Derek Allan’s diary: February 4 to March 3

Musicians Derek Allan and Shaggy aka Jason Vare, make up the north Northumberland duo We Steal Flyers, who are well-known mainstays of the area’s music scene. This year, the Gazette is featuring occasional extracts from Derek’s diary, which will feature the group heading out on three tours of Europe and playing at the famous SXSW festival in Texas.

February 4

Packing cases...Mel says I am the only person in the world who would be taking the exact same clothing to Switzerland as I will be to Texas...

February 6

The Trap was another good successful night. Some more nice songs to be heard and played. These are our last few songs in the UK for a while.

I will not be able to sleep as there is too much is going on. Touring is an amazing thing but I hate leaving my family. It is hard to think for me when I get like this. I have a focus to get me from day to day and year to year. Sleeping is not something I like. Wasting time is not something I enjoy. I sleep when I am tired and wake when I am not.

February 7

I am tired but getting set to take on the next adventure. Some good memories to make. It is an amazing place to be in is Switzerland. We are looking up other places to see now. India, Japan, Italy, Canada, Australia and some more. A friend of mine fancies a tour of Sweden. Because I love sharing life and making it better for people where I can I am on a mission now to make it so. I’m looking forward to the stuff I do with Shaggy. Life on the road for three weeks is always a life-changing experience and it is important that you enjoy the company of the person you are experiencing it with.

February 8

Shaggy arrived at 5am and Mel drove us to Edinburgh. Getting on the plane and flying was easy, it no longer seems like a traumatic and endless trip. I have albums to listen to on the plane and I now feel this is a few hours off where I can learn to switch off, stop thinking and listen to other thinkers for a while. Mel is amazing at what she does. Shaggy is a great touring partner. We are a great team and this is why it works so well. We get it all done so fast.

The train ride is amazing. Looking at the land and snow, it is all so deep. It is not the weather for shorts but then again I am not in the cold for long. Snow is not my thing and skiing is for people who enjoy it. I would just get in the way trying it.

Back home the snow just arrives randomly in the wrong country, turns to slush and ice overnight and ruins the day.

Here it happens for many months and is a way of life. The snow here is a powder, it feels different to the snow at home. It falls and is welcomed by everyone, it is here for the ride.

It was great to arrive in Lucerne and meet with Bill and some great friends. So nice to have friends in places not just at

home.

February 9

Living the dream and living the nightmare. We are two singers in the Alps and have both lost our voices. It is dry air too. Being ill is bad but when singing it is always scary. We got through but mostly because of Shaggy and his ability to make his voice heard even though we could not even speak.

It was an amazing drive and Mark did well. He is a good tour manager and it means less stress for us.

The hotel was great and the venue was great too. Really nice people. A room filled with people from all around the world, skis and snowboards stood outside shops and bars as if they were bikes. In Lucerne bikes are left everywhere unlocked and no one steals them. Amazing times.

This River House gig has been a great start, Mark has done his whiskey tasting evening at tonight’s gig too. He discusses the various different whiskies and people try them out. Obviously more to it than that...

Snow snow snow and shorts. Minus 17 degrees at one point.

February 10

Another amazing mountain-to-mountain trip. Third visit to this beautiful place. People here are truly living in

a Christmas card. We also have

friends and fans here too. Brilliant room to stay in too. I caught up with my diary and wrote away to a lot of music venues in the UK.

The gig today was only saved by awesomeness. I still have no voice. Shaggy was not doing good. A few beers can and did save Shaggy.

I took ill and felt so weak I could not think or stand. I had to leave and let Shaggy finish the first set. He is good at singing on his own and enjoys it in the right place from time to time. I was being real sick and as I have diabetes my energy went and I ended up not too well.

I drank much water and then went back to join Shaggy who by now had found our Jack Black lookalike friend who was playing cajun (a type of drum). I played the last hour and the gig was amazing. More albums and t-shirts sold.

February 11

The snow seems to feel it belongs when it falls, like it has a purpose and we are in the way so when it lands on you it gets to work and holds on tight reaches out for more flakes and soon you have a small snow pile on your eyesbrows, nose and beard. It tickles you a lot.

It was a good time travelling and I bought in plenty of bread for my every-two-hour toast.

I have also started reading a good book called 78 Days Around The World by Nicholas Coleridge. In 1984 he set out on a mission to beat Phileas Fogg’s famous 80-day adventure.

I love the idea of going everywhere and writing about it. It is an amazing world and as long as I am here I feel more and more each day that I should share my experience with more people.

February 12

I tried to take today off but there is always more to do. Another UK venue has closed down and is a part of the 30 gigs in 30 days, a Manchester night. This is always a sad, sad loss but I suppose if people are not wanting live music there is less need for it.

Today was Skype home day but Mel had a load of things to help with back home so we did not get much said. I always love speaking to home and hearing the voices again.

