Chris de Burgh on the making of his new Getaway album and its eerie hit “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”


By Steve Newton

His ability to tell captivating stories and to combine lyrical and musical nuances with easy effectiveness is what sets Ireland’s Chris de Burgh apart from a lot of today’s pop singer-songwriters.

On his latest album, The Getaway, De burgh weaves enchanting tales of destiny, revolt, peace, and love with words that reach out to the head, heart, and soul. One such song is the mysterious “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”, the album’s first single, which tells of a man on the run and his predestined ordeal with the sinister operator of a ferryboat.

De burgh’s vivid description of the scene gives the confrontation ominous overtones, and allows the listener to draw his own conclusions about the characters and their conflict. And as he confides in the following interview, that is precisely what Chris de Burgh aims at in his writing–to create stories that can be viewed in various shades of meaning.

I spoke to De burgh just prior to last Monday’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

On your latest album the songs “Light a Fire” and “Liberty” seem to me to be comments on Argentina’s claims to the Falkland Islands.

You know, that is a really interesting remark, because what I like to do in a song is to present a picture that individuals ’round the world can put their own meaning to. For example in Ireland, where I live, they think it’s about Ireland and getting rid of the British, and in Poland where this record’s very popular they think it’s an anti-Rssian song.

And it pleases me immensely because this is very much what I like to do. I don’t like to aim at the specific, because then you are excluding a lot of people by being specific about a particular place or event. But when you say a broad thing like that song, where I wanted to make it like it was a film, you can apply it to the Irish Revolution, to the 1798 or the French Revolution. That kind of thing.

Did the war in the Falklands have any effect on your songwriting?

It did on one song. There is one song on that record in which the war in the Falklands obviously slipped into my subconscious, although it wasn’t the primary reason. Usually I write a song accidentally rather than saying I want to write about this or that. In the song “Borderline” there’s a line about the border guards that goes “…these are only boys, and I will never know how men can see the wisdom in a war…”

That was very much inspired by seeing the young boys coming back from the Falklands. It’s incredible how young they were–17, 18, 19, a lot of them. And they’re blind followers those lads. The older men are the leaders, but it’s always the young men who get sent out.

Did your travels as a child–when your father’s job in the British Diplomatic Corps took the family to places like Malta, Nigeria, and Zaire, and finally Ireland–help bring about an artistic awareness and desire to communicate with different peoples?

Sure it did. I think that the overriding thing is the knowledge that, if you do live in one place, you do get a very insular attitude and then you forget there are other countries out there. And I see that very strongly in Ireland.

Even my friends, who don’t travel very much, have such a false view of their own country and its importance. And this is one of the interesting things about my early traveling and my current touring. I get a much more universal picture of the world and the way that people are affected by the same thing.

And curiously enough, the places where my records are most popular are places where they do not speak English. I just had a number-one record in Germany with this album, The Getaway.

On the title track you sing “This is our world too,” in German and French, as well as English. Is that song part of a universal plea for peace?

It is. It’s an effort to just draw people’s attention–as if they needed it–to the fact that we are in fact one world. It’s a globe, there’s nowhere you can run to. You can’t leave, and it’s a responsibility for all of us to attempt to live together.

I understand you studied French and English at Trinity College in Dublin. Who were your favorite authors, and did any of them influence the lyric style that you possess today?

I would say that the poets would be Robert Browning and the Irish poet W.B. Yeats–I love both of them very much. And in literature I’d say Charles Dickens, and basically the classic English writers, are what I really got into. And the French ones would have been Baudelaire and Rimbaud, people like that.

And all of them have one thing in common, which is something that I’ve only recently discovered as I sort of listened to all my favorite people and thought, “Why do I like these people?” And the answer is because all of them present in their poetry and writing a story, a picture, a sense of history, and a sense of movement within the piece itself. With Charles Dickens, it’s like looking at a very very rich painting. And I love to get that kind of visual detail in a song.

What is the message behind “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”? What would happen if the character in that song did pay the ferryman?

That tune was purely an exercise for me in creating suspense and drama. The man is rushing towards his destiny. If he did pay the ferryman, the ferryman would cut his throat and throw him in the river.

He has to reach the other side; this is his own particular destiny in life. And the final temptation is to give his money to the ferryman. It’s just a man being put under pressure, and at the last minute just as he is about to give in and pay the ferryman, he hears the voice coming from the other side saying, “Whatever you do, don’t pay him.”

The Getaway was produced by Rupert Hine, who has worked with Robert Palmer and Saga. Was there anything special about his production work that made the new album different from the others you’ve recorded?

