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.
McCULLY WORKSHOP INC.
Their debut album, 'McCully Workshop Inc.' was produced by great South African singer and producer Billy Forrest (born William Boardman). The album 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. Tully McCullagh was also very involved with Falling Mirror, but that's another story…
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.
The follow-up to 'Inc' was the album 'Genesis' released in June 1971. This was a concept album based on the book of Genesis from the Bible and included a number of long tracks with sub-sections, typical of other prog-rock albums of the time. '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 during the 'Genesis' sessions, but not included on the album, peaked at #9 on the LM Radio charts.
The original vinyl of 'Birds Flying High' has proved elusive, so a 1998 re-recording has been used for this 'Best Of' compilation.
Crocodile Harris (born Robin Graham), recorded the haunting pop classic 'Miss Eva Goodnight' (Springbok #5, April 1974) which was written by the McCullagh brothers and featured the musicianship of all the then current McCully Workshop members. Harris's classic pop hit 'Give Me The Good News' released in 1982 was co-composed by Crocodile Harris along with Geoff Coxall. Tully McCully produced this single and played on it.
Richard Black (born 9th December 1946) joined McCully Workshop on guitar in 1975. Black had been playing since the early 60's in bands like Rigar 5 and the Nu-Trends. In 1969 he had been in Elephant with Savvy Grande (who went on to form Suck) and George Wolfaardt from Abstract Truth.
'Ages' was released in 1975 which reflected musical styles from the different ages of music and various influences could be heard: Uriah Heep, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, etc. The vocal harmonies are superb throughout. '1623' is a wonderful violin-led instrumental and the keyboard-dominated 'Guinevere' reached #10 on the LM Radio charts and the band even appeared on the very early days of South African TV playing this hit song.
In 1977 the best-known incarnation of McCully Workshop was formed with the addition of Rupert Mellor (born Anthony Rupert Mellor, 7th August 1947). Mellor had been in a variety of bands including The Difference, First Acquaintance, The Hedgehoppers and The Claude Larson Singers (yes, really).
The 4th McCully Workshop album, 'Workshop Revisited', released in late 1977 shot them to prominence when it introduced South African fans to the hits 'Buccaneer' and 'Chinese Junkman'.
'Buccaneer' entered the Springbok Radio charts on 11th November 1977 and spent 15 weeks on the charts, reaching the coveted top spot on 30th December that year and staying there for 2 weeks. 'Buccaneer' also hit #1 on the Radio 5 charts and Mike McCullagh won the 1978 'Songwriter Of The Year' award for this composition.
The follow-up single 'Chinese Junkman' entered the charts in March 1978 and peaked at number 9, spending a total of 8 weeks in the top 20. However on the Radio 5 charts it followed 'Buccaneer' to number 1. The next single which was released in 1978 was the non-album track 'Villa Muddy Water' which unfortunately did not chart.
McCully Workshop used to play in the late '70's at the Canterbury Inn at the Fairmead Hotel in Rondebosch, Cape Town. They were famous for their comedy, ripping off many of the politicians and sportsmen of the day. On Saturday nights McCully Workshop were the resident dance band, and on Sunday nights wonderful renditions of classic progressive rock tunes could be heard. Chicago's version of The Spencer Davis Group's 'I'm A Man' (with a very long percussion section including all the band members), Barry Ryan's 'Eloise', Traffic's 'Feelin' Alright' and of course their own songs like 'Buccaneer', 'Fame And Fortune', 'Come Let Me Love You' and 'Dancin' Tonite' were all included in the set list. Of course no dancing was allowed on a Sunday in those dark days, so the audience had to just sit and listen... and listen they did (I know, 'cos I was there).
THE EIGHTIES AND NINETIES
During the turbulent '80's a number of singles were released including a powerful re-recording of 'Buccaneer' featuring the guitar talents of Jethro Butow, but with no chart success. In 1998 the line-up from the late '70's reformed and re-recorded the McCully Workshop classics and hits as well as 6 new songs and released the album 'Buccaneer'. 'Why Can't It Rain' also received a make-over losing none of its power and gaining an even stronger production. Allan Faull again featured as guest guitarist.
