MILESAGO - Groups & Solo Artists
"TULLY: THE POETS OF POP" by Rennie Ellis
Originally published in Walkabout magazine, June 1970.
THE POETS OF POP
There’s no middle road for Tully. Serious critics, musicians, and audiences love them or hate them, but all agree their music is uniquely their own - supremely contemporary, serious, experimental, pushing the limits. RENNIE ELLIS calls it "improvising on the mood of the night, nerve ends bare".
“People want things that make them happy, and Tully makes them happy.” Robert Taylor, hardly audible across the twilight living room, speaks with the simple confidence of someone who knows he is right.
Silence. But for the sipping of lemon and honey tea and faint music from somewhere else in the house On the wall, ancient and inscrutable Buddhist scrolls, and near the candle, the Indian goddess Parvati immobile and voluptuous in bronze, casts a spasmodic shadow on the floor where we are sitting
One A.M. in the curious house of entrepreneur Clifford Hocking. Tully are coming down. Five hirsute musicians, four serene, beautiful wife nymphs, an aura of pervasive gentleness two hours after Tully's second Melbourne concert
Flashback: In the sculptured sanctuary of the Freemasons' Dallas Brooks Hall, Tully reverently gingerly approach their instruments. Richard Lockwood smooths the plait at the back of his head, removes his shoes (the audience responds with a knowing giggle) and picks up his clarinet.
The shrill sound pierces the respectful hush. Picking up in intensity it wavers somewhere between the disconcerting wail of a police siren and the mystical, reedy sounds of Eastern music. Then, behind it, mournfully, the organ breathes forgotten memories of Evensong. Terry Wilson puts lips to his microphone and from it, a new sound, a chant, deep and resonant as you might imagine the monks on Mt Athos would chant their prayers.
Combined, the sounds are beautiful and pregnant with aeons of secrets. They hold you suspended then, while you are most vulnerable the assault begins. The organ crashes into discords that jars the brain, the amplified woodwind screeches and squeals like an insane harridan and Robert smashes, bashes, bangs and hammers his drums and cymbals. The crescendo builds. Multi-decibels of noise launched on a trans-fixed audience. But, like a storm, it somehow hangs together as a orchestrated whole, absorbing and violent, then suddenly abates.
The aftermath cajoles the audience with mellifluous clarinet and comforting religion from the organ. Then your visions of medieval castles and enchanted forests are slowly replaced with something more insidiously sensuous.
Behind the musicians, as if in response to the music a phalanx of gigantic plastic tunnels rise pulsating from the floor. Bathed in soft green and red light they waver as if moved by the gentle thrust and suck of underwater currents.
A ripple of amusement runs through the packed audience. Richard is laughing. The players glance at one another, grinning in sheer delight, like it's all some enormous in-joke. And somehow it communicates across to the people and they enjoy it too and Tully makes them happy.
WHO AND WHAT is Tully and exactly which people do they make happy? Tully are Australia's newest musical phenomena who are finding a wildly appreciative audience amongst people, mostly young people, who are tuned in to or perhaps are, the expanding consciousness of today.
Tully are not microphone caressing pop stars, but serious musicians, experimenters, pushing the limits, feeling the way, exploring sound through the soul filter of intellectual stimulus and emotional feedback. Improvising on the mood of the night, nerve ends bare. Exploiting the good vibrations. Tully's music is uniquely their own and defies categorising, except to say that it is supremely "contemporary" in its idiom. Professional eccentric and sometime critic Adrian Rawlins says of them, "Tully gives us something that is the culmination of the rock tradition, the jazz tradition and the European symphonic tradition all in one - the universal music of this age. What Tully is doing is the real thing. They just let the music come through them."
Tully was formed in late 1968. Four musicians who broke away from the Levi Smith’s Clefs, an established rock group, because they felt their music was taking them in directions which needed a new structure through which it could develop.
The four, Richard Lockwood, assorted reed instrument player, Michael Carlos an American organist and pianist; Robert Taylor, ex child drum sensation from W.A. and bass player John Blake, later replaced by Ken Firth, were joined by vocalist Terry Wilson.
The new group became the resident band at Sydney's Caesar's Palace, but had to leave after a month because the customers couldn't dance to their music. The patrons of Adam's Apple Discotheque, more avant-garde in their music tastes, acclaimed Tully as a revolutionary new sound embodying their predilections; and soon the word was around the haunts of Paddington.
Tully was it, a new shibboleth amongst Sydney's amicable, self-styled flower children. A concert-cum-light show at the Paddington Town Hall drew the hip generation in their thousands and the Tully took them on a phantasmagorical music trip.
Soon their fame spread outside the cultists and people everywhere in Sydney were getting the new sound message. The group was even invited to play at international publisher Paul Hamlyn's Christmas party.
A concert at the Elizabethan Theatre was a sell out and hundreds of exotically dressed aficionados milled in the streets trying to get in.
At this concert the group's rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale accompanied by Ellis D. Fogg lighting effects and the slow motion movements of a male and female dancer dimly visible through a screen behind them, was a superbly restrained happening of great beauty and sensitivity.
