(Answered by Guy Smith)
What inspired you to first start making music? And how did you come to be in your current incarnation? Or if you prefer, a brief bio about you.
My Dad was into music and had all the early Beatles records along with the Beach Boys and some ex DJ one-sided 7″ singles…Link Wrays Rumble was my favourite….we lived in Hong Kong and my parents were always out socialising so i was at home looking out on the China sea playing my dads records at an early age, babysitters just letting me get on with it.We had tickets to see The Beatles, but mum thought i was too young to handle the screaming crowds…I implored her to let me go, but to no avail….back in South London,a few years later I remember dad bringing home a copy of Abbey Road and i was blown away as Come Together opened the album. I loved T.Rex, Mungo Jerry,and early reggae….dad and i would listen to Reggae Time on Radio London on a Sunday afternoon and as I entered my teens got into Soft Machine, Frank Zappa and Hawkwind. with my school mates…..my first gig was the Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium in 1971, I was 13 and saw Screaming Lord Sutch carried onstage in a coffin by 4 topless women,,Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and Chuck Berry all played..what a gig!….The next year i went to see Hawkwind play at the Edmonton Sundown with a couple of school mates…we got there early and sat in a circle with older kids passing spliffs around…..in 1974.at 16 my girlfriend invited me to see Stackridge…a wonderful band wearing old mens clothes, telling stories and playing a kind of fairground off-beat music, another band Deaf School were very theatrical…and this appealed to me. I saw Bowie in his Thin White Duke phase looking cool with a packet of Gitanes cigarettes and playing the film Un Chien Andalou as his support act. I saw Roxy Music, too…all cool theatrical stuff.Then i saw the Rolling Stones in ’76 and hated them overblown and dull as fuck in a big stadium. a couple of nights later i went to the 100 club and saw the Sex Pistols…4 scruffy geezers who were sitting at the next table to us, just jumped up and played with an incredible energy. I was hooked!
Until that point I didn’t really think I could play in a band, though I used to walk to school imagining I was Hawkwinds bass player ( a certain Dave Anderson)..I played basic piano and would walk home from school with my mate Kevin Armstrong( currently Iggy Pops Guitarist and co-wrote Absolute Beginners with Bowie) who even at 15 was a brilliant guitarist…I knew i could never be as good as him, so had no real desire to play………in 1977, A couple of years after leaving school and going to the Roxy in London regularly , i bumped into a couple of old school mates, who thought i’d make a good front man for their new band.We became The Tarts, by then i was wearing make-up and dying my hair and we had a drummer named Max Splodge, also from our home town of Orpington. One night Max and I had a fight onstage as he wanted to sing…Well I couldn’t drum so I told him to Fuck off…he poured his pint of beer over me…..I waited til he was back on the drums, picked up his cymbal and smashed him round the head with it. he left the band shortly afterwards to form his own comedy punk band Splodgeness Abounds and had a number 2 hit with ‘Two Pints Of Lager’..a song written in the back of The Tarts van, but i rejected it as it was too silly! …We are still friends!!!
The punk scene was incredibly exciting, but burned out quickly and by early ’78 was dead.
The Tarts became too poppy for me, i wanted to be more experimental and theatrical, so I left . They became a 3 piece called The Heartbeats and I would do their sound at gigs…….In 1979 I met up with another old school mate and occasional Tart, Jim Lusted…we were both looking for something new, different and along with Janet Armstrong, Kevs 15 year old sister, we became Norml Hawaiians …we cajoled Colin Donaldson and Chris Westerman of the Heartbeats and old mate Kev Armstrong to come with us to RMS studio in Crystal Palace where we showed them our ideas and got them to play the backing tracks whilst Jim, Janet and I added guitars and vocals and played around with the mix, going for more radical dub influenced sounds. We sent the demo to John Peel . A couple of months and a single The Beat Goes On ( on Dining Out Records), later. Peel phoned up and offered us a session on his show. By the time we got to the BBC studios we had recruited ex-Clash roadie Nick Rose on Bass and Brian Kealy on drums……..we recorded an EP Gala Failed…Brian, Nick and Jim getting funky, Janet left to pursue a solo career including singing the amazing backing vocal on Bowies Absolute Beginners…..some cool all-night gigs at the Scala Cinema followed and then Gala Failed- failed …we were gutted as we really liked the record. We split…Jim and I going in different directions. I asked the others if I could keep the name Normil Hawaiians as I had a plan to break away entirely from the post punk scene and create a new sound. Illuminated records came calling and loved the idea…. I met Simon Marchant also from my old school St Olaves,and living in the same street that I had been brought up in but a couple of years younger than me but we liked each others ideas. He and a bass player Cliff McLenehan and drummer Steve Goulding came along for a few jam sessions….Steve left to re-join Graham Parker and the Rumour for a tour and i saw Noel Blanden drumming for Bertie(Berlin) who had often opened our set with his unique style of poetry in the Gala Failed days. Noel joined and we started jamming, looking to break away from the 3 minute verse /chorus structure. Cliff didn’t like it and left……we had borrowed a string synthesizer from Mark Tyler a friend of a friend. Mark came to get it back, we got chatting and he and the synth stayed and eventually the 4 of us departed for Wales and Dave Andersons Foel Studio……More Wealth Than Money was the result..Dave, Mark and I all took turns to play the bass as we escaped London to enjoy the remote landscape of mountain and valley, space and time……Life in Britain in 1982 was getting heavy….we got involved in politics, Green and Red…rejecting the Blue….leaning back towards early German bands like Neu , Can and Tangerine Dream., Gong and Zappa,early label mates Zoviet France and 23 Skidoo.
