Preview: JOY, Studio 24, Calton Road

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THE Capital’s gay scene then and the Capital’s gay scene now. So much has changed. Today Edinburgh boasts a thriving ‘scene’ that includes bars, clubs and cafes, most of them situated around the area between Broughton Street and Picardy Place that’s known locally as the ‘Pink Triangle’.

But it wasn’t always like this. In the early 90s, there was nothing much happening club-wise and despondency set in surrounding the city’s gay scene. Fire Island (Edinburgh’s first large-scale commercial disco) had closed its premises on Princes Street (it’s now Waterstone’s) and the Blue Oyster Club on Rose Street Lane soon followed.

“The gay scene was going through a bit of a lull at the time,” says Alan Joy, who, along with pal Maggie McKeown (better known as Maggie ‘Joy’, she finds it funny that people sometimes believe they’re a husband and wife), hatched a plan to change all that.

“Maggie and I were working together at the old Blue Moon Cafe on Broughton Street (now Cafe Nom De Plume) and we’d got to know a lot of people through that. We also shared a large basement flat and used to host the occasional party and invite people along from the cafe.

“It started getting a bit ridiculous when we would have over 200 people in our flat once a month,” he adds.

Maggie takes up the story. “Within the very small gay scene in Edinburgh at the time, nothing compared to the atmosphere we both experienced at certain underground clubs and raves in Scotland.

“Then we both attended Eurodance (Paris, March 1993) with another 10,000 fellow clubbers from across Europe – and were blown away. We both thought it would be amazing to create the same incredible atmosphere in Edinburgh – obviously on a smaller scale and in a mixed clubbing environment.”

And so JOY was born.

Starting as a one-off night upstairs at Calton Studios (now Studio 24) in 1993, JOY would go on to become a weekly night that lasted for 13 years.

“It was a bit like a runaway train,” laughs Maggie. “We just started out wanting to play great records and get folk to dance. Suddenly we were turning people away and things started becoming a bit more serious.”

Alan nods in agreement, adding, “It was all a bit bonkers. We didn’t set out to create a hugely-popular club night, and suddenly it was there in our hands and we were having to deal with it.”

So what was it was about the club with the broad music policy ranging from funky house to intense trance that made it so popular among clubbers?

“Just the whole mix of people letting their hair down and not worrying about being older or gay or larger or taller or straight or whatever,” says Alan. “People found it really liberating. It brought together so many people from different walks of life who would probably never have met otherwise.

“In the early days, it was like a big family and loads of friendships have survived to this day,” he adds.

Now, the clubland institution is back after a seven-year absence to mark its 20th anniversary at Studio 24 tomorrow night, when Alan and Maggie will be joined by fellow JOY alumni Trendy Wendy, Brett King and DJ Michelle.

“I think it’s going to be one big massive reunion more than anything else,” says Maggie. “We’re bringing the old JOY crew back for one huge party, playing our top tunes that made JOY so special.

“There will also be lots of lasers, UVs, sweeties, ice poles and glow sticks!”

In preparation for the big night, Alan has been dusting down his records and confesses to having “a wee DJing practice”.

“I must admit I’m a bit nervous,” he laughs. “I must remember to take along my newly-acquired glasses, or I won’t be able to read the record labels!”

JOY, Studio 24, Calton Road, tomorrow, 10.30pm-3am, £10 in advance; £12 on the door, 0131-558 3758