On 17th July 1998, the music industry lost a great talent, and a very much loved member of their community and music fans have felt that loss ever since. But Marc Hunter left behind a legacy of music that will live on and next Wednesday night, on the fifteenth anniversary of his passing, many of those classic songs will be brought to life once more in celebration of the man and his music, with a special Tribute Concert in The Espy Hotel’s Gershwin Room, in St. Kilda, Melbourne. The show will feature a fantastic line-up of top Aussie artists including John Swan, Dale Ryder, Mick Pealing and Brian Mannix as well as many more and some very special guests to be announced on the night, all performing songs from the classic Marc Hunter & Dragon repertoire. We spoke to concert organiser and long- time friend of Hunter, Alex Formosa Baudo, as well as one of the stars of the show, singer John Swan, about this very special event.
“Basically it’s a way of remembering Marc’s songs and also his talent,” explains Alex. “It is fifteen years on Wednesday since the actual date that he passed away, so I just spoke to the family and said ‘Look, I think we should do something that will be special and do a show performing the Marc Hunter songbook.’ Not just the Dragon hits but also the songs he wrote and did as a solo act as well. Marc was very much loved and the songs spoke for themselves really. Marc made a lot of records and not just in a pop/rock sense. He also did a couple of jazz records with the ABC label and so he kind of had this incredible eclectic style of singing and music.”
Alex’s friendship with Hunter dates back to the late seventies. “I met Marc back in ‘78 or ‘79 through my brother who, at the time, was working on Marc’s first solo record, ‘Fiji Bitter’,” he explains. “He and Richard Lush together were working on that and they got that big hit ‘Island Nights’ out of it. I was probably about sixteen at the time and we got along really well, him being an ex-drummer/singer. He actually started off as a drummer, you know. Throughout the years, I started playing in bands and we started running into each other at different venues and just developed this friendship. I helped him with a few things just before he passed away. I took him to Italy and tried to get him a remedy for his illness which unfortunately didn’t work because he was too advanced but definitely gave him a good last few months of life quality. Prior to that, he was just in a lot of pain and very uncomfortable but the last few months were actually quite good for him. He was still very sick obviously but he was coping with it a lot better. And we had a few laughs on the way.”
Alex remembers Marc as a very soft person. “A lot of people have written about him in the press, saying that he was like this kind of maniac, outrageous rock star. He had that part but I must admit, later in life after he had children and got married to Wendy, he settled into this really gentle soul.” Alex was particularly taken by Marc’s generosity. “He was a very caring person,” he tells me and then gives me an example. “When we were in Italy, he had a massive surgery on his throat two weeks prior to going so he was in a lot of pain and on a lot of pain killers. One morning, I woke up with a bit of a head cold and I heard a knock at the door. It was Marc saying ‘I heard you had a head cold. You ok?’ And I just looked at him, thinking ‘This guy’s got all this stuff going on and he’s worried about me having a little bit of a sniffle.’ He was very, very caring and he was a very intelligent guy too, very well read.”
“In the early days of his success,” Alex concedes, “he was probably a little bit out there. He was a young lad. He just came from New Zealand. Then he got involved a bit in the seedy side of Sydney so he was a bit reckless but he wasn’t a malicious person at all. He was probably a little bit frustrated because I think he wanted to have success outside of Australia and it was pretty tough for him. He really tried and tried and tried and he never got anywhere and so I think he became more frustrated with himself because he wanted to branch out. After doing the same gigs, the same tours, the same pubs and country towns around Australia over and over and over, he wanted to go elsewhere and unfortunately he didn’t have that. I really thought that Marc could have been another Rod Stewart worldwide, because he had the knowledge of singing in so many different areas. Being a bit of a rocker and a pop act and also into jazz and stuff, I really thought that was definitely his path but unfortunately he just didn’t make it.”
John Swan also remembers a very generous and good-hearted Marc. “He was generous with his time. He was generous with his emotions. He was generous with everything,” he says. “Marc was a gentle soul. He seemed like a bear but he was actually very different when you got to know him. One of the things I loved about him is he could cut the audience to pieces with his tongue. He had that ability. He was nobody’s fool. He was a very smart man.”
John recalls an incident from one of his first meetings with the guys in Dragon. “I knocked the piano player (Paul Hewson) out,” he laughs. “Because he walked up and said something very, very rude. They said ‘I hear you belted our piano player last night?’ and I said ‘Yeah, that’s right’ and they said ‘How much would you charge to do it tonight?’ And it was an instant friendship that was born because Paul was notorious for being a smartarse.” But, of course, it was all in good humour and, as John is quick to point out, “I loved Paul and I had great respect for him and for his song writing. You can’t help but love Dragon. They’re such a good band; they’re great guys. And over the years, we were really close. We did gigs together almost every night. We were in the same places. We’d be the support for them or they’d get up and have a sing and Marc was in the Party Boys, which I was also in. They were fantastic guys to knock about with.”
“When he was diagnosed,” John relates, “I was just sober then and he came up to me and he knew that he was sick then but he didn’t let on. I didn’t know. And he sat me down and said ‘You’ve really got to get it together because life’s very precious and some of us have to continue on the legacy.’ I didn’t know at the time that he knew he was sick and when I found out, I went to him and I said ‘Is there anything that I can do? Do you need to talk or anything?’ And he said ‘No, I’m pretty cool with it all. I’ve led a good life.’ ”
John had also formed friendships with the other Hunter brothers and when Marc and Todd’s younger brother passed away, he felt the loss deeply too. “That really hit me hard as well,” he shares, “And Todd is a sweetheart. He is a great guy, a great lyricist and probably the best bass player that I have ever heard. I’ve been listening to these songs that I’m doing on Wednesday night and the songs are driven by that.”
“Those guys were great fun,” he says. “We all had that wicked, droll sense of humour. And Kerry Jacobsen is still one of my favourite drummers in the country. I can’t tell you enough about these guys. When I was asked to do this, I was honoured and I hope that we do it justice. I got one of the guys to contact Todd and he said ‘It’s a privilege to have one of my brothers singing his songs’ and for me that was like he was saying ‘It’s ok,’ because I did feel kind of guilty doing that while Dragon is still around and playing.”
Alex is adamant that the night will be one in which one of rock and roll’s most charismatic and dynamic front men is remembered for the good times he gave us and the legacy of music he has left behind. “The aim is to celebrate,” he declares. “It’s not going to be a downer at all. It’s going to be quite a high. We just want to make it as ‘up’ as we can.”
Tickets are still available for the show. If you are in Melbourne on Wednesday night, head along to the Gershwin Room at The Espy Hotel in St. Kilda for a night of your favourite Marc Hunter and Dragon songs, performed by a great line-up of artists, and celebrate the life and music of a performer who will never be forgotten.
by Sharyn Hamey
Pre sale tickets: $30 and $35 at the door.
To book your tickets, go to www.oztix.com.au