Never a dull moment on the road with Johnny Clegg, says Andy Innes

Johnny Clegg riding a borrowed bicycle through the vineyards at Beaumont-en-Véron near Tours in France as his band passed him in a car - July 2016. Picture: Andy Innes

Johnny Clegg riding a borrowed bicycle through the vineyards at Beaumont-en-Véron near Tours in France as his band passed him in a car - July 2016. Picture: Andy Innes

Published Jul 19, 2019


The tears haven’t dried up for the friends, family and fans of legendary musician Johnny Clegg, who was laid to rest on Wednesday at Westpark Cemetery.

Andy Innes, his musical director, is still coming to terms with the giant void in their life.

Clegg passed away from pancreatic cancer on Tuesday afternoon. He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny and their two sons, Jesse and Jaron.

In an emotional interview, Innes recalled the life and times he shared with Clegg during their 27 years together. 

He recalled: “In 1992, Johnny auditioned for a guitar player in the band. Dudu Ndlovu had recently passed away. And he just finished the Heat, Dust and Dreams album in Los Angeles. He decided to get a guitar player onboard because, up until that time, he had been playing the guitar himself. 

"I think it would have freed him up a bit if he had another guitar player in the band. I was one of the candidates who auditioned and was lucky enough to be successful.”

“It was very exciting and challenging to be a part of Savuka. I had grown up with that music, so it was an important part of the soundtrack to my formative years. It was a huge privilege to work with them. I was working with childhood heroes. It was very exciting. 

"It was also great to be a part of something that was politically relevant at the time as opposed to playing music for the sake of playing music. It was something that I felt had a much wider social impact for me.”

Andy Innes with Johnny Clegg on stage with the band at the Royal Albert Hall, London, March 2013. Picture: Ronel Van Zyl

Having accumulated a plethora of memories with  Clegg, describing him was effortless. 

“He had a larger than life presence; he was a real great heart. He had a sharpened sense of humour and awareness of the absurd. He saw beauty in life and the things around him. He lived his life with purpose and always lived in the questions rather than in the answers. 

"That is something he said. It’s important to live in the questions and not just accept what we are given as fact. Challenge everything. And he brought that into the workspace and made that a part of how we did everything. 

“He was an exceptional person and an excellent father, who prepared his boys for life. He always said that the value system that he gave them was the most important thing he could leave them with.”

Innes says being on the road with Clegg was never dull. 

“He was a very interesting guy to be on tour with. He always had his notepad and a  book on the tour bus. On a long journey, he would put down his book and explain very excitedly to whoever was closest to him the most basic things… like talking about economics. It was mentally challenging to be around Johnny. He always had some fascinating idea he would try and push out. Something he was reading or thinking about. 

“There were lots of moments like those throughout the 27 years I worked with him. It never stopped. He was always curious and thirsty for knowledge and keen to share and discuss.”

Reflecting on his demeanour after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, Innes said: “I describe it as bravery. He was brave and selfless throughout the process. He always made time for people. He tried to be gentle and sensitive.”

At this point, Innes got choked up with emotion and had to take a minute to compose himself. 

“He was very special. We buried him before sunset yesterday at Westpark cemetery,” he added.

“I would say, Johnny was like the quintessential example of what a new South African should look like. He defined the way we should live in post-1994 South Africa. He defined it before it was a popular concept. He swam against the stream. His ideas were very unpopular at the time. I think we all owe him a bit of gratitude for that.”


Related Topics: