Chris Baliff aka Position Normal has become something of a cult in many bedrooms. Esteemed music writer Simon Reynolds has declared him ‘The Godfather of Hauntology’, though Chris admits to having no idea of what this actually is. ‘Something to do with ghosts’ he suggests when I meet him in his new Walthamstow manor.
Reynolds anointment of Baliff however is not without its foundations.
The recent output of People Like Us, Focus Group and Broadcast coupled with renewed interest in The Radiophonic Workshop has brought inevitable categorization and as with all genres, there has to be a forgotten maverick who was doing it before anyone else. Listen to the early 90’s output of Bugger Sod, Position Normal’s previous incarnation and one can see that Chris and collaborator John Cushway have been merely doing what comes naturally since the start.
‘I had no real reference points says Chris, “I have always been inspired by things that have affected me, though I don’t mind what Simon (Reynolds) says because it sets me apart from it somehow’”
Chris provided Reynolds with two coloured cassettes of his new album.“I gave him a blank red one and a recorded orange one but didn‘t tell him which one was which.” * SEE COMMENT BELOW
Chris has been busy individually taping his new album onto coloured cassette for the last few months though mp3’s are also available from the Position Normal website.
Chris began messing around with tape cassettes when he was a teenager. He would do tape-to-tape multi-tracking using his family’s Amstrad hi-fi and an SK1 drum machine, under the cover of a duvet.
“I wanted to be like Mantronix or Sigue Sputnik, it was terrible, but I still use the same process today, only with a big sampler keyboard, I’ve never used a sequencer.”
Chris rejected the chance to play cornet like his father in order to learn bum notes on the guitar. “No ever teaches you how to play the bum notes but its harder in some ways, look at Les Dawson, you know he can play, yet he also knows where the bum notes are and he probably does that every night.”
Chris second formative recording experience was as a student at East Ham College where he went to study art in 1989. He borrowed the college Marantz tape recorder to do a summer project on Ice Cream vans.
“East Ham had three Ice Cream Car Parks full of old Whitby Morrison’s says Chris who even went along to a meeting of The Ice Cream Alliance convention to find out about the company who make the various chimes for the vans.
“I recorded them all, they use a proper barrel organ projected through the floor by a tube called The Pied Piper which moves with the camber in the road’’ Such information was not easy to come by though, “These Italian Ice Cream men with bodyguards dressed like the mafia told me to stop recording” nevertheless Chris made an impression on the Lyons Maid representative who offered him a job designing Ice Cream Vans.
He held onto the college recorder for his next project. ‘It was quite a heavy lump but such a good quality sound, I saw some old NBC news footage recently and they were using the same machine.”
Chris spent his summer holiday picking up sounds on London Underground and Romford Market. He would feed the microphone down the arm of an old Parka coat rescued from a mechanics. “I would have to keep really still to stop any dirty noise” recalls Chris whose favourite found sound remains the pet shop where he found a girl teaching a parrot to say ‘Fuck off Nan you wanker.’
“It was always surreptitious,” he explains “but I didn’t want to nose about other peoples business, I mean it wasn’t exactly investigative Journalism.’
Around this time started collaborating with Jon Cushway and formed The Bugger Sod. “It was just messing about really but a good laugh” They played at some of the early Sonic Mook Experiment nights in Shoreditch, “I loved playing live,” says Chris who played guitar whilst John sang.
They also had a bassist and drummer, but that’s about as trad as it got.
“We used a lot of background samples and took the guitar and vocals off the mix, I don’t think a of people got what we were doing.”
A couple of seven inches were released and some home made videos inexplicably rejected by MTV, but Bugger Sod ceased to be in the mid-nineties over musical differences. “It was always just meant to be a laugh,” recalls Chris
“I mean you can’t have a name like that and take yourself seriously.”
Jon and Chris dusted down their parkers and put on their distinctive yellow heads to release ‘Stop Your Nonsense’ as Position Normal in 1997 on Mind Horizon, a subsidiary of Polygram. This was in no part down to the efforts of the promoter Damian Lazarus “No-one else would have touched it, he (Damian) was really on it and we needed that energy.”
However Polygram weren’t so impressed by the album, most of which was stuff he and John has been working on for years, including the original Romford market recordings. ‘They went apeshit and tried to keep us quiet, they couldn’t wait to get rid of us.”
Chris did mange to get his rights and master tapes back following the intervention of Tim Clark of island Records. He then used a Princes Trust grant to release a second album ‘Goodly Time.’ The distinctive Birdy Sky and Ocean View cover design was by Eley Kishimoto whom Chris had provided music for in the past. The album picked up where Stop your Nonsense left off, car boot samples, off key guitar with more musings from John.
Chris released it himself but despite good reviews couldn’t press any more than he originally ordered. It was re-released and re-mastered in Japan but otherwise disappeared into the musical ether.
Many devotees thought that was the last they would hear from Position Normal but then word started to get round internet forums that there was more to come from the ‘yellow-heads.’ It took time, but then there has never been much of a sense of urgency with the boys.
“John only comes around twice a year or I’ll send him stuff “explains Chris. “But it doesn’t really work like a band at all, no ones feelings are hurt if it doesn’t work out. He doesn’t tell me how to make music and I don’t tell him how to do words, the only time I tell him what to do is when he shouts into the mic and it’s blistering.”
When we spoke Chris was doing less of his daytime graphic design work, in order to concentrate on Position Normal. He wants to play the new album out live with a band and build on their visual element but there will be no advert in the NME.
“None of that ‘must be into Deep Purple stuff,’ says Chris,”’ I’ll just find them as I meet ‘em.”
There are also plans to release dance material under the name Ron-Superior for Andy Cummings of Man records who recently brought out the excellent ‘Nao’ Brazilian post punk compilation.
“I still love dance music,” enthuses Chris “I love rhythms and beats but with Position Normal, I drain it all out.”
Chris and John are finally starting to get the recognition they deserve for their sporadic but brilliant output. However Chris seems as excited about his modest new flat as musical fame.
“The music’s just about striking a chord,” he says no tongue in cheek, “you can enjoy it for your own reasons.”
To buy the new album visit
To hear Chris and John’s recent appearance on Resonance FM go to