Yes. I can definitely say that there is a lot of difference. He is a man who understands the mortar and brick of building a track musically. There are more subtle and complex inter-rhythms in the new album than I’ve had on any others.

And we blended wonderfully together. I could get on with the bits that I’m good at, and he could get on with the bits that he’s good at. It made for a very strong connection.

How did you come to get Steve Negus of Saga to play drums on The Getaway?

Rupert had produced Saga’s albums, and he liked the way Steve drummed and thought he would work very well with my records–which he did, on the tracks he played on.

Are the musicians who played on The Getaway the same ones that you’re touring with?

No, I have my regular band–the four Canadian boys and one American who played on the Eastern Wind album. On the new album I wanted to really go into the cream of the English session players. The bass player, John Giblin, played with Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins a lot, and Phil Palmer is one of the top guitarists in the country.

In my touring band there is Glenn Morrow on keyboards, Ian Kojima on saxophone, Al Marnie on bass, Jeff Phillips on drums, and Danny McBride on guitar. We’ve been playing together for about five years, and since we last played in Canada we’ve done over a hundred shows right around the world.

Which groups or artists are making big waves in the Irish music scene these days?

Well I suppose some of the best-known have been in the past–Van Morrison, Thin Lizzy, U2, and the Boomtown Rats–but nothing really since.

One of the real problems is that the English market, being so close, is the one that everybody wants to get into. And it’s very hard. If you don’t have a hit record in three weeks, they throw your single away, whereas everywhere else they give it a decent chance to break. And it makes people very short-term in their attitudes, which in the long term makes record companies have a lot of problems in building acts.


To hear the full audio of the interview I did with Chris de Burgh the following year, in June of 1984, subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1994
Steve Negus of Saga, 1983
Denis Bélanger of Voivod, 1993
Chaka Khan, 2022
Ben Harper, 2022
Nick Feldman of Wang Chung, 1987
Delvon Lamarr of the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, 2022
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Hugh Dillon of Headstones, 1994
Kevin Martin of Candlebox, 1994
Joey Molland of Badfinger, 1987
Martha Davis of the Motels, 1985
Brian Vollmer of Helix, 1985
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1992
Tommy Aldridge of Whitesnake, 1990
Steve Miller, 2022
Al Stewart, 1985
Stewart Copeland from the Police, 2022
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1994
Terry “Mess” Messal of Flies on Fire, 1992
James Cotton, 2002
Martin Barre from Jethro Tull, 2022
David Gogo, 1994
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1990
Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, 1992
Popa Chubby, 1995
Jerome Godboo of the Phantoms, 1990
Alain Caron of UZEB, 1985
Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big, 1989
Ty Tabor of King’s X, 2001
Mike Gordon of Phish, 1993
Paul Shaffer of David Letterman, 2022
Paul Nieder of Scatterbrain, 1991
Bob Rock, 2002
John Cougar, 1983
Guitar Shorty, 2001
Cy Curnin of the Fixx, 1984
James Young from Styx, 1986
Charlie Musselwhite, 2002
Steve Morse of Deep Purple, 1998
Lenny Kravitz, 1998
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1998
Tinsley Ellis, 1992
Matt Minglewood, 1985
Mojo Nixon and Country Dick Montana of the Pleasure Barons, 1993
Bill Davis of Dash Rip Rock, 1992
Sue Foley, 1992
Tom Keifer of Cinderella, 1991
Terry Adams of NRBQ, 1997
Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, 1984
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 2010
Slash of Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s Snakepit, 1995
Sonny Rhodes, 1999
Peter Goalby of Uriah Heep, 1983
Lenny Zakatek of the Alan Parsons Project, 1983
Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
Bill Elm of Friends of Dean Martinez, 1995
Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
Aldo Nova, 1983
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses, 2011
Mick Ronson, 1989
Tom Morello, 2011
Paul Pigat of Cousin Harley, 2021
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, 1993
Henry Fambrough of the Spinners, 1983
Dave Brock of Hawkwind, 1990
Roger Fisher from Heart, 1985
Graham Goble of Little River Band, 1983
Colin Hay of Men at Work, 1983
Mark Kelly of Marillion, 1986
Luther Allison, 1995
Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, 2007
John Critchley of 13 Engines, 1995
J. Geils from the J. Geils Band, 2006
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, 1997
Jason Newsted of Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Marshall Crenshaw, 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, 1997
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, 1984
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Eric Carr of Kiss, 1984
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Ivan Doroschuk of Men Without Hats, 1984
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Michael Lardie of Great White, 1987
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis & the News, 1983
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
Mark McEntee of Divinyls, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Jack Semple, 1993
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
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Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
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Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
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Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
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Mike Fraser, 2014
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Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
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Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Gregg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001
…with hundreds more to come




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