Hopefully Mel can get the final ok for the new Acoustic Magic music nights. A monthly night in a bar. It will be good to share these nights. It is hard work getting anything started up these days. More venues are cutting out music and turning to food but if this keeps them alive then I am pleased. There will always be somewhere to play.

The snow has not stopped falling all day and it is everywhere.

The skiing people are loving it. It is their season to be jolly.

February 14

It was a good gig in Shamrocks, an Irish bar. Lots of people and more albums out in the world.

The people from UK we are sharing the house with this week, Barry and Liz, went skiing today. They have lived some good memories. Both been on TV, Barry for online poker.

He reached the finals on Sky, however, he didn’t win as it was at this point he played poker with real cards and couldn’t actually play as well as he could in the online world.

Liz is great with quiz questions and was on The Weakest Link – she came third. Magic.

February 15

Today was a good day running through some new songs with Shaggy. Three new covers for bar gigs.

It is back to gigs and our voices seemed ok, but once the gigs arrived we realised they were not.

Mine got by but Shaggy lost his in the middle of the gig. We need to find something to fix us. Seven three-hour sets to go.

February 16

Cafe Luz was a good gig for a few reasons. Shaggy made it through with his voice and mine came back.

The place was packed and full of people loving the whole night and most were there for us. Also so many friends there from Switzerland and UK.

This venue is a great gig and we love coming back to play it. All the snow just adds to an amazing scene to play songs in and the amazing lake lit up with the lights and the outside fire for smokers or people like me who drink water and like to cool down outside in all weathers.

February 17

Cafe Luz day two. Another amazing night and more friends and fans. Shaggy is pretty much fixed now so it feels better when we know we can do what we do at our best.

It feels like the tour has lasted months and that the year still looks a bit scary, more venues and countries are asking for us next year too.

We have to decide where to play now. Sweden and another USA tour look like they are winning, Austria is close too.

The album is a week away too for online release, Amazon and iTunes. Sidecars & Sideshows. Exciting times, the preorders are well in the hundreds.

It is good knowing that it is all coming together.

It means more work behind the scenes but when you can see the results and everything is working then it does not feel like work.

February 18

I did mostly Skyping home and sorting out stuff for future gigs back home with Mel making sure everything is ticking over.

I played many old albums by LA Guns, Poison, Alice Cooper, Slade, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Guns N Roses, The Quireboys and more and it reminds me of wanting this life long before I ever knew it was possible.

At 16 when working in a saw mill a fella said to me when I was singing You should leave here, go and sing, it is an easy job. Just sing a few times and get paid a fortune’. Lol meant lots of love in them days but these days I would have had to say LOL.

A very sad time is today. Richard Briers was a great part of my past. I was going to go and see him in a play somewhere this year. He has always made me feel happy inside and although it may never have mattered, I wish he knew this. The Good Life Christmas Specials are watched annually in my home and I also love Ever Decreasing Circles. He added so much magic to life. He is one of my inspirations and he will always be.

February 19

Today was a relaxing day. We recorded a song for YouTube as we do get requests in the hundreds to do so. In Bill’s flat we recorded using Shaggy’s phone. Amazing the things we have, how simple it is. We never even practiced, Shaggy just stuck up the phone and we did My Girl by the Temptations. Great tune.

Mark, our tour manager, came round to tell us about the last four gigs in Zermatt. A lot of snow here but it is a skiing place so without snow there would be much sadness.

Andrea made us a curry and it was truly awesome. Great food makes you feel great and this did.

Last night, Shaggy was offered 100 francs to drink a bottle of vinegar and he did. That is around £65. People should really be careful what they ask Shaggy to do. He would have done it for 1 franc.

February 20

Wednesday is the last day with the bells. The church likes to make a lot of noise and does all day and night. I never get used to it. The snow is falling and today is the last day in Lucerne and then it is back up into some mountains - Zermatt.

February 21

A duo from Scotland called Mad Ferret were with us in the van for a few hours and were dropped off for the start of their tour in a mountain we played a week earlier. They were good fun and nice to share venues and ideas and stories as we all do the same slog and dream.

The ride was long. Over five hours up, around and through mountains. One part just before Zermatt you drive onto a train and then the train drives you through a dark tunnel for fifteen minutes.

It went from minus 7 to minus 15 degrees in minutes.

Then the car is parked up and an experienced driver gets us higher in the moutain and then only electric cars and snow clearers with chains on the tyres are allowed.

Electric police, taxis, it is amazing and some horse and carts too. It is very cold but these shorts were not cheap.

The gig was not so easy as once again up in the mountains, thin air and everyone here ill and willing to share so we lost voices again. But not so many people in to watch so not so bad.

The gig is in a cave, cut into the mountain and the glacier runs beneath the glass floor. Four gigs here with a different crowd daily.

Rooms cost £500 to £3,000 a night depending on the views and you can’t stay just for one night, it is for a full week only.

