My dad got really excited when I told him that my next album to review was the rerelease of Tully’s self-titled debut from 1970. This is the music of his youth, after all – psychedelic prog-rock from a time when suits were brown, collars were wide and moustaches weren’t ironic. Almost before the words “Tully” and “reissue” had left my mouth, my dad was regaling me with tales of their weird live shows at long-forgotten venues such as Caesar’s Disco and The Thumping Tum, and of their spectacular meltdown at the Pilgrimage of Pop festival, and of their position as house-band during the Australian production of that most‘70s of musicals: Hair. Now, although we’re both music nerds, I had never heard my dad mention Tully before. “The most cultish of cult bands,”he claimed as a way of explanation, something that also helps explain why Tully’s unique take on psychedelic prog-rock was entirely unfamiliar to me, despite the fact that I had been raised on the classics of Australia’s psychedelic scene – Taman Shud, Madder Lake, Axiom, Zoot, Jeff St John.
A quick ask-around of my music nerd friends confirmed the band’s cult reputation: for the most part, the name Tully inspired not a flicker of recognition. This is a terrible thing, because Tully deserve to stand alongside such legendary underground psychedelic and prog-rock bands as The United States of America, The Electronic Hole and The Velvert Turner Group. Theirs is a very distinct type of psychedelic prog-rock: melodic than riff-based, it is more interested in the unfolding textures of the sounds than in the impact of the sounds themselves. While it may sometimes overwhelm you with a wall of guitar noise, this is merely the means and not the end, and is ultimately done in service of the song. Tully is drenched in all the trappings of the era and the genre – layers of organs, melancholy flutes, softly-strummed acoustic guitars, actual pianos, wah-wah electric guitars, heavy drums, delayed vocals, weirdly squiggly sound-effect backgrounds – and yet it transcends them, mixing influence upon influence and creating something entirely new. It is reminiscent of so many other bands and movements, but it is unmistakably itself.
Opening track‘You Realise, You Realise’begins with a Beefheart-esque cacophony of skronking, improvised saxophones and clarinets. This abruptly cuts to an almost-anthemic drawn-out vocal underpinned by a heavy fuzz-bass and a burbling organ that conjures up associations of Procul Harum; in lieu of a chorus, the whole song occasionally breaks out into an up tempo scatter-jazz piece peppered with wah-wah guitar flourishes, squalls of feedback and more skronking saxophones and clarinets.‘Do You Think of Nothing?’ exists on the other end of the psychedelic spectrum, encompassing both the mutated English music-hall style of bands like The Kinks and The Small Faces and the warped trad-jazz style of bands like The United States of America, and yet coming off as original rather than derivative. ‘Love’s White Dove’ is both rapturous and plaintive, its melody simple but not simplistic, backed by thick organ chords, Bonham-style drums and a massed choir;‘Phsssst’ is a perfect example of a studio freak-out, easily as weird and unsettling as anything crafted by The Beatles or Frank Zappa; ‘Just About Time’ is the perfect summation of their sound, somehow squeezing all of the different musical elements that preceded it into two and a half minutes of glorious madness. If there’s even the tiniest bit of room in your heart for psychedelic rock, you need to hear this album. And then you need to spread the word.