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When New Zealand band Dragon arrived in Australia in mid 1975, the influential weekly music  television show Countdown was also just starting out. These were pioneering days, not just for the Australian music scene but Countdown would also help to shape global future music TV media like MTV. Dragon, led by the brothers Marc and Todd Hunter had nothing to lose and Countdown was a perfect outlet for the band’s mischievous demeanor. With regular hit songs like Get That Jive, Sunshine, This Time and April Sun In Cuba, came regular appearances on Countdown. They fed off each other. More than four decades later, the current line up of Dragon will pay tribute to the Countdown days when they head off on ‘The Countdown Years’ tour,  playing their own singles, plus the hits of their peers such as Sherbet, Rose Tattoo and John Paul Young to name a few. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to Dragon’s founding member Todd Hunter about the Countdown days and the upcoming tour.

Where did it all start for the band in NZ? Did you have a resident pub where you cut your teeth?
Yes there was a place called The Occidental Hotel in a lane just off Queens St in Auckland. We used to play there a lot and it was wild, there were strippers and everything. Then there were clubs in Auckland like Grannies and The Tabla

Were you ambitious guys in the beginning?
In a weird sort of way we were. We never had a game plan but there was this underlying thing that we were just never going to give up. We were so bloody minded about it. I remember hauling stuff around, PA and speakers with Mark and saying, if we have to do this one more time, we’re going home. There’s a picture of us doing exactly that at Double J or Triple J, hauling these boxes down stairs with the most pissed off expressions on our faces. I think that’s the thing about brothers too, there’s some sort of toughness where no matter what life throws at you, you just go neh and keep going.

What was the catalyst for the first Australian tour?
We’d run out of places to play in New Zealand, of which there were only four or five. We knew we had to go. We basically threw all of our stuff in these old tea chests, cardboard boxes and we were actually heading to Canada. We got this far and it was beautifully sunny, about a 35 degree day on Bondi beach and someone said it was minus 36 in Toronto right now. We just thought, OK this will do. Australia was big enough for us.

When you came over from NZ, Countdown was also just starting out. Everybody was learning about playing music on TV together.
Yes, that’s right and it was a very different discipline. In those days they had the backing track and you sang live. Of course everyone was fooling around, not playing the right parts. It was a funny day at Countdown because it was quiet and dark in the studio and you’d do the run throughs, there would be a dress rehearsal and then they would let the crowd in. From that moment on, the room was full of screaming girls.

What’s your fondest memory of Countdown?
I think the night Billy Idol wandered into our dressing room and he and Mark and Paul sang Maori songs in Maori for about an hour. I thought wow, I still have no idea how that happened. He must have spent some time in New Zealand earlier.

Countdown was a very influential show, even for a lot of overseas acts like Abba and Madonna.
It was such a phenomenal thing and the reaction afterwards was so quick. One week we’d be playing at Chequers in Sydney doing four sets and everybody would leap up and start dancing to the disco as soon as you finished playing. It was completely desolate. Then after we’d been on Countdown, there were queues around the block with people saying that we are amazing. We’d be like, hang on, two weeks ago you actually thought we were crap. The reach of the show back then was incredible.

The Countdown green room must have been an interesting place?
It was like their cafeteria but yeah, we met a lot of people on those days.

Do you think a Countdown style show is still feasible in this day and age?
One would like to think that but I think everything is too fragmented and there is so much access to music. I guess YouTube has become has become like a 24 hour Countdown. If you ever hear of a great band, you can just search and bang, there they are. In the face of that, I don’t know that it could happen again.

Whose idea was it to perform songs from the other acts on this upcoming Countdown era tour?
Well we have done a bit of that. We just thought it might be a fun thing to do. We’ve done a British Invasion tour, played a 60s thing and we did The Police. We played the Dragon stuff in the first half then played 10 Police songs. It’s just good to give yourself a task. OK, we’ll learn these songs and try to make something of our own with them.

What was the song selection process?
At the moment, it is just emails at this point. People in the band suggest some things and you get a rough idea

Are you writing as much as you used to?
Not at the moment, I am concentrating on managing the band. We are booked for 6 months ahead at any given time. I have a couple of songs on the boil but not a lot. We do a new album every year just because we love it.

I asked Todd Rundgren about the time he produced your album Dreams Of Ordinary Men. He said he enjoyed it and loved working with Tommy Emmanuel but noted that Marc, your brother was quite a wild man. What do you remember about those sessions?
The studio was his personal studio up in Woodstock and there was six foot of snow everywhere. It was a wild experience. Todd Rundgren is an interesting guy. He was a fantastically cynical person, which I loved. if we had problems about how the recording should go, he would say, well I am going up to the house. Give me a call when you are ready to do it my way. But it was true, Marc was a really wild guy.


You produced some Dragon albums yourself. What are the key things you’ve learned about recording over the years?
The main thing that I have learned is that … way back in the 70s, we would spend a day just trying to get a  good kick drum sound. It was so drawn out. Earlier on it was fantastic,  things like Sunshine were recorded in about 3 days. We’d learned all of the songs and we were playing them live. That mid period with Dreams and Body And The Beat, it was painstakingly pieced together. The process is now completely different, where we do our own parts, email them to a drop box and Pete compiles everything. Roses was done like that. It’s much easier now.

In 1978 you did an American tour supporting blues legend Johnny Winter. It seemed like an odd coupling of bands. Did you have much to do with him?
Oh my god. No at that time he was quite irritable and quite deaf, so we didn’t have anything to do with him. We’d talk with the band and crew. He may have been ill at that stage too. It was a terrible pairing to go out through the south west of America with him. The crowd just wanted blues and we didn’t have any.

Which Dragon song are you most proud of?
Probably the one I like playing most is Rain. I’m affectionate to that song because it  plays itself. It pulls itself through the chord sequences and the crowds sing it like crazy. Also because that song gave us another chance in the 80s. The weirdest time I ever heard that song was walking along a beach in Cairns in the middle of the night with about 50 people singing Rain around a campfire. It was the best thing to walk past in the dark and it illustrates how songs have their own life once you release them out there. We don’t feel like these are our songs now, we just play them. They belong to everyone.

When we last featured you, you were playing either a P Bass, Harmony H22 and sometimes a 65 Jansen Telstra. Any change there?
I’m on the Fender light P Bass. Everything else, the G&L, the Jansen was too heavy for me. We’re playing longer shows so the P Bass is great. It is nothing special, just got it from the local mum and pop music shop.

Last time also you said you didn’t own an amp and just backline and no pedals. You are quite the minimalist.
Yes it is the same. I don’t think you need it. Basically it doesn’t matter what you plug into, it is how you play. It can be as dry as hell but if you really dig in and beat it, it will respond.

What are you most looking forward to about The Countdown Years tour?
It’s going to be fun to play those songs and just finding our way into them. Those shows always work

Tickets for Dragon’s The Countdown Years are on sale now. For more information, please visit

Here’s the current Dragon line-up with Mark Williams on vocals performing Rain

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