Gerry continued to enjoy live work in front of enthusiastic audiences across Europe into the 1980s.
The classic 1981 folk and blues set ‘Cushioned for a Soft Ride Inside’ on which Hans Theessink and Gerry revisited their musical roots with their distinctive styles, showed that after all the years of developing his artistry Gerry was still a blues man at heart.
His last solo LP, 1981s ‘Across The Tracks’ (self-produced and solo-performed) featured the blistering self-penned gospel -style blues, ‘My soul is gonna rest with my God’ with Gerry’s vocal resembling Blind Willie Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf.
However, it was during this prosperous time, during which Gerry continued to work and provide for his family, that tragedy struck during late 1981.
During a tour of Belgium and Holland Gerry started suffering heart problems, which culminated in a heart attack and stroke, depriving Gerry of the use of his left hand.
This failure of his health effectively ended his career as a professional musician.
A hard few years followed, during which Gerry was cared for by his wife and two sons. His old friends, including Cliff Aungier, very kindly organised a benefit concert at Gerry’s old club at The Half Moon in Putney, South West London in January 1983.
The musicians who kindly played that evening included Henry McCullough, Bobby Tench, Terry Hinckley, Chris Stewart, Nigel Portman-Smith, Stevie Simpson, Paul Millns, Louce Langridge, Nigel Foster, Papa George, Ian Hunt, Wizz and Simeon Jones, Bert Jansch, Gordon Giltrap, Dave Kelly, Lou Stonebridge, Gary Fletcher, Geraint Watkins and Alexis Korner.
Gerry never played guitar again, but turned to photography in order to satisfy his endless desire to be creative. His photography included promotional portraits of other musicians including Ralph McTell (who, of course, also started out in the same folk and blues scene as Gerry), Cliff Aungier and, surprisingly, the psychedelic indie-group, Ozric Tentacles, who were later to find fame in the 1990s (Gerry’s nephew, Paul Hankin, played percussion in the group).
His old friend and fellow musician, Derek Brimstone, an experienced photographer himself gave Gerry much advice and encouragement in this new field. Gerry, however, couldn’t resist ‘winding up’ Brimmers by once insisting that he had discovered a new innovation called an ‘f-stop’ on his camera. He eagerly informed Derek about this, over the telephone, as if he didn’t know the basics of photography for himself.
Gerry’s son, Jason, started to learn to play himself after some typically strict lessons from ‘the old man’ during 1979 and 1980. Twenty years later, he still remembers his young fingers being painfully raw after each practice session, during which Gerry would make him play the three basic chords in every key for hours on end.
Being made to play a heavily-strung Martin D28 certainly tested the dedication of the fledgling guitarist. But it was worth it and Jason went on to perform live himself and still continues to enjoy singing and playing. He inherited Gerry’s Ovation guitar and indeed plays some of the songs his father used to play.
In the last years of his life, Gerry showed great courage in the face of adversity. His fantastic talent had been stripped away in the cruellest way but he did not dwell on what he had lost. He redirected his creative energies in new directions and studied and practised photography with all the zeal he had shown for music in his early years.
Along with his family, his old musician friends (Cliff Aungier, Royd Rivers, Wizz Jones, Derek Brimstone, Ian Hunt, Hans Theessink, Dave Travis, Rod Dawes and Andy Caven amongst others) helped Gerry through these difficult last few years of his life.
Gerry kept on fighting the effects of his stroke, hoping eventually to regain use of the left side of his body, but particularly his left hand.
Sadly, this never happened.
After six years struggle he suffered a fatal heart attack on 17th November 1987. He was survived by his wife, Bobbi, and two sons, Jason and Jethro.
Photo: Derek Brimstone