‘I Had Found Beauty’: Tully’s Richard Lockwood
Interviewed just a week before his death last September, Richard Lockwood reflected on his newly reissued solo work and the surf film soundtrack ‘Sea of Joy’ from his seminal band Tully. Words by DAVID NICHOLS.
“I think it’s very important for historians to know that the artist hasn’t got a responsibility to explain himself,” says Richard Lockwood. “And I’ve never tried to do that.”
The group Lockwood is best known for, Tully, was a late-1960s/early-1970s sensation, a genuinely innovative and exceptional outfit that was embraced by parts of the establishment (its own TV show, a live show written by Peter Sculthorpe for the band) and showed itself as an extraordinary force for cosmic exploration (its legendary sound and light shows in inner-city Sydney) but burnt out quickly through its own striving for the new and valid.
“It’s not really that I diversified,” explains Richard Lockwood about his songwriting and recording after Tully’s breakup. “I just had come to…” Here he goes to some length to easily express something that has plainly been second nature to him for four decades now: “I had always been a lover of beauty, and in 1969 I had an experience that brought me to the end of that journey, and all my inspiration then was beauty, so I was no longer a seeker of beauty, because I had found beauty, if this is making any sense to you. So I was able to … in other words … the raft of my song was on the stream of that beauty and it just drifted to the shore. I didn’t plan that or anything. Rather, it put to sea and I was adrift on the sea of beauty, so I was able to just take it up from there.”
It’s a version, perhaps, of the old songwriter’s trope that the music’s just out there in the air, and all he or she has is a special antenna. That said, Lockwood’s particular gift did not receive much exposure until the release late last year on Chapter Music of a double CD set, In the Doorway of the Dawn, collecting what Lockwood refers to as the period “since I started writing songs, I suppose – since ’72 up till now.” Almost none has been released, except, as Lockwood explains, “in the sense that I did release a cassette in ’96, but it was really written for the Meher Baba community so it wasn’t widely heard.”
The album also gathers “stuff I’ve recorded at home and sometimes in studio since 1972. There are two tracks from 1972 which were recorded live at the Mona Vale Memorial Hall in Sydney: “When I started writing songs, it coincided with learning the guitar so those songs are very simple in their construction. They’re lovely; their beauty is in their sincerity.”
Dealing with a particularly vicious cancer (and, at the time I spoke to him, a particularly rough case of hiccups), Lockwood nevertheless achieves a special brand of wry, dry humour: when asked which are the newest songs on the new compilation, he merely observes that the Mona Vale tracks were “newer then than they are now.” At the same time, he retreats somewhat from the suggestion that the Doorway of the Dawn tracks feature his first songwriting, when conversation turns (reluctantly, on his part) to Tully, the group he helped to form in late 1968 with other former members of Levi Smith’s Clefs – Michael Carlos, John Blake and Robert Taylor.
The group’s name came from a philosophy (and/or a novel) by its drummer, Taylor. “As far as I know, it was kind of a philosophy that he had that he called Life is the Blood of Tully – you’d have to ask him but he’s not around to ask. Tully’s not the town [in Queensland, pop. 2400] – just something he dreamed up, I’d say. When we put up those posters [reading] ‘Life is the Blood of Tully’, some character came along and took them all down and made them into ‘Life is Life’. We all thought that was very good, and also a bit of a wakeup call. But I have no idea, seriously. Definitely not the town. We never went that far north. I know that it wasn’t the town. Whether it was a man…”
It was a year into their existence when Tully became the house band for Jim Sharman’s production of Hair. Sharman writes on page 133 of his memoir Blood and Sawdust that Tully were involved in the show because they were expected to give it a “less sanitized feel,” but that their “embellishments would develop to a point where they were gradually replaced by more reliable session musicians.” Now, Lockwood says, the show “wasn’t our style. We accepted to do the job because we saw the benefit of doing it, for the future of the band. I think it was a good career move. We all became well known through doing it.”
Tully the group has remained fairly (or, rather, unfairly) largely ignored when Australia in that period is discussed – clearly because they (like a number of others) don’t fit any profile. Oddly, a decade ago two leading lights of Australian culture dipped their lids to the group. One Lockwood was unaware of when I mention it to him; the character of Tully in David Caesar’s 2001 film Mullet. Played by Susie Porter, Tully’s name is never explained, but it fits her personality with verve. The other, the mention of the group’s albums in a Tim Winton novel, meant something to him and his former band members when the book came out in 2001.
“Dirt Music,” Lockwood says. “Part of his music collection is Tully, the first album – I think Michael told me he read the book and then I read it. I know nothing about the process of people referencing something. It’s a wonderful thing from our point of view, I suppose. We were very dedicated to freedom, so from that point of view, yes, I can see why people can be interested because of our dedication to freedom. Dirt Music certainly points in that direction, someone wanting freedom.”
Yet as much as he might feel proud or pleased about the legend of Tully, Lockwood seems slightly irritated that the second album of originals by the group, the film soundtrack Sea of Joy, has been issued almost at the same time as his own solo work. He admits to composing some of its tracks: “Not a lot, really. I wrote the title song, and I also wrote – I did write another one, I think – but Sea of Joy begins the film with kind of a vamp, and it ends the film; it’s taken up again. I had quite an input, but it wasn’t written like that, really. We all wrote it, we all put input into it – very quickly.”
He seems to begin to really enjoy using the word ‘input’. “I’d say Colin Campbell put most of the input, he and perhaps Michael Carlos, and me to a lesser extent I’d say. And Shayna [Stewart] contributed her beautiful voice, and Ken [Firth] was there on bass and other things – hitting gongs – so it was good.”
Stewart had been a member of Extradition, a group Tully came across, collaborated with and in a sense absorbed. “Tully was a very different creature to Extradition … Tully was a wild sort of creature, whereas Extradition was ethereal and very beautiful in my opinion, so when I first heard it, Extradition, I was just blown away. We liked one another enough to form one band out of the two bands. I think it was a very happy – well, whether it was happy or not, it was a lovely marriage of the two bands for the short period it lasted. Pity it didn’t last longer.”
“We experimented with different ways of getting different sounds. In tuning, or pulling the tuning of a guitar string till it broke; that gives you a real sound of tension, like something drastic’s going to happen.”
Lockwood recalls the group improvising to the edited film on screen: “The scene where the boat is pulled out of the water, we improvised that. There’s another one, where they’re all sitting around smoking, that was improvised, with our modified Indian instruments, modified in the sense that we played them in a modified style. I’d already been to India, so perhaps I had a couple.” When I express surprise that the group were able to find such things, he simply says, “They were available.”
He is dismissive also of the idea that the group were inhibited by the state of recording studios in Australia 40 years ago. “Anything we wanted [for Sea of Joy] we mic’d up. The only thing we electrified was a coiled spring, to get a particular sound we wanted. We were … experimental musicians. We experimented with different ways of getting different sounds. In tuning, or pulling the tuning of a guitar string till it broke; that gives you a real sound of tension, like something drastic’s going to happen. We’d just use sounds like that.”
He continues: “With my solo album, no, it’s recorded basically on home equipment. Sometimes on not very good equipment. I play mostly everything. There are some different periods when I’ve been helped out by other musicians I knew and lived with. I’ve never been into hi-fi at all. It’s not something that I seek out. Once the music’s been recorded to my satisfaction, which is probably not such a high degree, I’m happy with it. What I look for in music is feeling, and if the feeling comes through…”