Normil Hawaiians were an experimental post-punk collective from the South London area, centered around vocalist/guitarist Guy Smith. Formed in 1979, the group evolved from a more upbeat, punk-inspired band (producing the 1980 single "The Beat Goes On," which made the U.K. independent singles chart) to an eccentric avant-garde outfit in the mid-'80s, but all of their work contained politically conscious lyrics and a D.I.Y. mentality.
In September of 1979, Normil Hawaiians recorded their first demo at a studio in South London, with Smith accompanied by Jim Lusted (vocals/guitar), Janet Armstrong (vocals), Kev Armstrong (guitar), Colin Donaldson (bass), and Chris Westerman (drums). The following April, a buffed-up, expanded lineup (featuring Roger Smith on violin, the Famous Delfonso on sax, Nick Rose on bass, and Sue Leeves and Sarah Harley on backing vocals) visited a West London studio with producer Nick Godwin and re-recorded "The Beat Goes On," a catchy post-punk number from their demo, along with new song "Ventilation" and an uncredited cover of "In Heaven" from Eraserhead. The following month, a reduced lineup of the group (Smith, Lusted, Rose, Leeves, and drummer Brian Kealy) recorded a session for John Peel's radio show, which was broadcast three times during the year. Janet Armstrong left the group for a solo career. In October of 1980, "The Beat Goes On" single was finally released on London label Dining Out, and reached number 44 on the independent singles chart. Most of the lineup that performed on the group's Peel Session (minus Leeves and plus guest vocalist Stephen Berlin) recorded another session at a studio in the group's home town of Orpington in November 1980, produced by Lusted and Smith along with Kev Armstrong and Pete Leggett. The five songs were released as the 12" EP Gala Failed on Red Rhino Records in February of 1981. That same month, a stripped-down lineup (Smith, Lusted, and Armstrong) recorded a new single called "Still Obedient," which was released by Illuminated Records.
Normil Hawaiians began. The group abandoned most of the punk influences of their earlier work in favor of a more unpredictable, experimental style, with atmospheric synths, acoustic guitars, and a greater emphasis on improvisation. In June of 1982, Smith, Simon Marchant, Mark Tyler, and drummer Noel Blanden gathered in Foel Studio in Wales (run by engineer Dave Anderson, former bass player for Amon Düül and Hawkwind) to record Normil Hawaiians' first full-length, More Wealth Than Money. Illuminated Records released the double LP, but label problems led to the album only being distributed in Europe rather than the U.K. Yet another retooled lineup of the band (Smith, Marchant, Blanden, Leeves, Jimmy Miller, and new bassist Alun "Wilf" Williams) recorded What's Going On?, the group's most politically minded work yet, in the summer of 1983, again at Foel Studio. The album was released on Illuminated Records early in 1984, and the group took their increasingly theatrical stage show to venues and festivals in Europe, with Lusted briefly rejoining the group during a tour of Switzerland. During the winter of 1985-1986, much of the previous album's lineup returned to Foel Studio to record the third Normil Hawaiians album. Another experimental, improvisation-heavy effort with directly political lyrics, the album was eventually titled Return of the Ranters, but the recordings were shelved and the group members went their separate ways, starting families and other musical endeavors. In early 2013, Return of the Ranters was briefly given a digital release, and in October of 2015, Upset the Rhythm finally released the album on CD and vinyl. A performing lineup was assembled for the first Normil Hawaiians concert in 30 years. The label re-released More Wealth Than Money in late 2017 (the CD edition included a second disc of previously unreleased demos), and What's Going On? was similarly given the reissue treatment in 2019.