Gerry Conway, drummer with Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Pentangle and more, dead at 76

Gerry Conway studio portrait
(Image credit: Joseph Branston/Rhythm Magazine)

Gerry Conway, former drummer with Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Pentangle and more, has died at the age of 76. The news was confirmed in a news post on the Fairport Convention website.

"It is with great sadness that Fairport Convention announces the death of
Gerry Conway, our dear friend and former drummer," read the post. "Gerry died at the age of 76 on Friday 29 March after a period of illness.

"Gerry served as Fairport's drummer from 1998 until 2022. He brought to
the band an impeccable understanding of ‘feel’ and comradeship, a unique
sense of subtlety and a complete understanding of what was required."

"None of us knew that he was in the early stages of that pernicious horror Motor Neurone Disease," wrote band founder Simon Nicol on Facebook. "I didn't know until today, when news of his death filtered out from the protection and privacy he and Jacqui McShee [Conway's wife, and Pentangle singer] sought and deserved.

"Wonderfully patient and wise, infuriatingly tardy (!) but always ready and eager to play, and blessed with his own inner calm and solidity, I'm going to miss him more than I can say."

Conway was born in King's Lynn, Norfolk, in 1947, and was originally a staff musician at EMI before playing with British blues legend Alexis Korner. He went on to work with folk rockers Eclection, before hooking up with Sandy Denny in Fortheringay, the group she founded after leaving Fairport Convention in 1970. He also performed with fellow folkies Steeleye Span, on Sandy Denny's debut album, with Joan Armatrading, and on Cat Stevens' classic Teaser and the Firecat and Catch Bull at Four albums.

In the early 1980s, he joined Jethro Tull in time to play on 1982's The Broadsword and the Beast album and also appeared on four tracks on the follow-up, the controversial Grammy Award-winner Crest of a Knave

"I had misgivings when I joined as to whether I could play some of the older material with complex arrangements," Conway told Prog in 2017. "But when I found that I could, I greatly enjoyed playing the music."

By the following album, 1984's Under Wraps, Conway was gone altogether, as Tull leader Ian Anderson elected to use electronic drums, a decision he regretted in hindsight.

“Gerry Conway had been the drummer on The Broadsword And The Beast but this next move would not have been his cup of tea at all," he told Prog. "Looking back on it, that was a mistake and I regret doing it now. I think it would’ve been a much better album if it had been played by a real drummer."

After leaving Tull, Conway joined the live band of former Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson, before joining Fairport themselves in 1998. He'd also play again with Cat Stevens (now Yusef Islam), and with Pentangle, and he'd remain in the Fairport seat until his retirement, stepping away after a final show at the band's much-loved Cropredy festival in 2022. 

"What a lad, and what ingenuity and style," wrote Cat Stevens. "May God grant him the beautiful reward of peace everlasting."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.