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TRCH David Suchet

The Variety Club in Radford

3 August 07 photos: Ben Dennis
interview: Al Needham

"Jesus would be horrified to be considered as a racist"

The Variety Club in Radford might not be a regular fixture in the Post, but you've all heard of it. And most of what you’ve heard is true. It’s a proper spit-and-sawdust throwback to an era where Noreen from Hucknall drops her drawers to the sound of Donna Summer and fills a stag’s boxers with whipped cream, where a regular called The Suffolk Suffocator jumps on stage bollock naked and shouts ‘Fucking Hell, Fucking Hell Fucking Hell’ to the Here We Go tune, a stand-up comedian from Liverpool gets ritually abused, and everyone tells everyone else to fuck off, and then has a laugh about it. Oh, and there’s bingo. And cobs. 

The Variety is run by Pav and Jesus, and we caught up with the former after a show that was lacking its usual clientele (half of Radford had pissed off to Skeg for the day), which meant they had to abuse the people who were there three times as much. Forget purpose-built Arts centres and burlesque nights that consist of middle-class girls in their grandma’s knickers; whether you like it or not (and some of you won’t), the real Nottingham Culture is over here…

How did the two of you know each other?

I’d heard of Jesus since I was 13, when he lived on our street. He was famous in Kimberley for walking around with no shoes. We had a drink one night and realised that comedywise and musically, we had a lot in common. He’s a brilliant musician, which is something that you don’t really see when we’re playing here.

So how long have you been running the Variety?

Two and a half year. Before that, Gordon Cragg ran the club for 40 years without ever taking a day off, and we used to come down from Kimberley to see him. The first time we came in here was with trepidation. We’d heard lots of stories about this club in darkest Radford that was so rough it had no windows, and we sat at the back and didn’t say boo to a goose. It didn’t take long before the locals took us under their wing and got to know us. I was on shift work and Jesus is allergic to graft, so we wrote loads of nonsense articles for the Sunday Sport and Viz – ‘I Found Jesus In My Shed’, and the like. Gordon is a genius and our comedy hero, but he was getting a bit decrepit, and he asked us to take over. So we jumped in feet first.

Describe the average Variety punter…

Good as gold. They couldn’t do enough for you. The exact opposite of what you’d expect. Radford’s a suburb known for tekkin’ no prisoners, but they’ve been behind us 100%. Anything could happen in this club, but I’ve never felt unsafe in this place, knowing that if anything happened there’d be 20 or 30 very unassuming lads who would whisk out any proper low-life without anyone noticing.

I invited a dozen people to come out with me today, but they were too scared to come to Radford on a Sunday afternoon…

That’s a problem we have. And it really isn’t like that. I’ve only seen four or five incidents in here that concerned me. I’d be much more worried about my safety having a Wednesday night in Newark or Leicester. The thing about this place – you only have to come here a couple of times before people introduced themselves to you and you got to know them. I’ve seen people come here for the first time and not known anyone, and six months later, they’ve bought shares in the place. Yes, Radford has a reputation, but once you get to know the people, you realise how decent they are. Any moodiness is checked at the door.

Radford’s got loads of students now...

Years ago, everybody would have known everybody else. Whole families lived on the same street, and you couldn’t do anything without being reported back on. This is the back end of a community you could trace back hundreds of years. Hopefully the students are gonna bring a whole new community and culture here, so Radford doesn’t end up like other places I could mention. I’d like to think they’re gonna save Radford, and drag it up from being an absolute shithole and bring it back to being a genuinely nice community.

They’d love it here…

And I can’t believe we’re missing out on ‘em. We never get students here. I don’t think they even know it exists.

But you can’t deny that it’s not the most right-on way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen Black and Asian lads get the piss ripped out of ‘em relentlessly…

No more than you, though. I said you were a bald ugly specky paedophile. And that your photographer was your Rent Boy.

Well, yes, you did.

I think that everybody - whether they’re Black, White, Gay, Straight, fat, thin, bald, whatever - has the right to have to have the piss taken out of ‘em, and I couldn’t see the club being any other way. I’d hate to think that we’d missed anybody out. Jesus would be horrified to be considered a racist. Personally, I consider meself a race realist; I see that there is a difference between us all, it’s a healthy difference, and it’s other people who have the problem. When I look out and see the audience, everybody’s dark blue. I can’t stand the middle-class PC brigade who draw their own lines and make everybody feel uncomfortable. Nobody’s above being laughed at, we’ve all got us cross to bear, we’ve all got us lives to lead, and we’ve all got to be at work on Monday morning.

Bernard Manning had one of his last gigs here. What was he really like?

He didn’t spare anybody. He didn’t make anybody feel less comfortable or less welcome here. Last time he was here he turned up in his Roller and said “Eeh, Pav, I’ve been bostin’ for a piss since Sheffield” and I had to hold him up as he had a slash against the wheels. And then Strangers On The Shore came on the radio and he said “Eeh, Pav! Acker Bilk! Oh, me and the missus used to dance to this in the fifties. Absolutely wonderful. Have you got family, Pav?” I said, yeah, and goes; “Look after ‘em. There’s nothing more important than your family. My missus died far too young, Pav. Far too young. We used to dance to Acker Bilk. Lovely man” and he’s hanging onto me arm having a piss, and I’m thinking, fucking ‘ell - and this is what all the fuss is about? How can anyone get so wound up about this little ode man? And then he goes on stage and he has this glint in his eye… 

Notts isn’t known for its stand-up talent…

We would love to have new comedians in here. If there’s any locals who want to have a go – they could be students, they could be Grandads – they’re welcome to come and do 15 minutes. They won’t be paid, but that doesn’t mean to say that next week we wouldn’t invite ‘em back for a paid gig. We’d love to see new comedians to come down here and even take our spot, if they can stand the pace. It’s one of the few places in the country where you can cut your teeth, because if you die on your arse, the punters’ll still buy you a drink and push you back onstage so you can die on your arse again.

What would you like to say to LeftLion readers?

Come in, have a look, decide for yourself. We have all sorts here – lawyers, doctors, undercover coppers – and I can honestly say I’ve never felt safer in Notts than on a Sunday morning here.

The Variety Club runs from12.30 to 3pm every Sunday. £3 non-members. Special thanks to Tony for providing the pics.

Variety website

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