/ 11 February 2024

Roger Lucey: Straight from the heart

About Time: The Return Of Roger Lucey
Musician and anti-apartheid fighter Roger Lucey is still searing at 70 as he embarks on a tour

South African folk-rock singer Roger Lucey kicked off his Solo@70 tour on the last Saturday of last month in the Western Cape village of Napier. It was a triumph.

Lucey has entered his eighth decade — he turned 70 on 21 January. This milestone was the spur he needed to put the tour together. I think he was uncharacteristically nervous at the start of his show. He had no need to be — opening night butterfly nerves enhance performance. They did that Saturday. 

I’d love to see the final one in three weeks’ time. I bet he’ll be so relaxed by then with the undoubted success of this tour to follow, he’ll play a blinder. He did on opening night.

Lucey, aka “Roger the Lodger, the Sod”, continues to confound us. This was not something thrown together on a whim. Roger Lucey Solo@70 requires you to take him seriously. 

I, for one, am very pleased to do that. He presented us with an important and impeccably curated selection out of a South African songbook which is unique and stretches back to the turbulent 1970s.

Lucey had no limits as a rebellious young white man in apartheid South Africa. In 1979, when he released his debut album The Road is Much Longer, he was less concerned about his burgeoning musical career than he was about his conscience and political consciousness. 

He reflected what he, and all of us, saw every day. His particular response was unusual, brave and, ultimately, costly. 

The fury of the regime’s reaction destroyed a very promising career. Back in those dark days, lyrics such as “Whatever happened in that office/God and the cops will only know/The law has ways of keeping quiet/So that nothing at all will show,” were not looked on kindly by the brutal securocrats in Pretoria. 

Lucey’s song was named for and dedicated to Lungile Tabalaza, who was killed aged just 19. He was a black student activist involved in the resistance to apartheid in Port Elizabeth. 

As South African History Online, writes: “He was subject to inhumane treatment at the hands of security police. Tabalaza was one of many South Africans that died while being held in custody at Port Elizabeth’s Sanlam Building. 

“In 1978, police ruled his death a suicide, though evidence suggests that this ruling was false. South African security police wrongfully abused and killed Tabalaza, while using their authority to mask their atrocities.”

Lucey has been brutally honest and lyrical about his life. He had fabulous highs and painful lows. Indomitable is such a cliché — but that is his spirit, and it sets him apart. 

He is an unusually gifted person. Who else, at the age of 58, secures a place at Duke University in the US, for an MA in creative writing, when he’d never got beyond Standard 8? He aced it too, the dux of his year; some say the oldest dux of all. 

Lucey was dispensing life advice to those kids studying with him. His master’s thesis evolved into a memoir Back in From the Anger, which is a cracking good read of a life well lived — on its itinerary Durban where he grew up, Mangles folk club in Braamfontein where the Security Branch had his number, onto Crown Mines’ lefty communes. 

It tells the story of his band Tighthead Fourie and the Loose Forwards — they were a seditious mob, Lucey in his ANC colours playing country music to make grown men cry at unrefined Bapsfontein on the far East Rand. 

Next, he became a war correspondent chronicling the resistance to apartheid, then a cultural journalist and a house builder in the Cape mountains. The book grips you with its moments of searing honesty.

Lucey’s songwriting is like that too — tunes straight from the heart. His best writing, I think, is of love requited or lost — the later, personal stuff. Folk icon Bob Dylan by happy coincidence evolved similarly, protest to personal, a little before Lucey, it must be said, but then His Bobness never lived in Joburg, so we’re less interested.

On opening night in Napier, we had All in the Heart; Soft Glow of Dreams; Days of Reflection, Hearts on Fire, You Are the One, Could I Still Touch You — alongside Crossroads and The Line. And, of course, Lungile Tabalaza, the “native” who caused all the trouble — and the song which led to the banning of his music and his vilification by the regime. 

His voice, always a powerful weapon, remains that. He even played a blistering sax solo, the best I’ve heard him play. 

The tender stuff he writes can make you cry, laugh or smile. He has that gift. Lucey closed with a rousing I’m Alright Now: “Like a runaway, I won’t get lost again, I’m alright now, oh yes I’m alright now, yes I’m OK.” And he is. What a privilege and a pleasure to attend the opener. 

Lucey’s Solo @70 shows are at Café Roux in Noordhoek on 9 February, Alma Café in Rosebank, Cape Town on 10 February, The Courtyard in McGregor on 17 February and at 

Pascal’s in Napier on 24 February.