Provide us with some info about your latest release…
What’s Going On? recorded in 1983 and being re-released by Upset The Rhythm records is an interesting mix of improvised and structured pieces…I spent a week in the editing studio with Dave Anderson finishing it off. We always try to make music that sounds different from anyone or anything else and I think we succeeded with this album, though Illuminated’s financial situation meant the album was never properly released back then. Market Place is my favourite track…a slow subtle beginning , but a very powerful middle section before a long fade. A 10 minute journey!
Which ones would you consider your main influences both music-wise & non-music-wise?
Influences- Frank Zappa, Tangerine Dream, Hawkwind, Gong and Stackridge.
In what way does your sound differ from the rest genre-related artists/bands and why should we listen to your music? In other words, how would you describe your sound?
We always try to sound interesting and as different as possible from other people.
We like to take the listener on a musical and lyrical journey, hopefully places they’ve never been before!
Please name your 3 desert islands albums, movies & books…
My desert island albums would be Hot Rats by Zappa, Hawkwinds In Search of Space…and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.
Books,My favourite of all time, about life and love is Jitterbug Perfume- Tom Robbins… also The Hosts of Rebecca- Alexander Cordell and The Alchemist – Paolo Coelho
Films: Life Is Beautiful( Italy) Betty Blue( France) and Wings of Desire( Die Himmel Uber Berlin-Germany)
Do you prefer studio or performing live and why?
In the studio, I find myself able to express myself without limit…not sure if that’s good or bad!
…I have performed in many guises…. after the band split in 1987 I learnt to juggle and perform acrobatics and have spent a lot of time busking playing Irish Folk music, but later on performing Fire Juggling street shows as far away as Japan, as well as a couple of seasons touring with Circuses.
Is there any funny-unique story you would like to share with us, always in relation to your music ‘career’?
Once in Japan , I was performing a fire show on Dotonbori Hashi in Osaka when I spotted Daevid Allen of Gong watching the show…I’d worked with Gong the previous year in France, assisting my friend Fin Costello the photographer to shoot their album cover Zero To Infinity, so Daevid invited me and other street performers to watch the show. He asked me if I could score him some dope before the gig. I didn’t want to get involved in that in Japan, so didnt…but at the gig when he was singing’ I’ve Been Stoned Before’ I shouted out ‘But not tonight, eh, Dave?’ He replied, ‘Not tonight Josephine!’. After the gig we all got very drunk together!!
Which track of your own would you point out as the most unique and why?
Mouldwarps Journey from Return of The Ranters as it is totally improvised and takes one on a journey…though each of the albums has at least one 10 minute track that does that in one way or another.
Would you like to share with our readers your future plans?
Future Plans….since Upset The Rhythm have shown faith in the Normil Hawaiians, we have regrouped occasionally…and it would be more often except that jimmy and mark now live in different parts of Scotland, Wilf lives o the South Coast of England, Noel and Simon in Kent and I live in rural Wales, a far cry from the squat most of us lived in together in Brixton in the ’80’s.
BUT we have recently recorded the basis of an album in Kintyre in Scotland and the finished item will include samples of sounds from different parts of the UK …you’ll have to wait til it’s finished to hear it, but there are some interesting sounds involved!
We have a live show at Cafe Oto in East London on July 11th to showcase the release of Whats Going On, which will feature some of the new material as well as tracks from Whats Going On.
We are hoping to get a mini tour of Europe in November including Athens and Lausanne, though nothing is confirmed yet….
Free question!!! (Ask yourself a question) you wish to answer and haven’t been given the opportunity…
Would I have done anything differently in my life?
I have no regrets, as one mistake might lead to something unplanned…for instance if I hadn’t broken my leg so badly playing football, and couldn’t play again aged 25 I might not have learnt to juggle and travelled the world……but maybe I could have been more confident of my own ideas as a young person…
Photo credits: Tony Harrison (1st one), Chris Tipton (2nd one)
Curated by: Christos Doukakis
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