By the time Deke Leonard came to releasing his sophomore album Kamikaze, in April 1974, the last few years had been turbulent, to say the least. Deke had been fired from Man in May 1972. Looking back, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
Man had released their fourth studio album, Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In? in November 1971. Before long, Man headed out on tour again. It seemed if Man weren’t touring, they were recording. This were taking its toll for Man. However, the show had to go on. So, after appearing on German television, Man embarked upon their latest tour.
This time, Man were heading off on a tour of Iceland, with Badfinger. However, it seemed Man were never off the road. Life for some members of Man, was becoming like one never-ending tour. Unsurprisingly, this lead to tensions within the band. Arguments became commonplace. Eventually, the tensions took their toll.
First to leave was Clive John in January 1971. He left to form Lowerth Pritchard and The Neutrons. Now a quartet, Man made their debut at a charity concert at the Roundhouse, in London.
Man’s reduced lineup made their debut at the Roundhouse, where they supported Hawkwind and Brinsley Schwarz. Not long after the concert, a double album was released, entitled Greasy Truckers Party. Then on 8th April 1972, Man recorded another live album.
This was Live at the Padget Rooms, Penarth. Man decided that Live at the Padget Rooms, Penarth should be a limited edition, low budget album. So, only eight thousand copies were pressed. They sold within a week, resulting in Man reaching number one on the low budget album chart. However, Man it seemed, were riding a roller coaster, where commercial success, controversy and disaster were commonplace.
Following the success of Live at the Padget Rooms, Penarth, Man decided to start work on their next album. When they sat down to write the album, Man it seemed, had collective writer’s block. Making matters worse, Martin Ace left Man, form a new band The Flying Aces. This however, wasn’t the end of the departures.
Around this time, Man should’ve had a revolving door, fitted to recording studios. Members came and went. Next to go was Deke Leonard. Micky Jones and Terry Williams sacked Deke Leonard. Replacing Deke was Clive John, who brought Phil Ryan and and Will Youatt, who previously, had been Lowerth Pritchard and The Neutrons. With this latest lineup of Man, Deke Leonard found himself out in the cold. So, it seemed the perfect time to embark upon a solo career.
With a few of his musical friends, Deke Leonard headed into the recording studio. They helped Deke record his debut album Iceberg. It was released in 1973.
Described as roots rock, critics were won over by most of Iceberg. Deke couldn’t please all the people all the time. Some of the instrumentals and more experimental tracks veered towards filler. Despite this Iceberg sold reasonably well. So with a spring in his step, Deke headed out on tour.
Deke headed out on tour with Status Quo and Thin Lizzy. Opening for such big names, gave Deke’s nascent solo career a boost. However, before long, Deke decided to form a band, Iceberg.
Having been a member of a band for so long, it took Deke a bit of getting used to being a solo artist. Like many artists before him, he must have missed the solidarity and gang mentality. So, he formed Iceberg. They were a short-lived band, who split-up by the time Deke Leonard released his sophomore album Kamikaze, which was recently rereleased by Esoteric Recordings.
For Kamikaze, Deke had penned eight of the eleven tracks. Deke cowrote Cool Summer Rain and Broken Glass and Lime Juice with Francis Leonard. Tom Riley wrote Louisiana Hoedown. These eleven tracks were recorded between June 1973 and January 1974.
Recording of what became Kamikaze, took place at three studios, Rockfield Studios, Chipping Norton Studios and Olympic Studios. Accompanying Deke, were some of his musical friends. This included another former member of Man, bassist Martin Ace. They were joined in the rhythm section by drummers Dave Charles, Keith Hodge and Tommy Riley; bassists Martin Ace, Lincoln Carr and Ken Whalley; and guitarists Brian Breeze, Lincoln Carr and Mickey Jones. Other musicians included Byron Berlin on fiddle and mandolin. Deke played guitar, piano and added vocals. Producing Kamikaze was Dave Charles. After seven months, Kamikaze was completed, and was released in April 1974.
When Kamikaze was released, it wasn’t as well received as Iceberg, which had received mostly positive reviews. Iceberg’s problem critics felt, was a couple of tracks were filler. Hopefully, that won’t be the case on Kamikaze.
Opening Kamikaze is Cool Summer Rain. Pounding mesmeric drums, searing guitars and keyboards combine to create thirty seconds of drama. Is this a taste of things to come?
It is. Blistering guitars are unleaded on Jay Hawk Special. Mesmeric drums provide the perfect accompaniment to Deke’s guitar. Soon, he’s unleashing a gnarled, despairing vocal. Then when Deke’s vocal drops out, he and his band jam. What follows is rocky, bluesy masterclass, from a band of top class musicians. When Deke’s vocal returns, his earlier despair and frustration shines through. From there, Deke and his musical friends combine to create blistering, good time rock ’n’ roll.
Sharpened Claws sees the tempo drop. Stabs of a thoughtful piano are joined by, rolls of drums and a weeping guitar. A fiddle and mandolin add to the country sound. When Deke’s vocal enters, it’s worldweary. He reminisces about nights spent carousing, and his on-off affair with the woman with Sharpened Claws.
