The latest literary offering from guitarist/singer/songwriter Deke Leonard, Maximum Darkness, picks up chronologically where his 1996 book ‘Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics’ left off. It’s 1977 and the Welsh rock band Man have split up. The book’s first chapter is entitled ‘The End’ which sets the ironic tone nicely. The reader is then led through another twenty chapters, each reading like a self-contained newspaper column. Leonard lodges with former Man manager Barrie Marshall, who secures him a deal to make ‘Before Your Very Eyes’, his third solo album. The album is a joy to create, great people are involved and the results are a huge contrast to Man, with short, rhythm and blues-based songs, backing singers, horns and crisp production.
A spell in California – uneventful compared with the stateside antics described in ‘Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics’ – is followed by a period of mixing with actors in London and then an association with promoter John Eichler, with whom Leonard starts work on a book about pub rock. Eichler also facilitates Leonard’s brush with punk rock and all this feeds into his return to the stage with The Force, Iceberg and the reformed Man. After successful European and British tours and a live video/album in 1983, the band record a studio album in Hamburg which is never released, tour with Ten Years After and Wishbone Ash, play an oil rig disaster benefit in the Shetlands and do a lot of gigs in Italy. Back in Germany, Leonard’s guitar is stolen in Hamm and later on in Braunschweig he learns of the death of his father back in Wales.
Around this time Man make their first post-reunion studio album, ‘The Twang Dynasty’. During its promotion Leonard meets his future publisher Michael Heatley. By now he has moved back to his home town of Llanelli and here, at a reunion of his pre-Man band The Corncrackers, he meets his subsequent partner Mary Hodge. Man’s next album, ‘Call Down the Moon’, is recorded in the cordial location of Seattle, after which comes the first of a series of line-up changes in the band. The turn of the century sees the recording of ‘Endangered Species’ at Man’s (and Leonard’s) old stomping ground of Rockfield in Monmouth, a tour of Germany supporting Eric Burdon and the loss of Deke’s mother. Serious health problems affect band members and their loved ones, precipitating more personnel alterations, and Leonard eventually quits the band in Leipzig, whereupon the book abruptly ends.
The story of these years is perhaps not earth-shattering but the way it is told makes it worth reading. When there isn’t a lot happening the mundane details are brought to life with wry turns of phrase, while the more eventful periods are skilfully summarized. Leonard’s tone is even throughout, with self mockery, hyperbolic humour and affectionate character description consistently employed. There is some great social commentary and cultural observation regarding California, Germany and Italy and some poignant writing on loss and illness.
Bad Luck is not only the title of a Deke Leonard song but also a factor in his and the Manband’s mid-career. If his solo album had been promoted and if Man’s German album had been released, things might have been different. But in the book’s late chapters its subtitle, ‘Man on the Road to Nowhere’ becomes relevant as, despite making great music live and in the studio, the band fail to interest the music media and by extension the music-buying public.
But despite Leonard’s exit, fellow singer/guitarist Micky Jones’ sad death from brain cancer and the media’s indifference the Manband are still going and, believe it or not, are doing a gig in Putney, south-west London, on February 22nd to celebrate the release of their new album ‘Reanimated Memories’. Let’s hope this isn’t the last time Deke Leonard’s recollections are brought to life.
Maximum Darkness is available from Northdown Publishing.
Ben Walker on Deke Leonard’s previous book The Twang Dynasty.