I’m upstairs in my workshop refretting a Gibson Les Paul Custom when Barry the boss comes in and asks me if I wouldn’t mind helping Bill man the shop while he goes to the bank. Barry is wearing a suit and tie. He takes a slug on a cigarette and exhales the smoke. It’s Thursday afternoon — early closing day — and most of the staff have the rest of the day off.
I tell Barry that’s no problem and I put down my tools, take off my apron, and make my way downstairs to the shop area. Bill is standing behind the glass counter at the end of the shop. He is taking a payment from a customer and punching figures into the till. Bill tears off the receipt and hands it to the customer along with the goods he has just bought. The customer thanks him and leaves the shop.
I make my way passed rows of amplifiers, speakers, electric pianos and synthesisers and approach Bill. “Barry is going to the bank in a minute and I’m down here helping you.” Bill and I are good friends and colleagues. We are always laughing and joking, finding something — whatever — to amuse ourselves with. Yesterday, for example, I dressed myself up in cardboard boxes and pretended I was a robot. It brought howls of laughter from Bill and the boss as I stiff limbed my way from my workshop and through the offices upstairs.
Barry comes downstairs and asks if we will be okay. Although we are not salesmen, we have done it all before and I foresee no problems. “I’ll be at least an hour and a half,” he says. We watched him leave the shop with a bunch of keys in one hand and a briefcase in the other. I think it’s crunch time with the bank. It is the end of the seventies and businesses are going through a hard time. Only recently one of the most popular music shops in Lewisham closed down. Barry is fighting to keep our heads above water.
There is no other music shop like Wing Music and I doubt that there ever will be. It is a unique work environment. The shop itself is massive: three huge rooms downstairs with three offices, two workshops and a kitchen and two bathrooms upstairs. Everybody here is equal. There is no hierarchy. We all have a mission. We want to help each other and help the business survive. We joke, laugh and play pranks on each other without fear of rebuke or admonishment by management. Barry acts like one of the lads, though he owns the shop and carries the burden of responsibility. He has the last word. We all realise how lucky we are to work here.
Fifteen minutes go by and there are no further customers. I take a Gibson J45 acoustic from the wall and begin to strum it. Suddenly I hit on an idea and say: “Do you fancy some acid?” Bill is slightly hesitant. “I’ve got one conical LSD tablet called a pyramid,” I tell him. “We could cut it down the middle and take half each. That way we won’t hallucinate and we’ll enjoy the experience.”
Bill says okay and so I go up to my workshop and take the tablet out of my jacket pocket. The little brown pyramid is wrapped in silver paper. I carefully opened it, take a sharp knife and cut the tablet clean down the middle, then take the two halves back downstairs and give one to Bill. We neck them with a cup of tea. Half an hour later we start to feel the effects. An hour later and we are high as kites. Bill starts laughing and soon we are both shaking with laughter. I look around. The lights in the shop are like rainbows of colour. Our surroundings seem somehow different but the same. It’s like everything has shifted in time and space.
Inventing ways to amuse ourselves, we role-play serving customers with our backs to them. The idea is to approach the customer walking backwards, pause, and then speak to them whilst facing the other way. I try the method out on bill and he tries it out on me. We find it hard to get through the routine without cracking up. In fact we laugh so much our ribs ache.
Then Bill goes upstairs and puts on a party pair of monster’s feet. They are huge, green, warty and shaped like the clawed feet of some hideous alien creature. He comes downstairs walking like a diver with flippers on. Again we fall over laughing.
Suddenly Barry comes back. “What the fuck?” he says looking down at Bill’s feet. We try to stifle a laugh. “What are you two on?” Barry asks with a knowing smile. He has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt. “Have there been any customers?” We tell him it’s been quiet. The truth is nothing is ever quiet in Wing Music.
I go back to my workshop, still smiling and with memories of an incredible afternoon indelibly imprinted on my brain. Cleaned up my work bench and put my tools away. No more work for the rest of the day. I drove home that night, car headlights shining like rainbows in the sky.