The concept of…

… Studio 3 was very simple and appealing, yet I see nothing much like it nowadays. It consisted of a large room leading off a steep staircase that led from the castle to the Grassmarket. Edinburgh is full of such “fit pedestrians only” short cuts. In this large room, there were benches around the perimeter and a few tables and chairs. You had to be invited to join – for a small fee – and you were expected to buy some refreshments while you were there. The menu contained coffee, tea and sandwiches, of which I particularly liked the peanut butter and apple. The room also contained a record player, a stack of suitable LPs, a couple of chess sets and a few books.

All we ever did was to talk, listen to records and play chess. We could have done all of that in the University Common Room, but there would have been too many people there, and someone would be sure to be misbehaving, while the music would have been inaudible or unacceptably loud. Similarly, we could have done it all in one of our own flats, but there wouldn’t have been enough people there. In Studio 3, there were usually between five and fifteen members present on any given evening, rising to twenty or so at busy times. Nowadays, the amount of smoke in the place would have classified it as a health hazard. The lack of a toilet was a bit of a downside, but it did have the effect of ensuring a turnover. Once you had left to find a public lavatory, you’d be tempted just to go home.

The LPs were an eclectic mix, though when you decided to put one on, you had to bear in mind the current clientèle, because if anyone objected to your choice you were honour-bound to change it. As a result, the vast majority of music played was classical, though there was some well-behaved Jazz, too. I first heard Miles Davis and Stan Getz in Studio 3. Woody Allen stand-up comedy; Bob Dylan strumming, blowing and moaning; Tom Lehrer skipping over the keys uttering the inutterable. The records and the books were mostly contributed by members.

Many of my current opinions and interests were formed during Studio 3 conversations, and it stands like a cultural beacon in my memory. Was it really so good? I’ll ask Lionel.

I wonder whether such clubs still exist, and I guess the answer is that certain forms of café society resemble Studio 3, except for the membership issue, though, in practice, membership can be controlled provided the members outnumber the gate-crashers and are prepared to be rude to them.

Remarkably, there is a Dance Base building, including a Studio 3, in the same sort of area today – no connection.

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