back on the road. Rain was the song that got the band back on the airwaves and producer Alan Mansfield joined the band on keyboards. Drummer Kerry Jacobsen left during the making of the Body & The Beat album to be replaced by Terry Chambers from XTC.
Following the Body & The Beat tour, which ended at The Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1984 the band changed members again. Robert Taylor and Paul Hewson left the band (Paul’s tragic death in NZ followed soon after) and guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel and drummer Doane Perry from Jethro Tull joined shortly afterwards. These were the Glory Years.
In 1985 Dragon went to Woodstock. NY and recorded The Dreams Of Ordinary Men with producer Todd Rundgren. The following year was mainly taken up with touring through Europe with Tina Turner. The band played many stadiums, bullrings and colosseums and returned home at the end of the 80s to regroup and turn their attentions to raising kids
Dragon started a studio in Bondi Road in a funky old house containing a great sounding Neve desk and it was from there that the album Bondi Road came from. The band became active in the community and organised a huge concert to fund the clean up of iconic Bondi Beach.
Albums recorded during the 80s were Body & The Beat, Dreams Of Ordinary Men, Live One and Bondi Road . The singles Rain, Magic, Cry, Speak No Evil, Dreams Of Ordinary Men, Western Girls, Young Years and Celebrate also charted in this period
The band played intermittently through the early 90s with many members coming and going until Marc Hunter passed away in 1998 and the Glory Years were over.
There was no Dragon from 1998 till 2006. It was deceased, defunct, gone forever. There was hardly any memory of the band in the collective subconscious, it was if it had never existed. Yes, you would hear the occasional Dragon song on the radio like an echo of a distant pop past that never really happened. Marc was gone, Todd was busy composing the music to the TV show Heartbreak High for six years and the band members had all gone their separate ways.
Then, in 2006 the sun broke through on the dark and dormant Dragon landscape. Todd rang legendary Kiwi singer Mark Williams with the question “Want to be in a band?” “Why not” was the answer and Bruce Reid the accomplished and eccentric Canadian guitar slinger and brilliant young Australian drummer Pete Drummond were conscripted and Dragon’s Phoenix Years had begun.
It seemed to Todd that Dragon needed to be re- incarnated, the songs needed to be played again and everything possible should be gathered together and uploaded to dragononline.com.au.
It was that simple. There were no auditions or rehearsals. The new band got together in a studio and started playing and hasn’t stopped since. It was meant to be.
They recorded an acoustic album of the Dragon songs as a way of finding their own voice and started playing live in July 2006. “ When we first started playing I was unsure as to whether or not it would work. I distinctly remember the first time we played with the new band. We hit the first notes of Still in Love and you felt the whole crowd hold it’s breath. When Mark started singing everyone dived in and sang along and that’s how it is every night. It’s a great honour to play these songs” says Todd Hunter. The band played an acoustic set for a while but found that they couldn’t hear themselves over the crowd singing so they took up their electric instruments and have been playing loud and hard ever since.
They hit their 500th show in June 2013 and show no signs of slowing down any time soon. Dragon have played all over Australia, toured New Zealand and South Africa since reforming. They play anywhere from huge festivals like Rhythm & Vines in front of thousands of people to intimate 100 seater theatre shows where the audience ends up dancing on the tables and in the aisles. The Dragon songs lend themselves to any format, acoustic or full bore electric or just the four band members standing around one microphone in a radio station singing harmonies.
Dragon have not been idle on the recording front. They have recorded albums, EPs and DVDs of new material and old. In 2006 they released Sunshine To Rain , Live 2008 in 2008, Happy I Am and Remembers in 2009, Heart Of Gold in 2010 and The Great Divide in 2011 They happily sign them and sell them at every show. This is the way it always should have been. Self contained, totally about the music and, most importantly, the Dragon songs, delivered with the humility and passion that they deserve.
In March 2014, Dragon embark on their massive 30 date Trilogy Tour till mid June 2014. They play theatres in many regional centres all over Australia. The show is in two parts going all the way back from today’s songs to the earliest hits and obscurities. Like a reverse cycle musical time machine, your whole life will flash before you, but in a very good way indeed.
These are the three ages of Dragon.
The Young Years, from 1973 to 1979: The Glory Years, from 1982 to 1998 and The Phoenix Years, from 2006 on.