Head In The Clouds was opened in Norwich by Martin Wyatt on 31 March 1971, although we generally celebrate our anniversary on April Fool’s Day – which was the first proper full day of trade.
Ours was not the first headshop to emerge from the hippie movement, but it has outlived those in the UK that came before it. The business model is best expressed in Martin’s poem adorning our huge paper bag which we’ve been using since our founding year:
Head In The Clouds is a characterful, charming, slightly crazy, independent, family-run boutique with a friendly crew of enthusiastic staff who strive to continue the hippie ethos with a groovy, love and peace atmosphere of incense and laughter.
It’s a pleasure to come to work, oftentimes most uplifting, and friends pop in daily for the tonic of being in the Clouds.
Yes, we’re trying to make money and keep people employed, but profits are not squandered. Our proprietor is a considerable philanthropist, and countless thousands of pounds from our trade have been directed towards supporting local arts and charities.
It’s always been a community hub, and not just a business but a way of life.
At the moment, our best selling stock are incense sticks, rolling papers, lighters, hair dyes, herb grinders, plastic baggies, tins, acrylic bongs, metal and glass pipes, shisha pipes and molasses, rings, brass earrings and silver hoops, anklets and bracelets, fragrance oils and oil burners, digital scales, henna tattoo cones, salt lamps, stickers, bedspreads, cannabis seeds, tumbled crystals, shirts, skirts and dresses, low-crotch harem pants, hooded jerga jackets, tai chi shoes, moneybelts, purses, Nepalese prayer flags, and dream catchers.
The front room layout has barely changed since we opened, though more and more stock has crammed upon the shelves. We extended the shop to create our cavernous clothes room in 1981, and a year later relocated our shoes and beads next door to our sister shop, Feet On The Ground.
Feet On The Ground at 15 Pottergate went through a number of name-changes, most notably as the St Gregory’s Gift Shop, raising funds for the local Arts Centre. The shop sold jewellery, scarves, beads, slippersocks and tai chi shoes, plus an outstanding collection of classical and flamboyant party masks.
In Spring 2015, we brought all our stock back together in Head In The Clouds, the premises of Feet On The Ground were cleared and we welcomed our new neighbours, The Rub, bringing ‘effective backrubs’ to the Lanes.
Visiting our store are a diverse and marvellous range of all humankind, of all ages and backgrounds, interested in seeking out alternative gifts and colourful clobber, seduced by exotic aromas, keen to find keys to enlightenment, wanting a transcendental experience, or to fulfil a sacred teenage rite of passage in buying their first lighter!
Headshops deal with certain specialist lifestyle paraphernalia and magical tools that are hard to track down in conventional retail environments, and this attracts staff and customers who are open-minded, counter-cultural and perhaps spiritual, leading to some very stimulating and healing discussions, as well as exciting and satisfying trade.
Part of the magic of our shop is that people seem convinced that it hasn’t changed since it opened, but this is a wonderful nonsense.
Our range of clothes is constantly evolving, but forever strong on the hippie bohemian front – that will always be a thing – the fashion of the proletariat and those aspiring to get in touch with their inner light.
In the ’70s, we were selling Afghan coats and loon pants; then anything velvet, and loads of black, lacy outfits and cloaks when the Goth scene was thriving in the ’80s and ’90s. Goth has come back into fashion now, but we’re too into colour. As one of our customers exclaimed recently, “There’s just colour everywhere! There’s nothing better than colour!” Tie-dye and rainbow designs have always been popular.
In the early years, we retailed a lot of underground magazines and comic books, notably The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, BrainStorm Comix, and early issues of Viz. These gave way in the ’90s to cannabis lifestyle magazines, which lately we have stopped stocking due to diminishing sales, as people are now finding their information and entertainment online and elsewhere.
Developments in technology have improved certain tools that we sell. We used to shift ever so many traditional pan scales; these have been made archaic by digital scales which are increasingly accurate, reliable and affordable. And thanks to enhanced battery power and growing awareness of health risks associated with smoking, sophisticated portable herb vaporisers and electronic cigarettes are currently much sought after items.
Plus, we’ve seen the rise and fall of an astonishing range of psychoactive substances, starting with very mild herbs and party pills, a few fondly remembered years trading psilocybin mushrooms, and then several generations of legal highs.
Working at a headshop, certain misconceptions arise. Time and again we have teenagers sniggering that “You all smoke weed, don’t you? You must do if you work here!” Well, no.
The paraphernalia side of the business is what generally leads to the term headshop, but we do sell a mighty load of other stuff. There’s something for everyone. Our shop is very family friendly, and even more so now the legal highs have disappeared, but perhaps the bongs can be a little disconcerting for some visitors.
Several years ago, a man led his family in, then stalled and mumbled, “Ahh! Druggy shop! Druggy shop!” and marched them out again.
Roll up! Roll up! Welcome to the Clouds!
A MASSIVE THANK YOU to the people of Norwich, Norfolk and around the world for your custom, company, laughter, friendship and support. Plus immense appreciation to our exceptional staff, past and present. Best of luck, love and peace to you all.