Home Interviews Interview: TODD HUNTER (DRAGON)

Interview: TODD HUNTER (DRAGON)

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It has been three years since my last interview with founding Dragon member and bass player Todd Hunter and, from the sound of it, those three years have been very busy ones indeed for the band. Dragon seem to be constantly ‘on the road’, whether it is in Australia or New Zealand. I had the opportunity to catch up with Todd again recently to talk about that busy touring schedule and what the band has in store over the coming year. “We’re just a working band,” he tells me. “We meet at the airport and go away and work. We fly in and fly out. We have most of our meetings in the Virgin lounge at any particular airport. And that’s where most of the records are made too, just on our laptops. The last recording we made, we weren’t in the same room once. We just recorded stuff on our laptops and in our studios, threw it all to Pete and he just put it all together and mixed it and there it is: a record! It has to be that way because we are never in the same place, apart from when we are playing.” And judging by their busy schedule for the next twelve months, they will be doing quite a bit of that over the coming year, with three tours lined up, taking them through to June next year…

 

It all kicks off later this month, when Dragon Celebrates The Police, with a couple of shows that will see the band pay homage to the UK band that gave us such hits as ‘Don’t Stand So Close to Me’, ‘Message in a Bottle’ and ‘Roxanne’. “Every now and then,” he explains, “we do one-off concerts where we play someone else’s songs. It’s good to have the opportunity of playing great songs, and The Police have those songs where you can stretch out on the verses and by the time you get to the chorus, everybody in the room is singing. So it’s just a way of celebrating everybody’s shared musical history.  We’ll do five songs in a bunch. Then we’ll just do the Dragon hits like ‘April Sun in Cuba’ and ‘Rain’ as well. It’s like a mini set in the middle, if you like.”

 

Then, in September, they are back on the road again with their ‘Sunshine to Rain’ tour, performing a small number of acoustic shows in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast of NSW. The tour will also take them to New Zealand, where the band will be playing in a very different kind of venue. “It’s an established New Zealand tour,” Todd explains. “They do it every year there and we are doing it this year, playing in beautiful stone cathedrals and big old churches, playing acoustic versions of everything. It’s a great thing to do and you have fun. It’s a very different mindset. It gives everyone room to stretch out and you can hear the harmonies.”

 

And looking further ahead, into 2014, Dragon will take their Trilogy Concert Tour on the road. This three month tour honours the three distinct eras of Dragon’s musical history, now known as The Early Years, The Glory Years and The Phoenix Years.

 

The current line-up formed in 2006 and did their 500th show last weekend. “It was wonderful,” says Todd. “It was at The Bridge Hotel which is one of the original Sydney venues; great crowd and good feeling. It was fabulous.”

 

With the band taking so many different types of shows on the road, Todd says “It keeps things interesting, so it never gets stale. Because we are a working band, it’s not just like turning up for work and going through the same old songs. We do it in different ways, to find some way to make it fun.”

 

And he has certainly been doing that for a very long time. “When I was a kid,” he tells me, “I said I’ve got to get in a band and spend my life doing it and, sure enough, that’s what happened. In 1970, I went to Teachers Training College in New Zealand as a method of getting out of the little town I was in. I got in a band then and I’ve just been doing it ever since. Early on, I was a guitar player. Out of the two guitar players, I was the crap guitar player so I became the bass player. Playing bass is great. It means you can just stay in the background and work with the drummer. You don’t have to go through all this celebration and celebrity that singers have to deal with. I don’t want to do that. It’s too hard. I’m just the old guy at the back.”

 

“A lot of time in the eighties, there was no set band. People just came in and out to do stuff at times. But it’s all about the music and that’s what it’s like now. It’s cliché but it’s very important and true. It’s about meshing together and playing.”

 

While the band has seen far more than its fair share of tragedy over the years, there was certainly none greater for Todd than the loss of his dear brother Marc and during this period, Todd had absolutely no intention of continuing with the band. “It was heartbreaking,” he admits. “And the cost of human lives was far too high. I just basically ignored that whole side of my life for about ten years or so. I felt that it wasn’t worth it.” As Todd explained to me in a previous interview, a few years ago, it was during his performance at a school concert that the old spark returned. “I was in denial and it was like a bolt from out of the blue, a shock of recognition that ‘this is what you actually do with your life.’ Still, it was great to be away from it for ten years and bring up a bunch of boys and actually concentrate on being around.”

 

“When I wanted to play again, I rang Mark Williams out of the blue. I didn’t even think about it but he seemed instinctively to be the guy because he was very different from Marc Hunter and he had this great vitality and great voice. There was a guy who worked in my studio when I was doing soundtrack work and I said ‘Do you know any guitar players?’ and he said ‘Well, yeah, there’s a guy called Bruce who is a Canadian who is wonderful so I rang Bruce and just said ‘Do you want to be in a band?’ He said ‘OK, do you have a drummer?’ and I said ‘No’ and he said ‘Well, I know a great young drummer.’ So the four of us got together and haven’t stopped playing since.  It all fell into place really easily and it’s been the longest running line-up so far. Someone pointed that out to me the other day.”

