The Supernatural Music of Chris de Burgh – The Art Rock Storyteller – Spanish Train, Don’t Pay the Ferryman and other Stories

Chris de Burgh had some really great songs. Good storytelling songs. Most people remember the Irish singer Chris de Burgh for the hit song “Lady in Red”. That is not what I remember him for. That song was way too commercial for me and to me that did not symbolise the Chris de Burgh I grew up with or the type of music of his that I liked. Not to detract from it as it is a popular song and it was a commercial success but for me it’s his earlier stuff that was by far the best. And that’s coming from a lady who likes to wear red!

While “Lady in Red” was charming the airwaves I was sitting at home listening to “Spanish Train”. If there was a Love Song of Chris de Burgh’s that I found more memorable it would be “In a Country Churchyard.” And also “Every Drop of Rain.”

I grew up with Chris de Burgh and David Bowie playing constantly in the house, with a bit of The Beatles thrown in. The Chris de Burgh songs I remembered were songs about the Supernatural, Spanish Train, Don’t Pay the Ferryman and other really soulful stuff. Chris de Burgh is a great story teller and you don’t forget songs like that. They’re pretty timeless and pretty unique. I think he is very underrated personally. He has the ability to tell a hauntingly good story through the medium of music, song and melody, complete with dramatic effect. “High on Emotion” was another good song.

“Don’t Pay the Ferryman” conjurs up the passage to the Underworld with Chris de Burgh as narrator warning not to pay the ferryman till he reaches the other side, bartering with the deadly ferryman. It conjurs up the Grim Reaper, the Underworld and taps into all kinds of Mythology. Particularly Greek Mythology where Charon ferries souls across the River Styx, boundary between earth and the underworld. It was Chris de Burgh’s first UK hit single and fell into the category of “Art Rock”. It featured on his 1982 album “The Getaway”. 

Chris de Burgh had other songs with a water theme such as “Ship to Shore” and “Sailing Away”. Most people view Chris de Burgh as Irish and he does originate from County Wexford. But he was born in Argentina to a British Diplomat father and Irish Secretary mother. Born in 1948 as Christopher John Davidson he took his mother’s name “De Burgh” for performing. Much of his early life was spent living abroad until the family settled in Bargy Castle, a 12th century castle in County Wexford. He graduated with a Master of Arts Degree from Trinity College Dublin and signed with A&M Records in 1974.

His second album “Spanish Train and other Stories” released in 1975 attracted a “Cult following” and featured favourites such as “Patricia the Stripper” and “A Spaceman came travelling”. Spanish Train is the song that stood out most for me and was played again and again. It told the story of God and the Devil playing a card game to win more souls on board a Spanish Train that runs between Guadalquivir and old Seville… Bizarrely, it was banned in South Africa and is now a collectable LP.

There’s a Spanish train that runs between
Guadalquivir and old Seville
And at dead of night the whistle blows
And people hear she’s running still
And then they hush their children back to sleep
Lock the doors, upstairs they creep
For it is said that the souls of the dead
Fill that train ten thousand deep…

The other song that stood out was “Crusader” as it was a bit of an Epic at over 8 minutes long. It told the story of the Crusades and religion and politics aside it is a powerful song and piece of story telling. It featured on his 4th album “Crusader” released in 1979. Chris views himself as a humanist and has a global fan base. He hit the album charts in 1981 with his compilation “Best Moves” reaching 30 in the UK charts and 43 in the US charts. It featured both Crusader and Spanish Train.

Lady in Red was a number one hit in the UK and reached No.3 in the USA. A Spaceman came travelling was re-released that Christmas and was a Top 40 hit in the UK. Chris de Burgh is still recording and performing today even though he is now 70 and lives in County Wicklow, Ireland. His home is currently on the market for over £12million complete with swimming pool and cinema.

Chris de Burgh is still rocking in his Seventies and has an impressive Tour Schedule ahead!

Chris de Burgh’s music appeals to those who like both romance and story telling. When I was growing up his albums were a staple of most Irish households and despite losing a lot of my vinyl due to leaving home to go to university and travelling thereafter to various places, Spanish Train has survived the journey and is part of my collection. 🙂 Another great song on that album was Lonely Sky.

When I am travelling, Chris de Burgh’s “Best Moves” is on my playlist. 🙂 I will leave you with “The Traveller”.

In from the coast, riding like the wind and racing the moon
Shadows on the road, dancing and a-weaving like a crazy fool
A horseman is coming, death in his heart, for a rendezvous
And where the traveller goes, nobody knows
Where the traveller goes, nobody knows…

5 thoughts on “The Supernatural Music of Chris de Burgh – The Art Rock Storyteller – Spanish Train, Don’t Pay the Ferryman and other Stories

  1. And yes, his songs are little masterpieces. Being a fan of rock and disco, and faster songs, the most I like of his are Ferryman and High On Emotion. He is a true storyteller and reminds me on some bands with similar approaches like The Beatles (Sg Peppets Lonely Hearts Club Band), Pink Floyd (The Wall), Jethro Tull (Thick As A Brick), Jeffersons Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow, especially White Rabbit song), Demis Roussos, The Who (Tommy), just to name a few…

    Liked by 1 person

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