McCully Workshop is arguably one of South Africa's finest pop rock bands. They started way back in the '60's, dominated the South African airwaves in the '70's, continued through the '80's and '90's and in the 21st century are still going strong.
IN THE BEGINNING
When asked about their beginnings, vocalist, bassist and producer Tully McCullagh had this to say: "My brother, Mike, who plays drums and myself would play around and record ourselves in the lounge, I was about nine at the time. We recorded a track called 'Swinging Time' with some other friends when I was thirteen and sent it to a record company. The track didn't get anywhere but it was quite interesting. We grew a bit more and when I was sixteen we started a band called McCully Workshop and a whole string of other bands and I started a garage studio."
McCully Workshop has had many line-up changes over the years, but these 2 talented brothers have always surrounded themselves with superb musicians.
In 1965, the McCullagh brothers, Tully (born Terence on 31st May 1953) and Mike (born Michael on 7th April 1947) started as a folk-rock trio with Richard Hyam and called themselves the Blue Three. Hyam had previously been in a folk duo, Tiny Folk, with his sister Melanie.
After a few personnel- and name-changes, like The Blue Beats and Larfing Stocke, the line-up settled down (for a while) in 1969 and they called themselves the McCully Workshop because they used to rehearse in Mrs McCullagh's garage.
Vocalist Glenda Wassman later married Richard Hyam, and then formed the pop band Pendulum who had a big hit with 'Take My Heart' in 1976. Glenda Hyam then went on to major success with the all-girl group, Clout, who had a worldwide smash hit with 'Substitute', which went to #2 in the UK in 1978.
Their debut album, 'McCully Workshop Inc.' features a variety of styles and influences including The Beatles, Frank Zappa and early Pink Floyd.
The Forced Exposure website has this quote: "A superb South African band's stunning debut album. 'Sgt. Pepper' influenced psychedelic music blended with R&B, garage punk tunes. Great songs, lovely vocals, strong harmonies, great distorted guitar work."
'Inc.' was released in June 1970 and included the epic and powerful 'Why Can't It Rain', which went to #12 on the Springbok Radio charts in July 1970 and reached #13 on the LM Radio charts. This hit single featured a fiery guitar solo by Allan Faull who went on to form the eclectic Falling Mirror with his cousin Nielen Marais in the late 70s.
McCully Workshop also played on country-pop singer Jody Wayne's 'The Wedding' in 1970 which hit #1 for 3 weeks on the Springbok Radio charts.
“Jody Wayne had come down from Jo'burg” recalls Tully, “and he wanted to record a ballad, they wouldn't let him do it in Jo'burg, so he asked us to do it. I took the reverb unit out of an old Hammond organ and recorded everything with yards of reverb and it went on to sell four gold discs (it was called "The Wedding"), we made eleven rands each!!”
The follow-up to 'Inc' was the album 'Genesis' recorded in early 1971 and released in June of that year by Trutone Records with catalogue number STO 745. After the 'Inc' album there was a deliberate move to do something different and progressive. “'Genesis' wasn't really a concept album based on the Bible,” says Tully, “but more about looking back and learning from old wisdom”.
Tully speaks of “his dream stories, about waking up with ideas, the words and music together, real stream of conciousness stuff.” “It was more about the feel than the actual words,” Tully says.
The core of Mike McCully (drums), Tully McCully (vocals, bass) and Ian Smith (brass and flute) from the 'Inc' album were now enhanced by the Hendrix-influenced guitarist Bruce Gordon.
The musical vibe at the time of the album's recording was very brass influenced with bands like Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Traffic pushing the boundaries of Jazz and Rock.
Inspired by the progressive albums of the time, 'Genesis' included a number of long tracks with sub-sections. However in the interest of garnering radio play '(We All) Look For The Sun' and 'Sweet Fields of Green' were more pop influenced. “Pop” as inspired by The Beatles, though, rather than the throwaway bubblegum pop prevalent at the time.
Tully remembers that when he was asked what type of band they were he would reply, “we play heavy music”. Terms like “heavy” and “underground” were very broad terms in those heady days of the early '70's to describe music that was not pop or radio-friendly.
'Sweet Fields Of Green' was released as a single, reaching #2 on the LM Radio charts in August 1971. The follow-up single 'Birds Flying High' (actually the flipside of 'Rainbow Illusion'), recorded shortly after the 'Genesis' sessions, peaked at #9 on the LM Radio charts.
Tully recalls the recording sessions being a fun time and due to the limitations of the 4-track recording studio, most songs were recorded in one take. If they made a mistake, they would do the whole take over again, not an easy thing to do with songs exceeding seven minutes!
Ian Smith took care of the brass arrangements and Tully used multi-tracking techniques to make him sound like a horn section, mainly utilizing the trumpet and flugelhorn, though the flute also makes it's presence felt a few times.
Due to wiring problems in the studio, the original album mix was out-of-phase and unusable and Tully had about two hours to remix the album in a Johannesburg studio before it went to the pressing plant.
Keith Madders, a friend of the band and big music fan introduced them to painter Tommy McLelland. He took photos of the band members and then included their likenesses into an original painting with religious overtones. The original painting was one metre square and to be mysterious the name of the band does not actually appear on the cover. “This was not a deliberate ploy”, says Tully, but it has probably led a few vinyl collectors over the years, to think they have discovered a lost gem by Peter Gabriel's band.
Madders also came up with the name for Tully's Spaced-Out Sound Studios, as well as the name Crocodile Harris for Robin Graham. 'Miss Eva Goodnight' was composed by the McCully Brothers and McCully Workhop played on this song, which was released by Crocodile Harris in 1974.
After 'Genesis' came more line-up changes, more albums, and huge hits with 'Buccaneer' and 'Chinese Junkman', but all that is for another time.
The McCully Brothers and their talented friends continue to be very involved with making and recording music and McCully Workshop released a live album recorded in early 2008.
There is even a possibility of a new original McCully Workshop album due sometime in 2009 which will hark back to the progressive rock sounds of 'Genesis' and their lengthy jamming sessions from their Canterbury Inn residency in the late '70's.
Looks like the Workshop is still open for business...