With a laugh and occasional tear, Welsh guitar hero brings his literary journey to the open end.
This moderately slim, if unrestrainedly eventful, tome rounds off the trilogy Deke Leonard started with “Maybe I Should’ve Stayed In Bed” and “Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics,” but, as its subtitle, “Man On The Road To Nowhere,” suggests, there’s no close to his, or his former band’s, story. Actually, it begins with “The End,” a chapter detailing MAN’s dissolution and disillusionment, although details may challenge the reality here – just like incidents that indeed did take place – yet Deke doesn’t allow such a minor matter get in the way of a riveting tale. Raconteur par excellence, with expletives in the service of emotions, he freely admits, “If you want verifiable fact and irrefutable evidence then you’re reading the wrong book,” and the love oozing out of Leonard’s accounts, true or otherwise, of Martin Ace, Micky Jones, John “Pugwash” Weathers or Phil Ryan, his colleagues on most of the “Maximum Darkness” pages, fully justifies any carte blanche the veteran pocketed on the way from popularity to obscurity – as he perceives those concepts.
Still, there’s no love lost on the bad guys of the business, like dishonest promoters, while the author always finds sympathy for fellow artists, be it WISHBONE ASH who tried to show MAN their mean side, Phil Lynott who attempted to seduce Leonard’s girlfriend, or Eric Burdon who, as avid a reader as this memoir’s writer is, forced Leonard to give him a John Lee Hooker’s bio Deke was reading yet never read Kurt Vonnegut who he refers to when mentioning their German tours and WWII. The latter subject reveals the book’s underlying seriousness that might not be obvious in the passages about Stevie Wonder’s street-smart eloquence or the background of the band’s albums; Leonard sees no ground for a laugh in the circumstances of the Piper Alpha disaster but lights up describing his group’s benefit gig on the Shetlands which followed the tragedy. Yes, the read is funny as hell, and the glimpses of hell are never far away from its pages – not only when it concerns Deke’s stroke, Micky’s terminal illness or other full-scale dramas, dripping in between the joking lines and felt deeply, but also in the frank, if mellowed by a smile, depiction of rock ‘n’ roll way of life as a hard labour.
Touring and recording have their pros – much simpler, perhaps, for seasoned pros than for novices of the trade – yet there are contras, too. For all the discovery of new places and making new friends, some of them for life which speaks volumes of MAN as persons who can perform at nice volume, a musician’s life is toil and trouble. It would be a heroic resolution if Leonard said he’d not trade it for all the riches in the world, but he did exactly that: the guitarist quit the scene without actually leaving the building, whereas the band play on – so much for the road to nowhere and quite enough for a great trip. It might be gloomy, hence the title, albeit with Deke’s music for a soundtrack, his trek – and his book – is glorious.