Deke is dead. I am inconsolable.
Press play, turn the volume to maximum, spark up and read on:
Deke Leonard was a great Welshman. If only a lot more Welsh people today followed Deke’s example, then Wales wouldn’t be in the dreadful state it’s in. He created, he communicated, he challenged and he questioned. He was true to himself, he never sold out, he never crawled to power and he never prostituted himself for money. He was open, perceptive, intelligent, humorous, self-doubting, self-critical, congruent and natural. He was the personification of ‘cool’ without ever having to try. He had no narcissism, airs and graces, arrogance or ambition. He had ideals, ideas, radicalism and heart. Man, he was a good man.
The track playing is the Man band at their peak, recorded live in 1972 at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London, with the classic line-up of Terry Williams on drums, Martin Ace on bass and Micky Jones (1947-2010) and Deke on guitars. I was there. Spunk Rock had begun as a six minute song on the 1969 album 2Ozs Of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle and, over the 30 year lifespan of the best rock band Wales has yet produced, was stretched, tweaked, embellished, stripped back or reimagined countless times. In this 20 minute version, Micky and Deke use the basic song as a platform from which to launch (after around seven minutes) a coruscating tour-de-force of psychedelic twin guitar interplay. Deke handles the first and last solo, the former a slitheringly sensual atonal essay, the latter a lysergic tsunami of swirling currents, mountainous waves and ebbing tides. He switches effortlessly to throat-grabbing rhythm work whenever the peerless Micky wanders off on his own acidic journeys, and the two repeatedly amalgamate, separate and re-align in thrilling symphonic torrents and orgasmic climaxes. Some modern ears, stupefied by the synthetic, anodyne, undemanding algorithms of the crappy mainstream and unaccustomed to, gasp, live music and, gosh, actual instruments, might find it an incomprehensible din. If so, this would only confirm how thoroughly the reactionary forces of bottom-line capitalism have imposed infantile echo-chambers of dumb conformity and drooling commercialism over the last 40 years.
Man were the archetypal live band, their extended improvised jams making every gig unique. Nothing can compare to experiencing them live but luckily, because they (plus Deke’s side-project Iceberg) were so prolific at least there is a legacy of a huge back catalogue of recordings for posterity to savour. Deke, the very definition of an autodidact, also developed into an entrancing raconteur, brilliant broadcaster and superb writer of memoirs and non-fiction. Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics (1996), Maybe I Should’ve Stayed in Bed (2000), The Twang Dynasty (2012) and Maximum Darkness: Man on the Road to Nowhere (2015) remain essential reading for anyone interested in music, the music business, rebellion, the counterculture and Wales.
Deke was a Llanelli boy through and through. And, after a life on the road, he came home to the tin town on the Llwchwr. Now he’s gone, and it’s too late to thank him for the sheer pleasure he gave. Happy Trails Deke. Happy Trails man…