I’m still reeling from the surreal experience at the Moonlight private members club on Green Street, West Ham (near Upton Park tube) on Saturday night. Five of us (myself, an Indian, a Pakistani, an Italian and an Iranian… this isn’t a joke) had met up for a few drinks and then on to a really good place called Mobeen’s (Pakistani food, I was told) to eat. Mobeen’s closes at 10pm but they let us in at 9:45 and I think we were keeping them up way past their bedtime. The place is strictly muslim so no alchohol allowed either so it was a good job we were half tanked up from the pub.
Scott (the Iranian) had read about a place called Moonlight just up the road along Green Street that was supposed to have an Indian karaoke night so, of course, we decided to head there. After getting the leftovers of our meal wrapped up as a takeaway, of course, which somehow I ended up carrying. We got to Moonlight and there were a couple of guys on the door. “This is a private club.” That’s usually enough to stop me, but not Uzma (the Pakistani, by origin anyway): “But I’ve just come from France and I didn’t know that.” Which is true, if irrelevant. But the fact that she’s tall and used to do some modelling obviously meant that this particular line, which wouldn’t work for us mere mortals (i.e. blokes), was enough to convince the doorman to let us all in. Well, at least let everyone else in as I was stopped because I was carrying a takeaway bag which we couldn’t take inside because Moonlight is also a restaurant. “Never mind, we’ll have to throw it away,” I said. In case you don’t know, to an asian the idea of throwing away food is anathema. “Okay, you can take it in as long as you put it behind the bar.” So not only did we get to keep out takeaway, but I didn’t even have to hold onto it for the night!
Once inside it became apparent that, bar two of the serving staff, I was by far the whitest thing in the whole room. There were something like 150 asians of various origins, plus the five of us. Okay, the Italian (Salvatore) isn’t exactly that dark skinned, and Scott was a lighter shade than the majority of Indian’s too, but no-one else quite glowed in the dark the way I did. Luckily the alchohol hadn’t worn off yet, and there was more on sale here so that would see me through.
There was a large bar, which turned out to be quite reasonably priced (at the lower end of London pub prices) and a large amount of seating with a wide variety of ages sat around, from around 9 to 90 years old by my best judgement. By far the best feature, though, was the band playing live Indian music consisting of bongo drums, some electronic percussion (making a pretty good sound), a keyboard pre-programmed with all kind of ethnic instruments, plus a male and female singer who took alternate turns at the mic (which was echoed up to the max).
I don’t really have a lot of experience of Indian music, but it actually sounded pretty good live. Somehow we found somewhere to sit pretty quickly (luckily, far enough from the dance floor, which I’ll come to.) I then spotted another reason why we might have had an easier passage into the members only club: we had virtually doubled the female population of Moonlight. (We were told that only the night before a fight had broken out over a girl and had ended with half the room throwing bottles at each other. Shame we missed that one.)
Once we were settled into our seats we could really pay attention to the acts that were vieing for attention with the singers. Namely, some old asian blokes in outrageous suits. The first one resembled Lionel Blair (to me, at least) but was wearing an all-white John Travolta style suit. Unfortunately, he never really did take to the dance floor for much more than a few minutes at a time, and then his ‘act’ consisted mainly of waving his arms around slowly as if he was reciting Shakespeare.
The man who stole the show, though, came on with a bright blue jacket, sunglasses, a neckscarf and a fake microphone. Initially I thought he looked a lot like Spock, with the blue jacket and thin face, I guess, but I don’t remember Leanard Nimoy carrying a microphone, or wearing shades. Or playing with a neckscarf, come to think of it. He didn’t really know the words to the songs enough even to mime to, but that didn’t stop him. He couldn’t really dance either, but again that was no barrier. Someone told us that he was doing an impression of a Bollywood star but it could have been anything. One thought that crossed my mind was that I wouldn’t let him look after my kids (if I had any), or give him a job as a school caretaker. He just had that look about him.
A couple of songs later he was back, this time with a red jacket. I thought ‘Oh no, if this Star Trek dress theme carries on he’s going to be dead by the end of the episode’ but nothing that dramatic happened. Over the next couple of hours we saw him get through a number of other jackets that progressed from the dazzling to the outrageous: first to follow the primary colours was a white affair with a few silver sequins, then completely silver, on to gold… I can’t remember them all, and I never did see where he kept them all. I have to point out that this man was definitely a member of the club, not part of the act. This was just how he spent his Saturday night. A couple of times the white suit man got up and I was hoping for some kind of dance-off but honestly he didn’t have the moves to back up the claims his suit was making.
On the other hand Spock’s dance moves got more and more outrageous as the night went on and I was amazed by the fact that any possible way there was to move the human body could be used on the dance floor. Anything from waving arms, playing with sunglasses, crouching down and hopping like a frog, flapping arms like a chicken, and even something as audacious as standing dead still… If they ever make an Indian version of ‘The Office’… At one point he started to lose the audience as the dance floor filled up a bit (usually he was one of 5 people on it) and there was a fairly unassuming guy who could actually dance, but 3 jacket changes all in the same number won us back. I was left wondering what he could do if he ever got to see Buck’s Fizz’s Eurovision act and learnt some lessons from that.
Other than that, there were a lot of men dancing with each other. I didn’t doubt from the start that at least some of them were gay, but then maybe it’s a cultulral thing and dancing hand in hand is okay. I know for a fact that playing with silk scarves and hugging other men wouldn’t leave doubts in the minds of anyone if they saw it in any other situation, but somehow at Moonlight everything was so strange that I was almost willing to leave my preconceptions at the door. Almost. (Standing at a urinal and being asked ‘Do you like Indian music’ was never going to get anything more than a non-committal mumble out of me. Ambiguous conversations in toilets could just end badly in so many ways.)
Even now, I can’t really say whether the place really was partly an Indian gay bar or perhaps that’s just the way things are in that place. I’ll be surprised if I ever find somewhere else like that again, but on the other hand I’m fully expecting to end up back there at some point in the future. But perhaps it’s best to leave the experience as one of a kind. One thing, though: if I ever hear a joke that starts with “An Indian, Italian, Iranian, Pakistani and Englishman walk into a bar…” then I know I’m going to have a top ending for it.