February 22

We did not want to eat the free food available today so we asked for McDonalds vouchers and got them. Wow, McDonalds in the mountains.

Brilliant gig. Not many in so we played completely unplugged.

Then more people came in and we did two more sets up until 1am. I can feel it all inside now.

Home is close and I can look through home photos again. I miss Ellie and Rebecca. When I am home I am with them most days so we have a lot to do.

February 23

Our album was released online today. Everything will change now.

Things move up levels when playing in certain venues, supporting certain acts, doing radio and TV and putting out albums. Everyone will talk about us whether it is good or bad.

Sadly the hard copies of the album will not be ready for a few weeks which is a shame as they won’t make it for the American tour. Saying that, America has not heard our last album so we can take that and it will still be fresh.

I spent time with Shaggy doing online promotions. It is amazing that you can sell hundreds of albums around the world in one day.

The gig today went well. It was a full house.

It is a strange feeling playing in a glass room built into a cave on the top of a mountain singing what if God was one of us’.

February 24

Twenty-seven sets played and three to go, was my first thought of the morning. It is now when I can no longer control my thoughts of wanting to be home.

I realise how far away I actually am and am thinking of how long it takes to get back. I know that when I play the gig I will give it my all, but once it is finished my mind will be at home. If I never had that something in me that could seperate being on and off stage I would never have gotten this far. I always feel I should be everywhere.

I had some good talks today about touring other countries. Sweden is looking most likely, possibly in March. These things take time. There is a lot to do in the week home in between here and Texas.

It is hard leaving so many friends in Switzerland. Meeting great people along the way isn’t just a saying.

February 25

Leaving the last gig, the taxi home in the electric car and it is over but there is still so much to do. The part I least like, but knowing I am going to be home is the drive I need.

I cannot close my eyes now without seeing my children’s faces, Melanie smiling. The laughing and happiness we share. I can see Northumberland and the many many people I know. Everything about me knows I am going home and sleep is not a part of this time.

From 3am to try to sleep until 5am is pointless. I paced as I do and after all of these years I do it well. I thought through as many thoughts as needed and woke Shaggy in the room not far from mine.

Not many hours before, he had realised he had had left his passport some five hours from the mountain we were in. Luckily some good people thought up a plan. Someone living in Lucerne took the passport to Geneva and we jumped off the train and got it and then back on though not very James Bond-like.

The scenes are amazing. The music we played is the soundtrack as I stare and see the last three weeks and make up a future just hours away.

I take in only a little at a time. Trains then another train and then the airport. The flight was a good one and a lad who makes sauce in Northumberland sat and chatted between us.

One of the greatest sights in my life is when a child runs to you, loving everything. It is at this moment you have to be strong and catch the jumping children and not simply collapse in love.

February 26

Waking up home is something else. I love it. I took the kids to school. I feel we need to see more of each other before the next tour of America.

I am enjoying writing and reading again and feel this is something I should have never stopped. But booking and playing so many gigs does take up so much life.

There will be a balance and I will find it. Melanie has been looking through some of the poems I wrote for setting up a new poetry book. I wrote over 4,000 but I have no idea if they were good or bad, they are simply there.

I know I would be interested in something someone else has done as I always am, so it is always worth putting things out there to share. Sharing is the best.

I put in a lot of hours for the 30 gigs in 30 days tour. It is not so easy as more and more venues are no more or selling food to live.

February 27

It was nice to be in The Trap again and to see some good friends and faces.

I hide the trembling now as I know I am going to America so very soon. I believe it is excitement as well as a bit of worry.

I will always be ill now and I will always take these illnessess with me, but sometimes knowing you are ill can make you even more ill.

I will carry on trying to learn how to forget I am or inspire the people like me who feel it is over or too difficult now.

February 28

Many more phone calls and some hours on the guitar. A very good day for the heart and mind.

Another month leaves and now this month to me is the month I leave for Texas and come back a with a whole new pocketful of thoughts.

I have always tried to picture places I have never been, I think this is too big to picture. This is a whole moving picture. This is a movie.

March 1

One home gig before Texas. A restaurant gig, so mostly background music and a few thousand pirate and ZZ Top jokes.

The doorway of The Rattler venue is a train. Looks canny good.

We looked forward to a curry all night but we missed the shop. Sadness all round.

MARCH 2

A sunny day so a walk to The Cart Shed and some coffee. Always better when walking to arrive somewhere.

It is a great-looking place and I am so pleased we have all four Acoustic Magic gigs booked up. They will be good nights. Always a sell-out which makes life a lot easier. I am loving my home time.

March 3

Today was mostly watching stuff with Ellie and Rebecca. A few more hours of booking gigs, but still not one sorted.

America is getting closer so watching some Stephen Fry in America to see a little of the world I am heading for.

Reading a little more of 78 Days Around The World too. Wish I could read faster.