Don't Pay the Ferryman

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"Don't Pay the Ferryman"
Don't Pay the Ferryman, Chris de Burgh Cover Art.png
Single by Chris de Burgh
from the album The Getaway
ReleasedSeptember 1982
StudioFarmyard Studios (Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, England)
GenreHard rock, art rock[1]
Songwriter(s)Chris de Burgh
Producer(s)Rupert Hine
Chris de Burgh singles chronology
"Waiting for the Hurricane"
"Don't Pay the Ferryman"
"The Getaway"

"Don't Pay the Ferryman" is a song by Irish artist Chris de Burgh. It was released in September 1982 as the lead single from his album The Getaway.

AllMusic critic Sharon Mawer states the song has become "a standard art rock classic" and one of de Burgh's most frequently played songs on radio, despite not reaching the Top 40 on its original UK release.[1]


The song tells the story of a man who boards a ferryboat and sets off. A storm approaches and the ferryman demands payment. 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.

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 section of the song is omitted from the version of the song released as a single, which is approximately 20 seconds shorter than the album version.

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Don't Pay the Ferryman" was directed by Maurice Phillips.[2]

Chart positions[edit]

It became Chris 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 five weeks.[3] In 1983, the single reached number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.[4] It was a major hit on the Australian Kent Music Report chart, where it reached the Top 5 and spent 25 weeks in the Top 100.[5]

Weekly charts[edit]

Charts (1982-1983) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[5] 5
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[6] 32
Germany (Official German Charts)[7] 24
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[8] 29
UK Singles (OCC)[9] 48
US Billboard Hot 100 34

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1983) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[10] 36


In 2006 the movie The Ferryman starring John Rhys-Davies utilised 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.[citation needed]

The song was referenced in the Trailer Park Boys episode "Dressed All Over & Zesty Mordant".[11]

In 2017 the English rock band Lionheart included a version of the song on their album "Second Nature" and also released an official video for the track.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Mawer, Sharon. "Now and Then – Chris de Burgh". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Chris De Burgh: Don't Pay the Ferryman (1982)". IMDb. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  3. ^ David Roberts. British Hit Singles & Albums. Guinness World Records Limited
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications)
  5. ^ a b "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 Singles 1983". Hung Medien. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  6. ^ "RPM Top 50 Singles - January 15, 1983" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Chris De Burgh – Don't Pay the Ferryman" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  8. ^ "Chris De Burgh – Don't Pay the Ferryman". Top 40 Singles.
  9. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  10. ^ BigKev. "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – Top 100 End of Year AMR Charts – 1980s". Hung Medien. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Trailer Park Boys Transcripts". Retrieved 25 February 2017.

External links[edit]