Don't Pay the Ferryman

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"Don't Pay the Ferryman"
Single by Chris de Burgh
from the album The Getaway
Released 1982
Genre Rock
Length 3:48
Label A&M
Producer(s) Rupert Hine

"Don't Pay the Ferryman" is a single by Chris de Burgh from his 1982 album The Getaway.

It became de Burgh's first UK hit single almost eight years into his recording career when it entered the chart on 23 October 1982 and peaked at number 48, staying on the chart for 5 weeks.[1] In 1983, the single reached #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.[2]


The song tells the story of a man who boards a ferryboat and sets off. A storm approaches and the ferryman demands payment from the patron. The song's narrator warns the passenger not to pay the ferryman until the boat arrives at its destination on the other side.

The repetitive lyrics are believed to have a connection with mythology. The song describes the ferryman as "the hooded old man at the rudder," and seems to connect to the classic image of the Grim Reaper, a hooded being (usually a skeleton) who leads lost souls to "the other side," also a lyric in the song. The ferryman demanding his payment is also similar to the Greek ferryman of the dead, Charon. He demanded an obolus (coin) to ferry dead souls across the River Styx. Those who did not pay were doomed to remain as ghosts, remaining on the plane of the mare, the restless dead. Therefore in former cultures coins were laid below the tongues of dead persons.

In the bridge of the song, lines from Shakespeare's The Tempest can be heard, spoken very low by British actor Anthony Head.
[Act 5, Scene 1, lines 230 - 237]

BOATSWAIN: I'd strive to tell you. We were dead of sleep
And (how we know not) all clapp'd under hatches;
Where, but even now, with strange and several noises
Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains,
And moe diversity of sounds, all horrible,
We were awak'd; straightway at liberty;
Where we, in all her trim, freshly beheld
Our royal, good, and gallant ship;


This song was referenced in a Trailer Park Boys episode from season five. when Gary, a mall security attendant, says to Bubbles: "You're not the one who waits to go to a Chris DeBurgh concert for three and a half years so I can go in and miss the encore of Don't Pay the Ferryman because I'm on the phone in the foyer, talking about stolen shopping carts!"

The song also received a memorable reference on Mystery Science Theater 3000, in the Season 6 episode "High School Big Shot". Tom Servo continually sings portions of the song when a ferry appears on screen until Mike picks him up and throws him across the theater in frustration. Tom Servo also sings the song while a particularly cheesy 80s rock anthem plays during the closing credits of the season 8 episode Space Mutiny. Mike does not seem as upset when Servo sings it the second time. Years later, the comedians would again reference the song in their Rifftrax commentary for the film Clash of the Titans during the ferry scene and Casino Royale during the opening credits.

In 2006 the movie "The Ferryman" starring John Rhys-Davies utilized the original version of this song for the credits. Also in 2006 the band Domain covered "Don't Pay the Ferryman" on their album Stardawn.


  1. ^ David Roberts. British Hit Singles & Albums. Guinness World Records Limited
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications)

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