Then came Fusions and Hair, the two events that really placed Tully in the public domain. Fusions was a programme of six half hour TV shows produced by the ABC which featured Tully and their music in a series of mind-bending sequences the like of which nothing had been seen on television before.
About the same time Harry M. Miller took over the management of the group and engaged them to be the nucleus of the musical backing for Hair. Tully stayed with Hair for six months during which time they also starred at several Sydney Town Hall concerts. When the repetitious performances of Hair became too much for them and they in turn became too much for the management ("Tully are marvellous but they're just not playing Hair any more. They keep going off on little musical excursions of their own") the group left and gave a series of concerts at the Mandala Theatre before being cast in the starring role at the Ourimbah Pilgrimage for Pop festival.
In February this year the group achieved a new measure of acclaim and respectability (they would hate the word as being one of no consequence) by being invited to play with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Hopkins. The occasion was the Sydney Prom concerts and the work was contemporary composer Peter Sculthorpe's controversial Love 200.
The impact of Tully's music has not always been greeted with ecstatic applause, and cries of "charlatans" and "who do they think they're kidding" were reactions sometimes heard at their noisy concerts.
Some decriers saw them as nothing more than a woolly symbol of a confused youth ready to acclaim anything or anybody who could give form to their anti-establishment fury.
What was an exciting and stimulating new dimension in music for some represented nothing more than an irritating and shapeless cacophony for others.
A simple analogy might be drawn with the layman's response to modern abstract painting which he so often sees as nothing more than a meaningless and quite childish confusion of colours and shapes, as against someone whose emotional responses are such, whether through education or an inherent sensitivity, as to perceive the painter's soul baring, vision and discipline. Who is to say where there is delusion and misplaced faith, in art or in music.
Even for many of their supporters Tully are an acquired taste and require a conscious re appraisal of one's musical mental set.
Conductor Hopkins who is also Musical Director of the ABC, enthuses about Tully 's contribution to the music spectrum. “Tully are a pop group, which may not appeal to a lot of the general public. They play very specialised work. It is not just noise but well thought out and very carefully calculated. They also use very effective improvisation.”
"It's important to recognise that music is sound that can be ordered certain ways including the use of disorder for specific purposes. For some people, if sound is discordant, it is not music I don't agree with this. Discords are all elements of sound and have been used by composers right through the centuries. Today particularly, it is a growing trend in modern music. In Love 200 Sculthorpe tried to bridge the gap between the symphony orchestra and the sounds of a modern group and I think in this case obtained a very fine fusion.”
On the educated critique level Hopkins is not alone in his praise. Highly regarded critic Barry Reed is quoted as saying that hearing Tully was like seeing a Nolan painting for the first time.
Clifford Hocking who also has promoted distinguished artists like classical guitarist Alino Diaz and Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan says “There is a certain audience interested in classical contemporary music, not necessarily bound up in pop, that feel Tully has something to offer them. I personally think their power for invention is most fecund. Michael Carlos, especially is a very great talent.”
On the other hand Kenneth Robbins writing in The Bulletin feels the “brutally amplified sounds” of Tully at the Prom Concerts all but negated the true function of art.
One of the special things that sets Tully apart from most other groups in the modern music scene is their deep concern for the metaphysical. Their music is very much an extension of the group’s seeking for a spiritual awareness and life style that embraces certain humanist and existentialist philosophies and places the idea of love and self-knowledge at the core of existence.
Their musical expression is iconoclastic, although it is not contrived to that end. It’s simply that the sounds they make are not restricted by any kind of conventional musical notation and seem to range from total anarchy to restrained and often lyrical improvisational style.
By their long hair and hippy-style clothing they obviously align themselves with the new climate of opinion and freedom of individual expression that is prevalent in much of today’s youth generation. “Tully Love” is written in large letters across Robert's drums.
Talking to them that night after their triumphant Melbourne concert, when the audience gave them a standing ovation one is impressed by their obvious devotion to what they are doing and their uncomplicated, almost naive, views on life as it relates to them.
"The point we want to reach, says Michael, is where we can play our music for everyone and not be restricted by anything. Not equipment, not contracts, not worrying about management, percentages at the door …You know. Its just all too much.
“When we did Fusions on TV it seemed to throw up a lot of controversy, and that’s good I think.”
“People who had never been exposed to our music would just suddenly turn on their sets and say 'God what is going on?' It was really good. It sort of let us zip out into everybody's living room.”
“We're not interested in compromising our music for anything. In a sense we're publishing the limit But then the limit is only an illusion anyway.
In answer to my question of where did they see themselves musically, Richard answered, “You just try to be yourself more and more. In everything you do whether it’s music, carpentry or glass blowing. The important thing is to know your inner self.”
“And to preserve the feeling of love,” added Robert. The group keep to themselves very much and virtually all live together at Palm Beach As much of their music is improvisation their togetherness physically and spiritually, helps their communication on stage.
"You feel the same on stage as you feel sitting on the toilet. No difference. You’ve got to be totally relaxed, totally yourself. Only then can you be sincere in what you re doing And then the music just unfolds like a flower. You don't know what's coming next, till it opens up and there it is.”
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