Tully formed in late 1968, after a large section of hardworking R’n’B show band Levi Smith’s Clefs broke away to focus on more adventurous material. By early ‘69 they’d become easily the most hyped band in the nation, feverishly acclaimed for their towering rock dynamics and extended flights of jazz-inspired improvisation.
US-born keyboardist Michael Carlos played a Hammond organ with two huge Lesley speakers, while drummer Robert Taylor used two kick drums for extra percussive drama. Richard Lockwood experimented restlessly on clarinet, flute and saxophone, eventually developing an amplified clarinet set-up, deepening and distorting his tone through an octave pedal and a massive Lenard amplifer.
At first they were a kind of idiosyncratic cover band, playing 25 minute versions of Beatles hits, or their own take on Albert Ayler’s free jazz classic The Bells. But they soon expanded into their own material, and were adopted as the ultimate consciousness-expanding experience in late 60s Australia. Excitable Go-Set journalist Adrian Rawlins called them “the greatest musicians in the western world.”
The first rock-based band to perform at Sydney Town Hall, Tully sold out repeated concerts there through 1969, became the house band for love-rock musical Hair, and even had their own six part ABC TV series named Fusions. They headlined Australia’s first musical festival Pilgrimage For Pop, and outraged the classical establishment with Peter Sculthorpe-composed rock opera Love 200.
Their 1970 self-titled debut album is one of Australia’s most forward-thinking and ambitious of the era. The album made it to number 6 in the charts, but within months of its release, Tully had changed into something almost unrecognisable. They merged with folk-psych sirens Extradition, lost singer Terry Wilson and drummer Taylor, and decided to continue on drummer-less. Their subsequent records, 1971 surf soundtrack Sea Of Joy and posthumous 1972 album Loving Is Hard were serene, solemn and impossibly beautiful, but without the incendiary power of their first incarnation, audiences deserted them in droves. By the end of 1971, Tully were no more.