Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Dragon's Swansong

The 1989 release 'Bondi Road' marked the final major release of original material from Kiwi lads Dragon. It was their 8th Australian Top 30 album (excluding compilations) and was a suitable farewell to the charts for this iconic band.

Dragon had formed in January 1972 in Auckland, New Zealand. Founding member and bassist Todd Hunter invited younger brother Marc into the fold around a year later to take on the vocal duties. Within two years they had conquered the 'Shaky Isles' and set their sights across the Tasman to the bigger Australian market. Their timing was remarkably similar to fellow Kiwi act Split Enz, though the bands were poles apart in musical style and image. Dragon were the quintessential 'bad boys' of rock particularly in their early days touring. But their 'off field' behaviour didn't detract from the quality of their music, especially their studio output. In the volatile figure of Paul Hewson they had an accomplished song smith and the Hunter brothers were quickly lending ample support. Neil Storey on drums and Robert Taylor on guitar rounded out the 70s lineup for Dragon. After a string of top 20 hits including 'April Sun In Cuba' (#2) and 'Are You Old Enough' (#1), Marc Hunter was sacked from the band in February 1979 for ongoing indiscretions relating to drug abuse at the time. Dragon carried on for one album with vocalist/ saxophonist Billy Rogers at the helm, but by years end had broken up. Hunter managed to score two solo hits with 'Island Nights' (#22) in 1979 and 'Big City Talk' (#41) in 1981.

By the end of 1982 the classic lineup of Dragon was back in the studio. The ensuing three to four years would prove to be a fruitful time with 'Rain' hitting #2 on the Australian charts late in 1983, followed by a wave of top 40 hits. Tragically in early 1985 Paul Hewson died of drug related causes and long time guitarist Robert Taylor left the band soon after. Dragon's lineup took on a revolving door policy for a few years including for a time guitar maestro Tommy Emmanuel. But essentially they were the core trio of Marc & Todd Hunter and U.S. keyboard journeyman Alan Mansfield.

By the time 1989 rolled around it seemed the fire was almost out in Dragon, but they had one more set of brilliance to come, with the album 'Bondi Road' (Oz #18). The album yielded three hits, the biggest of which was a reflective effort 'Young Years' - that might have been a big clue in the band feeling a sense of closure. The trio would release the 1995 album 'Incarnations' but sadly in 1998 vocalist Marc Hunter succumbed to a long battle with cancer. Todd Hunter has more recently taken a touring lineup of Dragon out on the road.

My favourite track from the brilliant 'Bondi Road' album is 'Here Am I', a beautiful ballad that evokes a sense of tropical serenity. I bought it on 45 single originally and thankfully managed to find a second hand copy of the 'Bondi Road' CD about 10 years later, long after it had become unavailable to buy new.

It may have only reached #72 on the charts but as you'll hear via this link, 'Here Am I' deserved much higher honours.

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