Crystalline guitars join with a slow, rhythm section and piano on Taking The Easy Way Out. Straight away, you’re transported back to the seventies. That’s no bad thing. The first half of the decade was a golden age for music. Deke was part of this with Man. Now taking centre-stage as a solo artist, he draws inspiration from the West Coast sound, country and the Laurel Valley sound. What follows is a beautiful soul-baring ballad from Deke. it’s one of Kamikaze’s highlights, and features one of the albums best productions.
As The Black Gates Of Death open, briefly, the track takes on an experimental sound. Urgent drums and scorching guitars combine. Deke’s fingers fly up and down the fretboard. Then just like Sharpened Claws, the vocal belatedly enters. By the time it does, you’re wondering if it’s an instrumental. It would’ve worked as an instrumental. Especially given the lyrics aren’t the best on the album. They lack depth, and are almost throwaway pop, despite the bleak backstory. However, just like previous tracks, the standard of musicianship can’t be faulted.
Stacia is another short track,just a minute long and features Deke and Brian Breeze playing guitar. Although the guitar playing can’t be faulted, the track sounds like work in progress. It’s more like a demo than a finished track. Maybe it would’ve been best left-off Kamikaze?
A pounding, marching rhythm section and blistering, scorching guitars combine on Broken Glass and Lime Juice. Then the arrangement is stripped bare. Just guitars accompany Deke’s pained, pensive vocal. As memories come flooding back, the arrangement rebuilds. The pounding rhythm section and searing guitars combine, as Deke delivers a tormented vocal about forbidden fruit.
April The Third sees the tempo slow, and a fusion of blues and rock unfold. Somewhat hesitantly, blistering guitars join the rhythm section, piano and a bluesy harmonica. By the time the harmonica enters, the band have found their feet. Deke’s vocal seems to lack power, compared to the rest of the arrangement, which almost dwarfs it. Sadly, it’s as case of could do better for Deke, despite the band’s performance.
Louisiana Hoedown was chosen as one of the singles from Kamikaze. Penned by Tommy Riley of Memphis Blend. Washes of guitar play an important part. So, do some blistering licks. They provide the backdrop for Deke’s vocal. They combine well, and result in a catchy enough track that’s good, but not great.
The introduction to In Search Of Sarah and Twenty-Six Horses gallops along. That’s down to the the rhythm section, chugging guitars and piano. Deke finds his voice, delivering a vocal powerhouse. This suits the arrangement, and results in a return to form from Deke.
The Devil’s Gloves closes Kamikaze. Searing, blistering guitar licks join the rhythm section and galloping congas. They inject a sense of urgency. This is reflected in Deke’s vocal. Combining power and emotion, he delivers a probing, questioning vocal. Then when his vocal drops out, his band stretch their legs. There’s no stopping them. For the rest of the track, the band are on easy street showboating their considerable skills.
When I reviewed Deke Leonard’s debut solo album Iceberg, recently, I stated that Iceberge, despite a few disappointing tracks, was his best album. I stand by that statement. Iceberg was a couple of tracks short of a good album. Kamikaze has three poor tracks and one that’s merely average.
The Black Gates Of Death has some of the weakest lyrics on Kamikaze. That’s a great shame, as Deke’s band play really well. Stacia never rises above being filler. It sounds like a demo, and should never have made Kamikaze. April The Third features a poor vocal from Deke. It’s weak and lacks power and emotion. Louisiana Hoedown is good, but no better. Despite that, Kamikaze has its highlights.
From the opening track Cool Summer Rain through Jay Hawk Special, Sharpened Claws and Taking The Easy Way Out, things look more than promising. Then comes Stacia and The Black Gates Of Death. By then, Deke seems to have lost his way. Then on Broken Glass and Lime Juice a tormented Deke starts to try and turn things around. Sadly, it’s a false dawn. Things go wrong On April The Third and Louisiana Hoedown. However, In Search Of Sarah and Twenty-Six Horse and The Devil’s Gloves mark a return to form from Deke Leonard. By then it’s too late.
While the good tracks outweigh the bad on Kamikaze, it certainly isn’t a great album. It has its moments, but that’s it. Kamikaze certainly isn’t as good as Iceberg, which was a couple of tracks short of being a great album. That’s not the case with Kamikaze.
Just like Iceberg, there were too many tracks on Kamikaze. Eleven tracks were too many. Even the best artists in 1973 and 1974 would struggle to come up with eleven great tracks. So, there was a quality control issue with Kamikaze. Some of the tracks shouldn’t have made it onto the album. If they did, it should’ve been in a different form. The Black Gates Of Death would’ve made a good instrumental. What lets the song down are the lyrics. Sadly, that’s just one example. There’s four poor tracks on Kamikaze. That’s why Kamikaze isn’t the best introduction to Deke Leonard. If you really want to buy a Deke Leonard solo album, I’d recommend Iceberg. However, the best way to discover Deke Leonard is on the early Man albums.
The best, and cheapest way to do this, is by buying the Original Album Series five disc box set. It covers the period from 1971 to 1974. The five albums include 1971s Man, 1971s Do You Like It Here Now, Are You Settling In?, 1972s Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day, 1974s Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics and 1974s Slow Motion. Three of these albums, Be Good To Yourself, Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics and Slow Motion find Man at their very best. These Man classics are the perfect introduction to Deke Leonard.