Book review: DEKE LEONARD – Maximum Darkness: On The Road To Nowhere

Deke Leonard – Maximum Darkness






Northdown Publishing Ltd (2015)

Deke Leonard is back to his best in the final part of his autobiographical trilogy.

Where his last effort the voluminous ‘The Twang Dynasty’ showcased an expansive writing ability, shot through with biting irony and predicated on extensive research, Maximum Darkness returns to his own fleetingly memories of his latter day solo career and his final involvement with legendary Welsh rockers Man.

When his memory fails him, his egregious style glues everything together with the bond of good humour.

‘Maximum Darkness’ is well written, funny and reflects the pre-wannabe X generation era of rock bands. Curiously for an author capable of interesting research as evidenced by his previous book, Maximum Darkness eschews that approach and makes the most of a fistful of anecdotes backed by occasional dips into both the historic and scientific field, at the expense of researching his own past.

Even the oft told tale of rock & roll tale of Eric Burdon as’ the egg man’ is skipped over without unveiling the real reason for his nick name. But that minor blip aside, this is a splendid effort that is every bit as good as his earlier two books on the Man band.

The combination of funny stories and Deke’s dry wit makes the book an essential page turner for anyone with a curious interest in rock bands in general and the Man band in particular. However, if you’re looking for an analysis of his fellow band members, let alone musical insights, you’ll get no closer than the regular fans who buy their ticket to bliss along to one of the great acid rock bands of our time.

He opens with the final days of the Man band’s initial 8 year stretch and his own subsequent personal hiatus before delving into the recording of his solo album ‘Before Your Very Eyes’.

The latter is a consistently humorous account of the recording process – in this case with the late, great Martin Rushent – and the way an ‘artist’ is effectively wrapped in cotton wall, safe from the world, or Deke himself puts its: ‘Pampered rock stars – with puffed-up egos, living in a hermetically sealed bubble of entitlement.’

And it’s that very life style that he indulges himself in, cutting a Candide style figure who bumbles from one set of circumstances to the next, while leaving behind a substantial musical footprint that he rarely alludes to. Though when he does, his cutting wit is razor sharp, as in his weary put down of Wishbone Ash: ‘The Man band were endlessly inventive risk-takers probing the outer limits of sonic endeavour, whereas Wishbone Ash seemed content to recycle clichés with a rigid orthodoxy that precluded the element of surprise’.

He deals with the intervening years between the dissolution and subsequent reformation of Man – taking in his solo career, The Force prior to Sean Tyla’s startling exit and his own brief US sojourn with Walter Egan – as if it were an impressionistic dream. But reality occasionally rears its head, none more so than when the author reflects on his biggest mistake in leaving long time manager Barry Marshall: “If I said I spent five hours a year taking care of business I could be accused of exaggeration”.

But he does have a priceless ability to draw the reader into his own psyche and gloriously warped world view, while the benefit hindsight gives his recollections an extra cutting edge.  Even the most mundane of events are given a real sheen and sparkle as he illuminates events and characters that the casual observer might overlook.  His dry wit and sharp turn of phrase is as incisive his riffs and fierce guitar work.

There’s also a large dollop of self deprecatory humour which makes light of the band’s ultimate failure, while the fact he lived the life of a rock star doesn’t preclude him from taking the rise out of both the lifestyle and himself.

It would be wrong to give away any spoilers as his best anecdotes should be left to be discovered by those buying the book, but suffice it to say that while in one chapter he regales us with the short lived glory of being athlete, he later admits that: ‘the only exercise I get is jumping to conclusions’. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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