Upset The Rhythm

Normil Hawaiians ‎– What's Going On? LP

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Normal Hawaiians were based between Thornton Heath and the Brixton squat
scene encircling the anarchist bookshop at 121 Railton Road. The brutal
1981 Brixton Riots and the heavy-handed policing that followed had
fostered a billowing sense of conflict with state forces. Hawaiians
drummer Noel Blandon says of that period “we were post-Falklands and
five years into Thatcher. She was out to destroy all the institutions we
held dear.” Getting out of lockstep with Thatcherism seemed
imperative. Adding to the overriding sense of restless anxiety, close
friend and band associate Martin Pawson took his life in July 1983.

Following the release of More Wealth Than Money (Illuminated, 1982),
there was an impetus to make good on hard won achievements. Rehearsal
and writing sessions resumed in the early months of 1983 at
Intergalactic Arts Studios, off the Old Kent Rd in London. IGA was a
ramshackle, semi-residential rehearsal space where the Hawaiians - none
of them ‘natural’ musicians - would often play and rehearse in the
dark, recording demos onto cassette.

Illuminated Records had been sending roster artists to Foel Studios in
Powys, Wales for years, and it had become a kind of refuge for the
Hawaiians. As Guy Smith says of that summer “Canary Wharf had been
built. The squat scene was closing down. We had to get out. We got in
the bus and hit the road.” Studio owner/manager (and Hawkwind/Amon
Duul II alumnus) Dave Anderson was welcoming, unruffled and
accommodating when around a dozen band members, friends and family
emerged from the ‘mini-peace convoy’ of vehicles into the hazy,
pastoral care of the warm, Welsh countryside. Although Foel was and is a
residential studio, the very number of people who showed up meant some
were kipping down where they could, sleeping in vans and cars for two

Whereas More Wealth Than Money had evolved in the recording studio,
What’s Going On began to develop as a more pre-meditated, albeit
piecemeal work. Quiet Village and the unreleased Outpost had already
been finished at Foel in February 1983. Recording Engineer Brian
Snelling recalls how the Hawaiians approach to making the album was
unconventional and spontaneous, revelling in chance and openness.
Rehearsal tapes from IGA were played along to, and and improvisations
allowed to develop, with further layers of sound accreting (as can be
heard on the final cut of Big Lies). Free Tibet was created by the band
playing together exploratively (guitars and their sounds were
‘treated’ with a penny whistle and a rusty screwdriver) with
Snelling waiting to hit ‘Record’ until he heard that something
interesting was coalescing. He recalls the sessions being initially
unorthodox, but eventually settling into a friendly, productive and very
familial affair. Rotating visitors came to the mixing desk to hear
playbacks and offer their thoughts. Away from the ‘peacelessness’ of
London, the space and security of both the studio and the countryside
had enabled the Family Hawaii to make good progress.

Mixed tapes were then taken by Dave Andersen and Guy Smith to Charly
Records’ editing studio in London where Andersen had worked and was
able to pull downtime. Here they spliced the recordings into an
irregular yet coherent, flowing work, Side One being intentionally and
meticulously honed as a seamless and inventive narrative. Recalling the
rudimentary nature of both the equipment and the demo tapes brought in,
Snelling now views the end result as ‘brilliant’ though his initial
feeling on hearing the edited and mastered LP was that the record had
been ‘cut to pieces’. Final masters were then EQ’d and cut by
Graeme Durham at the newly opened Exchange Mastering Studios in Camden.

And then nothing happened. Unbeknownst to the band, Illuminated Records
were getting into deep financial problems and by early 1984 were
struggling to release label-saving albums from Throbbing Gristle, 400
Blows and Kevin Ayers. Meetings with company boss Keith Bagley were
often held in dusty old daytime drinking clubs around the Fulham Road,
but the label was in its death throes. Test pressings sounded good but
the printing of the cover was all wrong. The cover image was too green,
though thankfully a final batch had this corrected to a more appropriate
sepia hue. As it became clear that the release was in danger of a
catastrophic failure without the goodwill of distributors and promoters,
the label gave the band 250 copies to sell as a ‘Sorry for Fucking Up
goodbye present’, but the record shops wouldn’t touch them. The
company had been blacklisted. Smith and Alun ‘Wilf’ Williams screen
printed the label name off the LP to distance it from disaster, but to
little avail. This intricate, challenging and engaging work had been
failed by poor circumstance.

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