William “Ruler” Murrain says he has loved calypso since he was a little boy. Though most people associate him with Cork Hill Village, he actually hails from an area called “Killy Hawk Ghaut” near Tuitt’s Village in the east of Montserrat. In the late 1950s, his family relocated to Cork Hill, next to Lansen Park, the cricket field.
Ruler got a job at Hamsey’s Sweet Drink Factory in Plymouth. It was there that he received the inspiration for his first calypso hit. When the soft drinks were being dispensed, the machine that would cap the bottles would sometimes clamp down too hard, and the bottles would break. On one such occasion, a bottle shattered, dispersing shards and slivers and causing several cuts on Ruler’s arm. He decided to write a song about the incident. It was called Bottles Flying.
It was a popular song that became a prelude to Ruler being one of the five pioneers who competed in the first Festival calypso show in 1962. It was organized by the Jaycees. The other entrants were Justin “Hero” Cassell, Alfred “Christo” Christopher, Peter “Red Pole” Howson and James “Tangler” Lee aka Daddy Murrain. Ruler finished second runner-up behind Hero and Christo.
Ruler continued to compete throughout the 1960s, then joined a boycott in 1968 of the calypso show – led by Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell – to protest the substandard prize money being awarded calypsonians. Before the boycott, Ruler was the subject of an infamous incident.
After the 1967 show, the prize-giving ceremony was held at the Vue Pointe Hotel. Ruler was presented with a shirt by local businessman Habib Hadeed. He was insulted. So he threw the garment on the floor and stomped on it. The story had been rumored for years, but during a 2012 interview Ruler confirmed that the incident did take place.
“I threw it on the ground and walk on it,” he said. “I’m not gonna lie. They [the judges] rob me and still wanted me to wear the shirt.” Ruler says that in retrospect he regrets what he did. “I think that’s one of the things that gave me a lot of trouble in Montserrat.”
In 1972, the calypso show resumed. Honourable Mary Tuitt, who was Minister of Education, Health and Welfare and oversaw Festival as part of her portfolio, helped heal the rift caused by the boycott. On Christmas night in 1972, six calypsonians, including Ruler, competed for the crown. The others were Hero, Attacker, Fisher, Defender and Young Warrior. Ruler was first runner-up with his song Lasso Man. Hero won with High Cost of Living.
Ruler continued to be an annual participant. In 1974, he was considered by many the favorite for the crown with his mega hit Fine Twine, a humorous tune about Montserrat’s most infamous criminal, Joseph “Fine Twine” Bramble. For reasons that remain muddled, Ruler did not perform Fine Twine on the night of the calypso finals. He finished second runner-up behind Arrow and Fisher.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, he was a crowd favorite and continued to belt out hits such as Stop Sing Calypso, Wash Way, Demons Pon Me, Changes in Life, Sinking Sand and Strain. But the crown would never be fitted for him. Theories have been bandied around as to why he continuously fell short. Was it the “Curse of the Shirt” or was he deemed a social misfit? Were his lyrics considered by some to be too simplistic?
It might be all of the above. But Ruler left a solid mark and his songs remain popular on Radio Montserrat all these years later. Although Ruler never won the crown, he never lacked confidence. Hero, a 10-time Montserrat calypso monarch and Ruler’s longtime rival, says: “To this day, whenever Ruler sees me, he always says, ‘Ah go bang you!’ ”
Playful threats aside, Ruler says he has deep admiration for the Cassell brothers, Arrow and Hero, even though both blocked his path to the crown many times from the 1960s through the 1980s. “I cried when Arrow passed away,” Ruler says. “He was a very kind man. The only thing was he didn’t like to give me money to buy rum.”
Ruler has endured personal tragedies. In 1991, he was critically injured after being struck by a vehicle and had to be flown to Antigua for extensive treatment. When he returned to Montserrat, he had no recollection of the accident or being in Antigua. He recovered enough to perform in a Legends competition in 2002 during the 40th anniversary of Festival. He thrilled the crowd by singing Fine Twine, showing glimpses of his famous stage antics.
In 2012, Ruler, who had been battling diabetes, suffered a stroke and was infirmed at the Margetson Memorial Home. Despite his setbacks, his influence is secure. Christo, who was inspired to sing calypso when he heard Ruler’s song Bottles Flying in the early 1960s, calls Ruler the most talented calypsonian in Montserrat history.
“He didn’t need any coaching. He’s a natural talent.”
A look at some of of Mighty Ruler’s songs over the years:
|Bottles Flying||Party Crasher||Stop Sing Calypso||Soca Madness|
|Hold Fast and Steady||Woodum Boom||Changes in Life||Fine Twine|
|Time for Mas||Mash Up Me Sick Toe||Demons Pon Me||Beautiful Montserrat|
|Sinking Sand||All a We Got To Go||Strain||Wash Way|