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 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…
The original vinyl of 'Birds Flying High' has proved elusive, so a 1998 re-recording has been used for this 'Best Of' compilation.
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 70s 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.
The Best Years Of Your Life
Excerpts from an interview with Tully taken from the Paul Bothner website