We were saddened, yet not necessarily surprised by last week’s news that, after 24 years in the Fairport Convention engine room, drummer and percussionist extraordinaire, Gerry Conway, has decided to call it a day. At The Barrier pays its short tribute to a rare talent.
Last week, the news broke from Fairport Towers that drummer Gerry Conway had taken the decision to part company with Fairport Convention. On Fairport’s website, Gerry said: “I never expected to still be playing at 75, my mum was always asking me when I’d retire! Well, I’m not retiring but looking forward to some new adventures. Thanks, Fairport, we had some great times.”
You certainly did, Gerry. A stalwart member of Fairport’s longest-lasting lineup, Gerry first moved onto the band’s drumstool when it was vacated by Dave Mattacks after the 1998 winter tour, and he remained the stool’s occupant for the next 24 years. Fairport have always been fortunate in the drum department – Martin Lamble, Dave Mattacks and Bruce Rowland have all been fine exponents of their art, and Gerry is up there with the best of them. I’ve always considered Gerry to be more than a mere drummer – in fact, he’s arguably the finest pure percussionist that I’ve ever come across. It’s always been a massive pleasure to watch him at work, as he selects which of his many devices to use to best enhance the band’s sound, with the precision and timing of a true master – just listen to, say, the intro and outro to Don’t Reveal My Name, opening track of Shuffle and Go, Fairport’s latest studio album if you need help in understanding what I’m trying to say.
And it’s not just the newer stuff that allows Gerry to excel; his contribution to the version of Sloth that Fairport have been including in their recent sets is mind-boggling, and that’s before we start to talk about him being let loose on extravaganzas like Sandy Nelson’s Let There Be Drums! Gerry’s contribution has given a unique edge to Fairport Convention and, whatever happens in the future, they’ll never sound quite the same without Gerry.
Personally speaking, my first encounter with the name of Gerry Conway was when his name appeared on the sleeve credits for Fairport’s Rosie album – he played on the album’s classic title track as well as on The Plainsman and Knights Of The Road, two Trevor Lucas tracks originally intended for a Fotheringay album. I dug a little deeper and discovered that Gerry had been a member of the aforementioned Fotheringay, Sandy Denny’s band that also featured future Fairporters Jerry Donahue and Trevor Lucas. Digging deeper still, I came across the wonderful Eclection, Gerry’s late 60’s outfit – and if you’ve never heard that band’s single, Nevertheless, a classic slice of psych-pop, then you really need to hunt it down.
Closer to home, we at At The Barrier are truly grateful that Gerry took the time to contribute both to our Why I Love… feature and, very recently, to offer his thoughts on the great moments that he’s experienced at Cropredy Festival.
But, despite the monumental achievements of other parts of Gerry’s career, it is, without doubt, his contribution to Fairport Convention for which I’m most grateful. It’s been clear that, over the past year, Gerry hasn’t been the vigorous character that we’d all come to love, but there’s no doubt that, once behind the kit, his drumming and percussive skills were never diminished.
So – what does the future hold for Fairport Convention? The band has already confirmed that they’ll be performing as a four-piece during their forthcoming autumn tour and that Dave Mattacks will step in for the second half of Dave Pegg’s 75th birthday show at Dudley Town Hall on 2nd November. Beyond that – who knows? The speculation has already started with names like Dave Mattacks (joining the band for an unprecedented fourth time?), Michael Gregory, Liam Genocky and even Cozy Powell (!) being liberally banded about – in some cases perhaps in hope rather than expectation. Fairport are a hard-working band; their annual itinerary usually includes three UK tours – then there’s Cropredy and often an overseas jaunt or river cruise to squeeze in – and that’s before we’ve even thought about recording plans… I reckon that any drummer that is chosen to join the band’s ranks will need to be readily on hand and not distracted by outside commitments. They’re perfectly capable of delivering a fine performance without a drummer but, in truth, their songs only reach their full potential when they have someone of Gerry’s calibre occupying that revered driving seat. Let’s see what the chaps come up with…
In the meantime, all I can say is: Thank you Gerry Conway. The past 24 years have brought us more pleasure than you can possibly imagine. We’ll always cherish your contribution to Fairport – good luck and best wishes for whatever you choose to do next.
Listen to Don’t Reveal My Name from Fairport’s Shuffle And Go album, and marvel at the percussive skills of Gerry Conway here: