Deke Leonard: Maximum Darkness: Man On The Road To Nowhere

Funny and affecting memoir of a road well travelled.

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Two books in, documenting the trials and tribulations of a life well-spent travelling the world “according to the capricious whims of a booking agency”, the final volume in the autobiographical trilogy of Deke Leonard’s tenure with Man finds their erstwhile guitarist-vocalist negotiating a career of ever-diminishing returns, recounted with the self-deprecating wit and earthy Welsh humour that informed the previous volumes.

Picking up the tale in 1977 with yet another band break-up, a shelved solo album (Before Your Very Eyes), and an ill-conceived sacking of his manager – “Stupid? I don’t think ‘stupid’ quite covers it. It was the most stupid thing anybody, anywhere had ever done” – Leonard shines a light on the vagaries of the industry; the camaraderie, the contradictions, disappointments and mistakes, the money, always the money, with an acuity and levity that surpasses more serious analyses.

A succession of consistently hilarious anecdotes featuring a starry and lively cast (Tina Turner, Phil Lynott, Smokey Robinson), include a month-long stint in LA pretending to play on Walter Egan’s album, a Piper Alpha benefit in the Shetlands wherein the grieving crowd are expecting Wet Wet Wet, and a perma-grumpy Eric Burdon stealing his copy of Charles Shaar Murray’s John Lee Hooker biography.

Leonard is an outstanding writer, his clipped prose phrased to perfection, a possessor of natural comic timing and a default raconteur persona that effortlessly transfers to the page. At times, it’s like having a front seat in the lounge of the tour bus (or a back seat in the transit, fortunes dependent), rolling through the night as the yarns and war stories unfold.

Although the events unfold chronologically, the 90s are sped through, as a result of relative inactivity (“our precious fan base increasingly resembled a dwindling band of survivors from a nuclear holocaust”) and Leonard’s self-confessed memory gaps, but it would be churlish to claim this takes any of the shine off.

The book’s later, darker moments – his ultimate retirement from the band, his stroke, guitarist Micky Jones’ brain tumour and subsequent death, are told with a casual yet piercing honesty, illustrating the gulf between his approach and the ubiquitous self-absorption of most rock autobiographies. It also proves incredibly touching, or, as the man himself would have it: “Poignant as fuck”./o:p

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