Are you old enough?

TRACEY COOPER
Last updated 08:13 18/10/2012
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Dragon circa 2012, with Todd Hunter, second from the right, and Mark Williams, second from the left.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Dragon circa 2012, with Todd Hunter, second from the right, and Mark Williams, second from the left.

EARLY DAYS: Dragon in the late 1970s, with Todd Hunter on the right, hiding behind the walrus moustache.
EARLY DAYS: Dragon in the late 1970s, with Todd Hunter on the right, hiding behind the walrus moustache.

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Dragon have created some of the most memorable songs in New Zealand music history and they will be playing them all on their latest tour.

It all started on a farm at Ngaruawahia in January 1973 and, while there have been a few breaks along the way and no shortage of tragedy, where the story of Dragon finishes is anyone's guess.

But at least one more visit is planned to Waikato, when the band plays at Founders Theatre in Hamilton on October 31 with fellow Kiwi music veterans Hello Sailor and Hammond Gamble.

Bass guitarist and Dragon original Todd Hunter, who has lived just south of Sydney for years, says he is looking forward to visiting his old stomping grounds during their 15-show tour.

"The thing for me is to go through all these towns that I haven't been in for a long time and to just get out and walk around every day before soundcheck," he says.

Among those towns will be Taumarunui, where Dragon play at the Owhango Hotel on October 19.

That's where Hunter and his brother, Marc, the charismatic lead singer who died in 1998, spent their teenage years growing up, after moving there from the Taranaki town of Waitara.

"I was young, the family moved up to Taumarunui. Dad was the country clerk, so we spent our whole teenage years there," he says.

Dragon officially came into being in 1972, by which time Hunter was living in Auckland.

The original lineup included Hunter on bass, guitarist Ray Goodwin, drummer Neil Reynolds and singer-pianist Graeme Collins.

Their first major gig was at the Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival in early January 1973 - a precursor to Sweetwaters - where they shared the stage with bands such as Blerta, Max Merritt and The Meteors, Bulldogs Allstar Goodtime Band and British visitors Fairport Convention and Black Sabbath.

Dragon recorded two albums in 1974 and 1975, but despite being in hot demand as a live band, they never really stormed the charts, so they moved to Sydney in 1975, with Marc Hunter installed as vocalist.

It was there that things took off and Dragon went on to record a string of memorable hits such as This Time (1976), April Sun in Cuba (1977), Are You Old Enough? (1978) and Still in Love with You (1978).

Dragon were by then one of Australia's hottest live acts, but that was really as good as it got.

They broke up, for the first time, in 1979 when Marc Hunter was sacked for drug issues after a disastrous attempt to break into the United States market.

Dragon reformed in 1982 and released one of their biggest hits, Rain, the next year. The band stayed together until 1997, when Marc Hunter was diagnosed with severe oesophageal cancer. He died in 1998.

It wasn't until 2006 that Dragon got together again, with Mark Williams (vocals, guitar), Bruce Reid (guitar) and Pete Drummond (drums) joining Hunter.

Hunter says there was never any question about having Williams replace his brother in the band.

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"It just felt like the songs needed to be played again and everything needed to be pulled together and Mark was the person I thought of because he is so different from Marc Hunter.

"He's got such a different energy - great singer, great guy.

"The thing is, when he's singing those songs and the whole crowd is singing, it's like Marc and Paul [Hewson, keyboard player who died of a drug overdose in 1985] and Neil [Storey, drummer who died of a heroin overdose in 1976] are around. It's like they live on in the music, so while we can, we'll keep playing it."

Dragon attracts a different, younger audience these days.

"It's a different generation of people every decade you play. Now they're young and holding up their iPhones and googling the lyrics and singing along. It's great. I love it. Access to the band now is great because of the net."

And it's not just the old songs which attract the biggest cheers, he says.

"It's great to get a cheer as big for a new song as an old song."

Dragon will be playing a mix of the old and the new on the tour and Hunter expects Kiwi audiences to be different from Aussie audiences.

"Kiwi crowds sing incredibly in tune and really loud, so every night is fantastic for me. We're playing everything that everybody knows and some new stuff as well."

Hunter says he is lucky to be able to continue to make a living from his music and credits a relative with inspiring him.

"It was something that I always wanted to do because my uncle was in a band and it seemed like a life," he says.

But before music took hold, he almost became a teacher. "I spent a couple of years in Hamilton at training college there. I went there for a year, then got into a band and that was it for me."

There's confirmation of a long-held rumour in Hamilton that Dragon used to rehearse behind the legendary student flat in Old Farm Rd, which was slated for demolition earlier this year.

"Yeah, in the backyard," Hunter says.

"Wow, after all this time," he says of its demise.

Playing music has always proved a hugely rejuvenating thing for Hunter to do.

"You can travel all day and get on stage feeling like crap and for two hours of playing you just feel great. Go figure. It's all that energy coming back."

They will have plenty of energy left for New Zealand, after finishing their current Australian performances, he says.

"We work every weekend now, so the only difference is we'll work through the week as well."

GET TO THE GIG

Dragon, with Hello Sailor and The Hammond Gamble Band, perform at the Founders Theatre in Hamilton on Wednesday, October 31, at 7.30pm. They also play at the Owhango Hotel, Taumarunui, on Friday night.

We have two double passes to give away to see Dragon in Hamilton.

To enter the draw, email features@waikatotimes.co.nz with Dragon in the subject line by Monday, 5pm. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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