Todd Hunter's recall is not rose-coloured. "I didn't think I'd ever come back to Dragon," says the band's founder, bassist, sometime songwriter and sole survivor. "There are such mixed memories for me. There were incredible highs but too many people died. I've spent the last 10 years ignoring the whole thing, it was a lot simpler to get on with film and TV scoring and leave Dragon as a distant memory."
History, of course, cherishes a very different view of New Zealand's beleaguered but brilliant pop chart journeymen. A glance down the track list of Sunshine to Rain recalls one of the most astonishing and emotional legacies in Australasian pop history.
Elegantly recast in classic Liberation Blue Acoustic style, it's a trove of criminally rare nuggets sifted from certified radio gold; 16 indelible strokes of pop genius handled with exceptional care and affection by a new acoustic line-up fronted by the superb voice of NZ rock veteran, Mark Williams.
"In mid 2005 I played bass for a concert at my sons' school and it was such an incredibly enjoyable experience," Todd says. "It really brought it home to me, this is what you do, you big idiot! But, when one decides that it might be fun to play again, the big question is, well, play what? Then I thought, Hmmm, I know a bunch of songs"
Funnily enough, a few million other people know the same ones. 'Are You Old Enough', 'Still In Love With You', 'April Sun in Cuba', 'Sunshine', 'Rain', 'Magic', 'Speak No Evil', 'Celebrate'. The titles are a travelogue of teenage dreams. Each chorus is seared like an iconic photo into the collective unconscious of a generation.
The travesty is that much of Dragon's music had vanished from CD racks even before the passing of Todd's brother, singer Marc Hunter, in '98. The fresh ears and obvious talents of Canadian guitarist Bruce Reid were crucial in rearranging a revered back catalogue with an ear for timeless magic. Drummer Pete Drummond completed an unexpectedly joyful exercise in musical archaeology.
"What is the essence of the song? That was the starting point," says Todd. "Some things came together in surprising ways. Get That Jive, the chords are back to front, but it works. 'Are You Old Enough?' is one live take." It's also one take that proves Mark Williams a worthy heir to some very large shoes.
Speaking of which, it was John Farnham who asked Todd and Johanna Pigott to write him a song in '86, but it was Marc Hunter who sang the demo for Age Of Reason in Bondi that year. Here, for the first time, is his version, a posthumous duet with his gifted 17-year-old daughter, Isabella. To say the least, it's a mesmerising moment of musical and emotional closure.
"This record resolves a lot of things. It gathers everything together in a way that feels right," says Todd. "Everything was so dissolute, out in the ether. It was also about doing all the songs in a unified way, without all the pomp and weird production quirks of former decades.
"There's just something that's so enjoyable about getting each song into a shape where you can just play it through and sing your heart out, with an acoustic guitar. It's been working the same way live," he adds. "The audience, roaring the songs as loud as the band, it's sort of like coming home."
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