 

Everything happens in its right time, I suggest. “It does,” he agrees. “And if you ignore the rights of passage, you’re not honouring it in some way. It’s like getting old. Instead of saying ‘I don’t want to get old!’ you actually note everything that’s happening and it’s sort of funny but that can be appropriate.” Todd credits his mother with being his inspiration. “My mother is over here from New Zealand, in an old people’s home in Nowra. I’m her only surviving child and she’s incredible. She plays the piano and all two hundred people in the nursing home all get into the hall and they all sing all these songs from years ago and they are all made happy by it. So she is sort of doing what we’re doing as well. I guess that’s where it comes from. It’s amazing. You know, some people who have dementia and can’t even talk but sometimes the brain can respond and you can sing lyrics to songs that you used to sing when you were a teenager and having fun.” So, obviously, that talent runs in the blood. “Yes, I guess it is in the genes to get everybody singing along,” he agrees. And what an incredible gene to have inherited! I remark that his mother must be very proud of him and what all her sons have achieved. He concedes that she probably is but points out, with a laugh, “She’s doing her own thing and having a great time too. And it struck me the other day – that’s where that whole thing comes from. You get up and play and have everybody singing along. It’s amazing. You forget about it when you get so far away from it, playing in a band. That’s what it comes back to, I guess.”

 

With the trilogy tour looming, and the theme revolving around the three distinct eras of Dragon, I wondered if Todd could share a memory from each of these eras; something that somehow stands out from that particular time in Dragon’s history?  Kicking off, of course, with ‘The Young Years’…

 

He recollects how it was back then, in the early days of the band. “Things got so desperate,” he recalls, “We were ‘up against it’, and we were playing just to get supper. There weren’t any payouts or anything and we were playing in one place where the payment for playing was a plate of mince each and we were determined to keep playing, no matter what, so you’d eat your plate of mince and then, after the show was finished, you had to walk around through the crowd and try to scab up enough money to get a taxi home with the gear.” He laughs at the memory. “That was when the people from CBS Records came down. On the way to the airport, they came in with bodyguards and walked in and watched the band for ten minutes and said ‘Oh… sign them,’ and then left. It was so random. Mike Rudd from Spectrum suggested to Peter Dawkins that they come down and have a look and then Peter brought those guys down. We were so bloody-minded, we refused to give up. You know, each humiliation, each failure and each catastrophe just made us more determined, not angry, and we just kept going. I think it was Ruth Gordon who said ‘If you want a career in show business, never face facts.’ ”

 

The second part of the Trilogy has been dubbed ‘The Glory Years’. Todd is not sure that he agrees with that title however, he concedes, he is stuck with it. And he fondly remembers the band during that era. “It was a great playing band in those days. Tommy Emmanuelle, Doane Perry, Alan Mansfield… and it had a huge amount of fire power. It sounded huge, no matter what size room we were playing in. I remember when Doane Perry, who used to play with Jethro Tull, first came over and we rehearsed to go on tour with him, and we were rehearsing in the rehearsal studios at The Opera House downstairs. We were playing along, rehearsing a song and I have never heard a drummer play as loud as this guy or with as much energy and we hit the chorus and it got three times as loud and it was time to readjust everything you know about the size of music. He was great.”

 

Which brings us to the third and current Dragon era, known as ‘The Phoenix Years’, a title that Todd doesn’t argue with. “I don’t mind that,” he admits. “Dragon emerges out of the ashes every decade or so. It’s more like a way of life than a band, you know. As soon as you get a bunch of people together in a room and start playing those songs, it actually is Dragon. The harmonies start and the choruses come in and BOOM! There it is… It’s all there and it’s a great thing to be part of. But it’s only made life-like by the fact that people like the songs and they all sing them so really it is like the collective will of the audience that keeps it alive. I guess the band is really a reflection of the crowd. If you didn’t have the songs, no one would turn up. You couldn’t actually play. You couldn’t do it for a minute so I guess it’s only by the virtue of that fact that we can do it.”

 

“I guess my main memory that is vivid of this era,” he shares, “is the Rhythm and Vines Festival in New Zealand on New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago and it was just great. There was no one there over twenty! The crowd sang, they moshed up and down, did the whole thing. It was very funny, very enjoyable. If you go to dragononline.com.au, just click on a picture of Mark standing there with his arms up in the air, and click on that button, you can actually see video footage of that day and what it was like to be in the band. It was so unusual for us to get on a festival. ‘Dragon? 40 years? Meh… Old people’s band.’ But we played and we got on stage. For the band on before us, there were literally only three people in this huge area and we thought ‘Oh great, here we go. We’re going to play to no people.’ Then there was a twenty minute changeover between bands and about twenty thousand people just ran from somewhere in front of the stage,” he laughs. “And we started playing and it just took off. It was amazing. It was very funny.” Earlier that afternoon, there had been a radio competition, and the prize was a performance by Dragon at the winner’s home. “So we went and played on their veranda, to ten of their friends, through their kids’ amplifier, and drum set. We only played a couple of songs at a little suburban house and went from there to Rhythm and Vines. It was a great day. And before that, we had been in a tiny little plane, circling around. There was us, The Naked and Famous and a few other bands, circling around above Gisborne, looking for a hole in the clouds to actually get down and play. And the pilot said ‘Ah, there’s one,’ and we just went down like a dive bomber and landed and actually got there. It was an amazing day. There’s nothing like being in your sixties and looking out at a crowd of twenty year olds at a festival and thinking ‘Wow, this is pretty funny.’”

 

 

by Sharyn Hamey

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved

For more information on Dragon and full tour details, please go to: www.dragononline.com.au

 

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