Caught by the River

Café Exil

Cally Callomon | 7th March 2021

‘Café Exil: New Adventures In European Music 1972 – 1980’ is an imagined soundtrack to a favourite West Berlin haunt of Bowie and Pop, compiled by Bob Stanley and Jason Wood for Ace Records. Cally Callomon takes it for a spin.

A second visit brings confidence
And a cigarette adds security
Midnight railway cafe
Midnight bahnhof café


During the period of The Great Shut Up I have been blessed to be able to plunder a record collection I started in 1964 which fills a large building and constantly surprises me in treasures I forgot I had. I’ve collected records from all over the world, a physical world that is denied to us just now, a journey that ends at the foot of our drive yet explodes into space when music is our escape…

Music holds many powers apart from the sheer quality inherent within. It triggers memories of when it was first heard and bought, (a factor that can forgive the guiltiest of confessions) and it takes us off to distant places, perhaps those in which the music was made or places conjured up by the record itself. It could be mid seventies New York, Memphis, Manchester, Liverpool or, in this case, a far off, far out Berlin.

The Berlin in my life was the home of my grandparents, the place from where exotic albums were sent to me by a cousin in the early 1970s and a place of wonder in the Eagles Toto desert before the wall came tumbling down.

… and how best to imagine this place than to create the jukebox of dreams that sits waiting for deutsche marks in a dusty corner of a café in Berlin. If it never was, now it shall be.

Thinking is the best way to travel 
(The Moody Blues)

I suspect the compilers Bob Stanley and Jason Wood know a fair bit about travel and here we have yet another curious personal portrait of a place and time that ever was.

To dissect the album into a list of bands and performers; to list their country of origin and dates is to miss the point, a point so depended on by trainspotters. The sleeve notes reveal all, and that’s after you have bought the thing and, hopefully listened to it with that part of the brain switched off. The point is to appreciate the concept and to follow the mood. 

Travel narrows the mind 
(Bill Drummond)

To actually be there then? To have experienced it all is to miss the point; the travel starts here and now both in time and place. This is the Berlin of your dreams.

We learn that this compilation is an imagined jukebox found in Café Exil in Kreuzberg…and what of a jukebox? There was a time when all they could cope with were dinked seven inch singles and some haunts thrived on a reputation of having ‘an amazing jukebox’ meaning that the proprietor managed to collar the stockist and get him to think beyond Dawn and Mud. 

My favourite French tabac jukeboxes taught me about Telephone, Fontane, Manset, Vannier and even Joe Cockér, but were obviously limited to single releases which many of the tracks contained here never were.  So what better an exercise than to dream up those rare 45s that the Berlin haunt Café Exil may have had. There’s a reason for that Exil name too, Berlin; perched on a limb intruding into the forbidden West was as much an escape as music can be in the locked-down bedrooms of today. You got there by train, today you just need a ticket on the first train to trancentral.

From station to station
Back to Düsseldorf City
Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie


Fittingly the album was compiled in Manchester where it rains as much as it does in Berlin. Do not let the freshness and hope of the onset of spring put you off diving back into a dim wet smoke-filled past. The welcome news that no-one is flying today — no just popping off to Brussels for a meeting — means that the Trans European Express is about to be reborn, so buy an Interrail ticket, put all thoughts of Brexit to one side, put on the headphones and get on board this train of thought.

The further one travels, 
The less one knows
(George Harrison)

Note: this review does not contain any mention of the artists and tracks found on this compilation. This does not affect your consumer rights.


‘Café Exil: New Adventures In European Music 1972 – 1980’ is out now and available here.