Jon Caffery interview 2023

Background information:

Jon Caffery was the Sound Engineer at Britannia Row Studios, London from 1979-1982.

In March 1980 he worked alongside Martin Hannett during the recording & mixing of Joy Division’s seminal punk post album “Closer”.

Prior to that he was the sound engineer at Gooseberry Studios, Soho, London working with many of the punk and reggae bands of the late 70’s.

Jon moved to Germany in 1983 and began producing the well-known German New Wave & Punk bands of the 80’s & 90’s.

Joy Division Central’s Mark Gale (MG) spoke to Jon Caffery (JC) in May 2023.

MG: Hi Jon, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and congratulations on your long and successful career in the music industry.

You started work At Gooseberry studios in 1977 and went on to engineer and mix the seminal Gary Numan/Tubeway Army album “Replicas” (1979). Which spawned the number one single “Are Friends Electric”. How did it feel to be so closely involved in making a number one single and album?

JC: It felt totally amazing.

MG: Can you tell us a little about working with Gary on that album?

JC: We hit if off straight away because we had both been listening to the same Krautrock when were teenagers, He was great, he gave me like a free-hand and wanted as much input as possible into the whole thing,

The sessions were from 10 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night.

I think we recorded the album in 7 days. It was a completely different time technology wise, no computers, everything was played by hand, the instruments were tuned by ear, no electronic tuners in those days. Gary was a clever guy; he knew what he wanted to do and he had a vision which makes a big difference.

MG:. Gooseberry studios is quite famous as the place the Sex Pistols recorded some of their first demos. Were you around then?

JC: I’d just got into the studio at the time and later Public Image recorded there. I did so many punk sessions at that time. Kirk Brandon of Spear of Destiny, I did his first recordings with his band The Pack. He was threatening all night that Johnny Rotten was going to come down and produce, but he didn’t turn up !

In those days Gooseberry would run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The morning session would start at 10 o’clock until around 2pm. Then somebody else would come in say from 2 until 4pm and then somebody else would come in from 4 till 8pm and then the reggae merchants would come in at 8pm and do an all nighter.

It was a really good experience working with so many different types of music. You had to be really fast the whole time as people would come in for just a couple of hours.

MG: I read that Gooseberry was popular with those bands with limited budgets such as a punk and reggae bands as it was it relatively cheap. How much was studio time back then?

JC: It was £10 on hour, it was relatively cheap, 16 track recording studio.

I must give a big shout out to (legendary reggae producer) Dennis Bovell (who also did The Slits & The Pop Group debut albums), he was my mentor in those days, he taught me so much, we did so many sessions together. We did the LKJ (Linton Kwesi Johnson) albums together. When we did the seminal LKJ album “Bass Culture” everyone was really shocked because he wasn’t there (he’d gone off to produce The Pop Group.

MG: You moved to Brittania Row studios in late 1979 and became involved the Manchester group Magazine, led by Howard Devoto. You mixed their 3rd album “The Correct Use Of Soap” which first brought you into contact with Martin Hannett. How did you find working with Martin?

JC: Easy ! Really Really easy, yeah.

I know he’s got a bit of a reputation, but I got on really really well with him and I also learned a lot from him, y’know. 

MG: So what are you abiding memories of those two weeks (late March, 1980) you spent with Joy Division?

JC: Great, great fun ! A really nice bunch of lads.

MG:  I remember reading that the band were really impressed when sandwiches were brought in at lunchtime.

A. Yes, I’ve got really fond memories of working with them. You get a feeling at the time that you are involved in making something special and I certainly felt that. You get to know people really well in a short space of time when you are recording with them.

MG: Can you tell me about Ian?

JC: Ian was an absolute lovely guy, really warm, really easy to get on with, he was basically pretty quiet, but very funny. He had a great sense of humour, but in a way he was different from the others – he was very much the “Artist”. The rest of them were just lads – and they really were lads – every spare minute they were just going down to the pub. Ian had about three heavy epileptic fits while he as recording the album and fell down a flight stairs during one of them. It was such a shock to hear a few weeks later, it was about three months or something when they announced on the John Peel (radio) show that he was dead. Really really weird.

MG: Yes, there was no instant reporting via social media or 24 hours news,. You read about it in the newspapers or heard about it on the radio or maybe on the evening news broadcasts.

MG: Can you tell us about the recording of Closer more specifically:

JC: It was really interesting working them, in a way it was quite ground-breaking that album.

When Joy Division came into the studio all the songs were set, there was no working on arrangements or anything like that, But Martin created the “Martin Hannett sound” which was unique in those days – such as using all the big reverbs and he could realise the sound that Joy Division wanted.

MG: Do you recall re-recording & mixing the song that would become the next single "Love Will Tear us Apart" during the "Closer" sessions Jon?

JC: Yes, I remember it well. They had recorded a version in Manchester (Stockport, Strawberry Studios) before coming to London. We decided it to mix it when we mixed the album but it wasn't quite working so Steve recorded the drums again.

MG: Now I heard that you did something special with one of the rooms at Brittania Row during the recording of “Closer” to give the album its open and expansive sound.

JC: Next to the studio there was a huge room with 20m high ceiling. It was about 3000 cubic metres and there was a snooker table in there which looked like the size of pool table to give you some idea of the dimensions of the room. It was like a relax room for the bands and stuff. It sounded amazing, there were brick walls, a hard floor and I think it had a wooden ceiling. So I put a stage wedge in the corner of the room and put up some ambience mics and we used it as a reverb chamber and a lot of the sound from the album has got to do with that room.

MG: That’s amazing. That idea defined the albums sound for sure.

JC: Joy Division were really cool, they were open to any ideas. I remember when we were setting up the drums there this broken snare drum in one of the mic rooms and it had a really interesting sound and I showed it to Stephen Morris and said “oh listen to this! He said “yeah that’s cool ! lets set it up”.

MG: It was a set of extraordinary songs really.

JC: Mind-blowing, absolutely mind-blowing that album.

MG: Considering they were just as you say, lads – where the hell did that come from?

MG: The following year you renewed your partnership with Martin (Hannett) to work with another Factory band – Section 25 – on their Always Now album

JC: They were also lovely, really nice guys, I really enjoyed that album.

MG: After Brittania Row I heard you headed off to Germany to produce. I heard you didn’t like the way the British music scene was going

JC: I did some work in ’82 with a couple of Liverpool bands – Echo and the Bunnymen and that scene (dubbed “The New Psychedelia”) and that was alright but then the whole New Romantic scene came along and it wasn’t really my cup of tea. As I’d listened to loads of German music in the 70’s I thought I’d see what was going on in Germany, This Neue Deutsche Welle (New Germen Wave) thing was happening.

MG: I read on Discogs that you were give the nickname “Lord Of knobs” by one of the German bands, which could be the best producer nickname ever!

JC: Well, you can look two ways !! It was the band “Die Toten Hosen” who gave me that name.

MG: I would have thought bands like Ultravox and Visage with their love of Conny Plank and Krautrock would have been perfect bedfellows with you producing them.

JC: It was more Spandau Ballet (laughs).

MG: (Laughs) I see, it was the “pretty boy element” that put you off !!

MG: One last question if I may… Did it ever piss you off early on when the producer got all the credit when the record came out and the Sound Engineer got none?

JC: No not at all. It was always my intention to become a producer.

I remember in the reviews in those days it was always like the record was either well produced or badly engineered !!

Copyright Mark Gale 2023