BIG IN KOREA
In 2003 a Korean label, Beatball Records, re-issued the first album, 'McCully Workshop Inc.' in a mini-gatefold cover. This CD re-issue included detailed sleeve-notes and a printed version of the online Family Tree which is available on the official McCully Workshop website at www.mccullyworkshop.co.za.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Tully McCullagh is still running his extremely successful Spaced-Out Sounds Studio in Cape Town. He wrote most of the songs and played bass on the highly acclaimed 2003 CD release by Cape Town rockers BlueScream. Mike McCullagh has directed many popular musicals since 1988, most notably "Tribute To Bob Dylan", "Beatlemania" (for Artscape), "Station 70", "Sixty Something", "Eighty Something" and "Milestones To The Millennium". Richard Black co-founded Street Level Productions with James Stewart. Black released an instrumental solo CD 'Skadu Dans' (Shadow Dance) in 1997. Rupert Mellor is a sort-after session musician and can be still be seen performing in and around Cape Town.
Mellor and Black along with Flibbertigibbet's Dave Williams on fiddle, released 'Sheriff Bush and Deputy Blair' as an mp3 single in January 2003. Calling themselves the Nukular Stompers they saw this novelty song topping the SAmp3.com charts for 3 weeks and they even appeared on eTV.
REACHING FOR A DREAM
In 2005 McCully Workshop finally released a much-demanded 'Best Of' CD. All tracks were newly remastered by Tully McCullagh at his Spaced Out Sound Studio, though in some cases the master tapes were missing, so the original vinyl had to be used. A brand new song, 'Reaching For A Dream' was also included on the 'Best Of' CD. This uplifting song was composed by all 4 members of McCully Workshop with lyrics by Alistair King and was used as part of a campaign for the Reach For A Dream Foundation.
McCully Workshop also got back together in February 2005 to perform again after a 25 years absence from playing on stage.
In early 2008 they played gigs at Die Boer in Durbanville & the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to capacity crowds. A live album recorded at these venues, 'McCully Workshop Live!' was released in March 2008 and launched at a series of concerts at The Barnyard Theatre in Willowbridge. This album also included a new studio recording, 'The Aliens Are Landing'.
Cape Town, South Africa,
January 2005, updated March 2008
The Best Years Of Your Life
Every Tuesday and Thursday between 5 and 5:15 p.m., you could catch "Pop File" on Radio 5. This was presented by record producer Tully McCully. He had an early start in music. While he was still in his late teens he and brother Mike formed the group McCully's Workshop. The first number they recorded was 'The Wedding'
with Jody Wayne and it became a hit [Number 1 on Springbok Radio in 1970]. This was followed by 'Buccaneer', 'Miss Eva Goodnight' [sung by Crocodile Harris in 1974] and 'Chinese Junkman', all of which were hits. The song 'Miss Eva Goodnight' was written by Tully when he was only 15 years old (this song was written by Mike and Tully).
-- The Best Years of Your Life (5FM, 1997), info supplied by Andrew King, September 1999
Excerpts from an interview with Tully taken from the Paul Bothner website
"My father was a famous voice on the radio back in the '60's and he had access to a studio called Sound and Film Services, every now and again he would bring home a tape machine. My brother [Mike] who plays drums and myself would play around and record ourselves in the lounge, we were about nine at the time. We recorded a track called "Swinging Time" with some other friends when we were thirteen and sent it to a record company. They really liked it and sent us to Feature film sound but it didn't sound as good as the one we recorded at home. The track didn't get anywhere but it was quite interesting. We grew a bit more and at sixteen we started a band called McCully Workshop and a whole string of other bands and I started a garage studio. I bought two Brunel tape recorders, the original old valve jobs.
Jody Wayne had come down from Jo'burg 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!! Things continued from there and the studio grew but it was much harder in those days, a four track Studer was R25,000 in '67. I then met a guy called Rocky Gush who was a complete genius he built his own four track using two Philips heads stacked to give four heads. I was impressed with some recordings he had done and asked him where he got his compresor/limiters from, he had actually made them. He charged me R30 each so I bought fifteen! We went on to build stuff and ended up with a sixteen track machine and recorded all the 'Buccaneer' stuff. Then we built a twenty-four track and did all the Lesley Rae [Dowling] stuff and finally bought an Otari twenty-four track. Listening back to those recordings I must say I actually prefer the qualities of analogue, the new 24 bit systems are ok, I never liked 16 bit".